Ten bottles of a limited edition, 60-year-old premium scotch whisky, Glenfarclas, were sold for R360 000 each at Whisky Live Festival in Sandton earlier this year.
But the sale won’t surprise those who have tracked South Africa’s progress in becoming the fifth-largest export market in the world for Scotch whisky.
Last year, R1.78 billion worth of Scotch whisky was imported to South Africa.
“That translates into about 35 280l or 47 026 bottles”, says Emily Stockden, chief operating officer of Whisky Live Festival.
"The industry is flourishing – incidentally at the expense of the traditional South African spirit of choice, brandy. Whisky is the most-consumed spirit in SA with 4.1 million South Africans drinking it, while the number of brandy drinkers has decreased to 3.3 million," she says.
George S. Grant, whose family has run the Glenfarclas distillery in Scotland since 1836, was one of the high-profile guests at Whisky Live. He says South Africa has become a major market for his whisky in just a few years.
"The whisky industry has grown tremendously in this country. We have had a whisky boom worldwide for about 10 years and, in the past five years, that explosion has reached SA," he says.
Grant says Scotch makers have had to up their game as many strong whiskies are now being produced by countries which do not have a history of whisky making.
"Scotch is basically the mother of whisky. Many countries have learnt how the Scots make it and then added their value and raw materials to the process. Japan is a case in point. The first Japanese person to make whisky lived in Scotland for decades and studied the beverage. We now see countries such as Russia and Taiwan creating high-quality whisky," says Grant.
The profile of the typical whisky drinker is also changing.
"People are drinking less but better across the world," Grant says. "They want to taste what they are drinking and not just get drunk. People also have more disposable income than their parents and grandparents had.
"They want to spend it on a beverage that is in vogue but has history behind it. They don’t want to drink what their parents drank," Grant says.
Stockden says Grant has been a brilliant addition to the festival.
"His family has been in the business for 150 years and have probably the most comprehensive collection of old casks maturing for every year since 1953. Glenfarclas also sits in the top 20 index for investment auction whiskies," she says.
You might not imagine whisky as a conventional investment, but some have found that whisky is indeed a resilient long-term bet which holds up well as a strong safe-haven asset.
"Whisky has beaten gold and art in the past in terms of alternative investments and as the market grows, whisky investments will only become more valuable," says Stockden.