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A Catastrophic Shortage of Single Malt Scotch Is Looming

Thanks to a renewed appreciation for whiskey of all kinds, from bourbon to Japanese brands, connoisseurs are seeking out and drinking down aged Scotch whisky faster than it can be produced.

by Wyatt Marshall
Mar 6 2016, 2:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Rob Brewer

Conservative billionaires may be shaking in their loafers about the possible election of Bernie Sanders, but there's another problem for wealthy people on the horizon: the world is running out of old and expensive single malt Scotch.

Thanks to a renewed appreciation for whiskey of all kinds, from bourbon to Japanese brands, connoisseurs are seeking out and drinking down rare Scotch whisky faster than it can be produced. If the economic shakeup does occur, the wealthy might not even be able to drink away their sorrows with a Macallan 25.

"The shortage of old and rare single malt... has already started, and it's going to get worse," Rickesh Kishnani, the creator of the world's first whiskey investment fund, told CNN Money.

That "18" in Oban 18 means the whisky was aged in barrels 18 years before it was put in the bottle and shipped to market. Unlike expensive blends like Johnnie Walker Blue, it isn't diluted with younger whiskeys. Scotch lovers prize aged and ultra-aged whiskies, which can be matured for more than 50 years in order to develop their elegant flavor profiles. Some consumers are after the age statement alone.

But thanks to renewed vigor in the high-end Scotch market, those old single malt bottles are selling out and can't be replaced fast enough—time in the barrel is the only thing that earns a whisky an age statement. To keep the stores filled and to make use of great but younger whisky, some distillers, like Macallan, Talisker and Oban, have in recent years started releasing distiller's editions—blends that meet the discerning palate of a master distiller but that don't carry age statements.

While Scotch without an age statement may work for enthusiasts who are happy to drink excellent and reasonably priced scotch, it won't do for a tycoon who wants to share some Glenfiddich 50 (a bargain at £22,850, or almost $32,500) with his buds on his gigayacht off that great little cove in Turks and Caicos.

READ MORE: Why Young People Should Learn to Love Scotch

CNN Money reports that exports for single malt Scotch were up 159 percent between 2004 and 2014. Sales in the US tripled from 2002 to 2015. Asia accounts for a fifth of the world market, even after China made moves to limit consumption of goods like high-end whiskey with austerity measures that cut back on lavish gift-giving.

"In China, everybody is talking about it," Stephen Notman of the whisky-investing firm Whisky Corporation told CNN Money. "Nobody thought in a million years that there would be a market there for 30- [or] 40-year-old whisky."

Until more Scotch reaches its age statement and hits the market, prices for rare old Scotch will continue to rise. That looks to be the case for at least the next few years. So any billionaires preparing for the worst come Election Day should stock up on old Scotch now. Perhaps they'll be able to secure some super-rare bottles just as the contractors are putting the finishing touches on the cigar lounge in the doomsday bunker.

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