This article originally appeared at Casey Research.


A comedian quipped a few years ago, “You might be a redneck if your 401(k) is invested in NASCAR decanters.”

When cheap money creates bubbles, suddenly the absurd become investment strategies. Whiskey, for instance, isn’t just for drinking anymore. There’s a bull market in hoarding this precious liquid.

Whiskey Bull

Beyond the deluge of new high-end brands and colors added to Johnny Walker’s rainbow, Charles Passy wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Spirits and collectibles experts say we’re in something of a bull market for whiskey.” Scottish company Whisky Highland says, “Prices for the 1,000 most-prized releases of single-malt Scotches have risen around 175% since 2008, based on auction figures.”

And the prices of high-end brands are not the only ones climbing upward. The price of a 750ml bottle of Cutty Sark (1970 vintage), a middle-of-the-road blended Scotch, went for $67 in 2008. The price was flat to down until late last year, but now that bottle goes for $107.

A metric fifth of 1970 Dewar’s White Label fetched $131 in August 2012, then fell to $104, but will now set you back $167—the same as a 12-year-old bottle of 1970 Chivas Regal. That’s a strange anomaly given that Chivas’ retail price of $35 is considerably higher than Dewar’s, at $25.

If you’re wondering how central bankers can possibly be worried about flat-to-falling prices amidst this whiskey-flation, consider the price of a bottle of 1980 Johnny Walker Blue Label. During my boom-time, Scotch drinking days, Blue was the taste of heaven. Strangely, its price has gone nowhere. In January 2007, a 1980 vintage bottle went for $213. Last month: $214.

No wonder Janet Yellen and Mario Draghi lay awake at night worrying about deflation. They could use a drink.

For years Doug Casey has recommended stocking up on “consumer perishables,” such as motor oil, ammunition, light bulbs, toilet paper, cigarettes, dried beans, soap, sugar, and of course, liquor. In the coming “Greater Depression” a good supply of these items will give you plenty to trade and may be the difference between survival and something worse.

But Doug isn’t talking about paying outrageous prices for whiskey as if it were precious art. Last year, 20,211 bottles of collectible whiskey were sold at auction, nearly four times more than the 5,431 that were sold in 2010. “And in some cases, bidding has reached the kind of frenzy previously seen only at sales of the most famous artists,” writes Mr. Passy.

“Earlier this year, Sotheby’s set a new benchmark for the most-expensive whiskey sold at auction: a rare six-liter bottle of Macallan, a famed single-malt Scotch producer, that went for $630,000.”

People Drink While Central Bankers Print

While the monetary mandarins surely like punters to dole out six figures for whiskey, they also prefer consumers to hoarders. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, domestic spirits consumption increased more than 105% over the 13-year period from 1999 to 2012, which included both the dot-com and real estate booms and busts. Throw in beer and wine, and alcohol consumption per capita increased nearly 43% during that same period.

But it’s the hard stuff that’s driving growth. Last year, non-collectible whiskey sales grew 10.1%, and single-malt sales gained 14.7%.

That’s impressive growth for alcohol consumption, but it still pales in comparison to the 157% growth in the M2 money supply since 1999.

Booze Shares Get High

Investors who lack the space to store bottles are bingeing on booze stocks. Diageo PLC, owner of Johnny Walker and J&B, is trading at nearly 19 times earnings. Pernod Ricard, the owner of Chivas and The Glenlivet, trades at 20 times earnings. And Brown-Forman, owners of Jack Daniels and Early Times, trades at over 30 times earnings.

Why so expensive? Because cheap money and lots of drinking doesn’t just lead to hangovers, but to takeovers too. Suntory Holdings Ltd. purchased Beam Inc. this year for $16 billion. Suntory’s offer valued Beam at about 20.5x EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). That’s a steep premium compared to the 12x EBITDA median paid in 16 purchases of wine and spirits businesses over the past five years.

Tulips or Whiskey, There’s Always a Bust

Sure as a screaming hangover follows too many drinks, the booze boom can’t last forever.

“Some experts say too many distillers are rushing to find whatever older barrels they can in their warehouses and releasing product that isn’t necessarily collectible,” writes Passy. “And putting the whiskey in special packaging—say, a pricey crystal bottle—doesn’t make the actual liquid any more valuable.”

Like in any boom, this whiskey one has its doubters. But at least as many are drinking the, um, Kool-Aid. Passy says there are “experts who insist that investors in quality whiskey will be protected. Some suggest focusing on respected, popular Scotch distilleries—such as Macallan, Dalmore, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Port Ellen—and on whiskeys that are truly limited in release.”

Don’t bet on it, though. Expensive bottles won’t save you from a crash. During the great tulip bulb crash in January 1637, rare bulbs plummeted along with common ones.

When this bender ends, a whiskey-price hangover will surely follow.