Collecting Spirits for the Bottle Rather Than What’s Inside
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Collecting Spirits for the Bottle Rather Than What’s Inside

More enthusiasts are buying spirits collectibles for the keepsakes themselves.

By JAKE EMEN
Thu, Jan 20, 2022Grey Clock 4 min

Collecting spirits is by no means a new pursuit. But these days more enthusiasts are buying spirits collectibles for the keepsakes themselves, as opposed to the liquid delights held within.

There are collectible decanters and unique bottle designs, limited-edition labels and artwork, and partnerships with fine purveyors of all manners of crafts. From the lovers of kitsch and those who enjoy completing hard to find sets, to the loyal aficionados of particular beloved brands, more people are collecting beautiful bottles and collaborations than ever.

An Old Trend Is New Again

Old Overholt, a classic rye whiskey brand, teamed up with Steinbach, a German manufacturer of fine wooden crafts, to produce a unique, highly limited run of nutcrackers. Fashioned in the likeness of Abraham Overholt, who founded the brand over two centuries ago, the nutcracker is standing behind a whiskey barrel and a sack of rye grain while holding a bottle of whiskey. The collaboration was tied to the holiday season this year, as a means of buying a whiskey-centric gift for a loved one that isn’t merely a bottle to drink.

“A collectible piece of craftsmanship like this offers whiskey drinkers an entirely new way to celebrate and display their love for the brand beyond a rare bottle,” says Bradford Lawrence of Beam Suntory, Old Overholt’s parent company. “To my knowledge, no other whiskey founder has been immortalized as a nutcracker 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 fellow collectors alike.”

While an affordable brand might seem like an odd match for a premium collectible, it’s actually somewhat of a tradition within the world of American whiskey. Ceramic decanters of bourbon were all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s, with Wild Turkey and Jim Beam in particular releasing a litany of them. As journalist Aaron Goldfarb explained, the original idea behind them was to create an avenue to increase sales in the face of whiskey’s waning popularity in an era which saw vodka’s meteoric rise.

The tides have turned in recent years, and there are certain whiskey brands that have the opposite problem, a dwindling supply that can’t keep pace with fervent global demand.

That’s the case for Hibiki, the much sought-after blended Japanese whisky produced by Suntory Whisky. With several of its age-statement labels removed from the market due to that supply issue, one way it remains at the forefront for collectors is through the release of limited edition bottles. The 2021 limited edition of Hibiki Japanese Harmony features a flowing floral design, with 24 different blossoms depicting the 24 micro-seasons of the Japanese lunar calendar, atop the brand’s signature 24-facet bottle face.

Glenmorangie, meanwhile, released a limited edition of its 18-year-old single malt with a design from flower artist and botanical sculptor Azuma Makoto. He was inspired by Glenmorangie’s floral flavor palate and interpreted that taste into a piece of art with 100 blooms, including specific aromas from the whisky. 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 every major brand wants to get in on the fun. Angostura teamed up with specialty leather goods purveyor Clayton & Crume for a special cocktail kit in the form of a stylish leather dopp bag, with a number of handy accessories included. Standout cocktail bar Death & Co. teamed up with Jameson for a Cocktail Courier holiday kit which 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.

Craft Goes Collectible

While large, global brands have a built in fan base that collects special-edition offerings, even smaller and craftier brands have been getting into the collectible arena. Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin released a limited edition ceramic bottle r with a style which reflects the oriental botanicals used in the spirit, such as gunpowder tea.

“With this bottle, our founder PJ Rigney wanted to pay homage to the traditional Chinese pottery that would have been used in tea ceremonies for hundreds of years—it was at one such ceremony that PJ first came across the gunpowder tea that sparked what ended up as the recipe for Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin,” says Conor O’Brien of The Shed Distillery. “If you look closely at the bottle you can see some iconic scenes from the village of Drumshanbo, as well as The Shed Distillery itself.”

With regulations for selling and shipping alcohol direct to consumers loosening up in many parts of the U.S., partially due to the pandemic, Westward Whiskey launched a first of its kind national members club. The Westward Whiskey Club was launched in 2019, but was extended across 30 states this year thanks to that shifting legal landscape. Members, who can opt to receive one or three bottles per quarter, receive exclusive club-only whiskeys with unique cask finishes, and bottles adorned with eye-catching metallic plaques.

“For some time now, we have received requests from Westward enthusiasts to engage with our brand and team on a deeper, more personal level, so we’re excited to offer them a platform to join our community,” says Thomas Mooney, Westward’s founder and CEO.

Reprinted by permission of Penta. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: January 15, 2022.

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