Collecting spirits is by no means a new activity. But these days, more and more enthusiasts are buying collectible spirits for the souvenirs themselves, as opposed to the liquid delights they contain.
There are collectible decanters and unique bottle designs, limited-edition labels and artwork, and partnerships with fine suppliers of all kinds of crafts. From kitsch lovers and those who like to complete hard-to-find sets, to loyal aficionados of beloved brands, more people are collecting beautiful bottles and collaborations than ever before.
An old trend is new again
Old Overholt, a classic rye whiskey brand, has teamed up with Steinbach, a German manufacturer of fine wood crafts, to produce a unique and very limited series of nutcrackers. Fashioned in the likeness of Abraham Overholt, who founded the brand over two centuries ago, the nutcracker stands behind a barrel of whiskey and a bag of rye grains while holding a bottle of whiskey. The collaboration was tied to the holiday season this year, as a way to buy a whiskey-centric gift for a loved one that isn’t just a drinking bottle.
“A collectible piece of craftsmanship like this gives whiskey drinkers a whole new way to celebrate and display their love for the brand beyond a rare bottle,” says Bradford Lawrence of Beam Suntory, the parent company of Old Overholt. “To my knowledge, no other whiskey founder has been immortalized as a nutcracker quite like this, and so we’re thrilled to be able to offer a fun new item for enthusiasts to seek out, get excited about and show off. to friends and other collectors.
While an affordable brand might seem like an odd match for a high-end collectible, it’s actually kind of a tradition in the world of American whiskey. Ceramic bourbon decanters were all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s, with Wild Turkey and Jim Beam notably releasing a litany. As journalist Aaron Goldfarb explained, the original idea behind them was to create an avenue to boost sales in the face of whiskey’s waning popularity in an era that saw the meteoric rise of vodka.
The tide has turned in recent years and some whiskey brands have the opposite problem, a dwindling supply that cannot keep pace with fervent global demand.
This is the case of Hibiki, the highly sought-after Japanese blended whiskey produced by Suntory Whisky. With several of its age-indicating labels pulled from the market due to this supply issue, one of the ways it remains at the forefront for collectors is through the release of limited-edition bottles. The 2021 Hibiki Japanese Harmony Limited Edition features a flowing floral design, with 24 different flowers representing the 24 micro-seasons of the Japanese lunar calendar, atop the brand’s signature 24-facet bottle.
Glenmorangie, meanwhile, has released a limited edition of its 18-year-old single malt with a design by floral artist and botanical sculptor Azuma Makoto. He was inspired by the floral-flavored palate of Glenmorangie and interpreted that taste in a work of art with 100 flowers, including whiskey-specific aromas. The sculpture, dubbed Dancing Flowers of Glenmorangie, was photographed and featured on the label and gift box of the special edition Glenmorangie 18 Azuma Makoto bottle.
It seems like all the big brands want to have fun. Angostura has teamed up with specialist leather goods supplier Clayton & Crume for a special cocktail kit in the form of a stylish leather dopp bag, with a number of handy accessories included. Exceptional cocktail bar Death & Co. has teamed up with Jameson for a Cocktail Courier holiday kit that includes the Death & Co: Welcome Home cocktail book, bottles of Jameson Black Barrel and The Glenlivet 12 Year Old, and ingredients for several signature drinks.
Craftsmanship becomes collection
While the big global brands have a built-in fanbase that collects special-edition deals, even smaller, more handcrafted brands have entered the collectibles arena. Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin has released a limited-edition ceramic bottle with styling that reflects the oriental botanicals used in the spirit, such as gunpowder tea.
“With this bottle, our founder PJ Rigney wanted to pay homage to traditional Chinese pottery that is believed to have been used in tea ceremonies for hundreds of years – it was during one such ceremony that PJ discovered for the first time the gunpowder tea that sparked what ended up being the recipe for Irish Drumshanbo Gunpowder gin,” says Conor O’Brien of The Shed Distillery. “If you look closely at the bottle, you can see iconic scenes from the village of Drumshanbo, as well as The Shed Distillery itself.”
As regulations around the sale and shipment of alcohol directly to consumers ease in many parts of the United States, in part due to the pandemic, Westward Whiskey has launched a first national membership club. The Westward Whiskey Club launched in 2019, but expanded to 30 states this year thanks to this changing legal landscape. Members, who can choose to receive one or three bottles per quarter, receive exclusive club-only whiskeys with unique cask finishes and bottles adorned with eye-catching metal plaques.
“For some time now, we’ve had requests from Westward enthusiasts to engage with our brand and our team on a deeper, more personal level, so we’re excited to offer them a platform to join our community. “, said Thomas Mooney, founder of Westward. and CEO.