Whisky Collecting For Beginners: What You Need To Know

Get the lowdown on whisky collecting for beginners - you'll learn about the different types and the first origins of this much-loved drink.

Whisky Collecting For Beginners: What You Need To Know

As many a Scot or Irishman can confirm, whisky is one awesome drink. Its fame has spread across the world and now many people travel to Scotland or Ireland to tour distilleries (and enjoy a cheeky dram or two while they’re there). If you’re a fan too, then you might be thinking about investing in some bottles. Starting with the drink’s origins, this guide will walk you through the basics of whisky collecting for beginners.

History of Whisky

A Whisky Bottle

Both Ireland and Scotland claim to be the birthplace of whisky, yet neither has definitive proof. They’ve also got different ways of spelling it, with the Irish preferring “whiskey” and the Scots “whisky”. Distilled spirits date back to 800 AD, and it is believed that early methods were used when first making this beloved drink. Exact creation dates are a bit murky, though, due to a lack of clear records from that era.

Nonetheless, the earliest record of whiskey in Ireland is in reference to the death of a chieftain in the 17th-century text “Annals of Clonmacnoise”, while the first recorded mention of whisky in Scotland is from the 15th-century “Exchequer Rolls” text. Needless to say, whisky has changed significantly since then.

What Types of Whiskies Are Available?

There are three main types of whisky available today – Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey and Tennessee whiskey – each with a different origin and distillation process. If you’re thinking about buying a bottle, then it’s important to know the key differences between them.

Scotch Whisky

A glass of whisky

To legally be called Scotch whisky, the spirit must be made in Scotland and follow a specific distillation process. Using only water and malted barley, the whisky must be distilled to under 94.8% alcohol, allowed to mature for three years in oak barrels and then bottled at an alcohol level of 40%.

Scotch comes in either single or blended malt varieties. For a whisky to be a single malt, it’ll be made in one distillery with one type of grain, while blended scotch is a mixture of different malts from different distilleries. It’s estimated that over 20,000 bottles of single malt are sold to investors each year. This variety is generally considered to be of a better quality, with age being the key – the longer the whisky matures, the better it tastes. Top brands include Glenkinchie, Dalmore and Aberlour.

Irish Whiskey

A glass of whisky

Irish whiskey, by legal definition, is a whiskey that has been made in Ireland and distilled to below 94.8% alcohol level, before maturing for at least three years in wooden (usually oak) casks. Peat doesn’t tend to be used in the malting process, so the final product often has a smoother finish compared to the smoky, earthy tones of a lot of Scotch whiskies. Big brands include Slane, Jameson and Redbreast.

Tennessee Whiskey

A glass of Jack Daniel's

Tennessee whiskey is made in Tennessee using sugar, maple, and charcoal. A similar process is used to create bourbon, while other types of American whiskies can be made with ingredients like rye, corn, barley and other grains. If you’re wanting to sample some Tennessee whiskey, go for brands such as Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel.

Decide Why You Are Collecting

A man pouring whisky

Once you’ve got a grasp on what type you like best, it’s time to look at why you want to start a whisky collection. You might be collecting for consumption – it is a delicious drink, after all! If so, start by following your taste buds and buying bottles which you like. Try different brands as you go, that way you’ll start to educate yourself on the different aromas and tastes, alongside getting a general feel for the whisky market.

If you’re collecting as an investment, just keep in mind one golden rule – the scarcer the bottle or brand, the more value it has. You might get lucky and get your hands on a rare, 30-year-old single malt. In which case, you should snap it up while you can and add it to your collection. As with collecting anything, keep one eye on your finances to ensure you don’t spend more than you can afford.