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Toasting an unusual form of investment

Last week saw the fifth anniversary of interest rates being slashed to 0.5%.

If you had decided to invest in something other than cash back in March 2009, a £100 investment in government bonds would now be worth £125, while tracking the FTSE 100 would have yielded £232, compared with £110 or less on most typical savings accounts, according to adviser Bestinvest.

Among the more exotic alternative investments which have emerged as people look for better returns on their money is whisky. Despite the carnage wrought by the global financial crash of 2008, the growth of whisky sales around the world has proceeded unchecked.

The thirst shown for Scotch not just in emerging economies but established markets has put pressure on existing stocks, leading major distillers to expand production. Some have begun removing age statements from bottles - once a key barometer of quality and collectability - such is their hurry to meet the growth in demand.

All of which means the value of 30 to 50-year-old Scotch from the most famous distillers has made significant gains in value.

Andy Simpson, whose Whisky Highland consultancy values private collections, estates, and assessments for major distillers, said there is nothing new about whisky collecting, noting there is no shortage of people who have collected for 30 or 40 years.

But he said interest has risen as more information has become available on the value of these bottles.

He said: "It has become far more broadly publicised, and as a result of that we are seeing a lot more people coming into the market. Typically, it's an investment of passion. I call it the 'accidental investment'."

Whisky Highland holds the UK's biggest database of UK whisky auction values, which it has used since 2008 to compile the Whisky Highland Index. The index assesses and ranks the country's most valuable whiskies by analysing four variables: the value of collectible bottles sold by a distillery, the highest price achieved by a single bottle, the average price, and the highest percentage gain in value.

It currently has Speyside distillery The Macallan at the top, followed by Dalmore and Port Ellen, a now mothballed distillery on Islay.

Ian MacMillan, master blender at Burn Stewart Distillers, said: "I was recently in Australia and came across a limited edition Bunnahabhain that was only released for sale in Taiwan, which demonstrates that our customers will go to great lengths to seek out certain bottles."

Simpson noted a 1968 bottle of Bunnahabhain Auld Acquaintance he picked up for £200 is now being sold for £1200 retail, and between £650 and £750 at auction. While the IGS (Investment Grade Scotch) 1000 Index, which charts the 1000 best-performing whiskies, increased by 24% in 2013, the Bunnahabhain vintages increased by 44%.

Unsurprisingly, rare whiskies from distilleries which are no longer in existence have seen notable spikes in value, including two whose stock is owned by Diageo.

Information from Whisky Highland indicates a 30-year-old from The Brora distillery, released in 2004, has seen its auction price grow from £175 in 2008 to £1250. Diageo said a Port Ellen seventh release which was retailing for about £140 on its release in 1997 is now regularly being sold for £1500. Both Brora and Port Ellen were closed in 1983.

But whisky is not the only form of alcohol to offer opportunities. Fine wine is a more traditional investment. One of the market's most-established funds, The Wine Investment Fund (TWIF), has achieved annualised net payouts of 8.9% since 2003. The fund stresses the importance for valuations to be carried out by Liv-ex, the global marketplace for traders, and for investors to ensure their adviser operates from a genuine physical office, not a virtual address. Obtaining proof that the wine has been physically purchased is also encouraged.

"Fine wine has very attractive investment properties as an asset class, but it is not an easy market to access successfully," said TWIF founding director Andrew della Casa. "To be safe, investors should entrust their savings only to an experienced investment management team which can demonstrate at least a five-year published track record - the minimum which is required by institutional investors."

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