Expert insight on collecting liquid assets


By Leigh Herringer

Hungarian-South African who grew up in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Alex de Ujfalussy never aspired or imagined he’d be involved in the whisky industry. While studying a BCom and coaching tennis in his spare time, drinking whisky was more about enjoying a few drams with friends. “Whisky was an evolution for me – as I began tasting and collecting more seriously, I developed my palate and knowledge, and started making contacts abroad,” he says in The Navigator, an annual showcase for his spirit import company, Navigate World Whisky.


As a young adult, Alex was a keen cook. “I suppose you could say that mealtime, dram time and downtime went together.
The more time I spent tasting and chatting about whiskies, the more I learnt – the stories, people, production, packaging, taste profiles, and the collectability – it ticked every box for me. I was surprised at just how sought after some of these bottlings I had acquired became once they were discontinued, sold out or hard to find,” he tells us.


At 23, Alex ventured into imports and distribution, first into food and packaging, then pharmaceuticals, and disposable wear, among others. “When I decided to take whisky collecting to a new level, the fact that we already had an established import, warehousing, and distribution infrastructure ultimately meant turning my passion into a business was inevitable,” he explains. “It was also a great opportunity to work with La Maison du Whisky to bring new distilleries and bottlings to South Africa.”



While the global whisky market – including South Africa’s – is robust, there are only a handful of discerning whisky collectors within our borders. “To grow this, we need more collector- worthy bottlings to be distributed locally, along with some next level awareness. Slowly but surely, I believe this is happening,” he says.


HOW DOES ONE COLLECT RARE WHISKY? Thankfully, it’s easier these days as far more limited-edition bottlings come into South Africa. Whisky clubs, importers, and distributors all play a part, as does being informed about the whisky world – its news, social media platforms and auctions. It would be remiss of me not to mention spiritssouthfrica.com too. At the height of my collection over the past year or two, I had around 10 000 bottles, but these days I’m uncertain whether I’m accumulating or depleting the collection faster! I safeguard 1 200 very special bottles – a number large enough to be a collection, but still within a manageable quantity.


WHAT MAKES WHISKY COLLECTIBLE? It’s up to the collector. It could be its value proposition or sentiment that you’d like to have in the future or be able to pass on. I think a defining factor is that it needs to be something that won’t always be available, but please don’t take that to mean everything limited is collectible.



PITFALL’S THAT NOVICE COLLECTORS SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR? Like any luxury investment, be careful of scams and overpaying. Big brands constantly offer high prices for “limited editions”.


CURRENT WHISKY PRODUCTION TRENDS? Without question, the worldwide trend is to make better whisky in a shorter time. This requires a focused approach to fermentation, quality barrels, and the creation of a quality spirit before it’s aged. For too long, the modus operandi has been to make as much as possible, in as quick a production time as possible, and to simply barrel it no matter how old or used the cask is.

HOW DOES ONE VALUE A WHISKY COLLECTION? A willing buyer and a willing seller ultimately define the value of a whisky collection. It’s also valued by the second-hand market when stores and auction houses resell these bottlings. If it’s on auction, consider the hammer fees and the logistics of getting your bottles there. Sometimes a broker, reseller, or interested party may take them off your hands, and whilst not an auction, the value still yields a desirable result. Keep a log of what you’ve bought and when, record the names, the alcohol content (ABV), and other descriptor details.


WHICH WHISKY IS CONSIDERED THE BEST IN THE WORLD? Michter’s was recently named the world’s most admired whisky in the annual Top 50 List by Drinks International. It’s available for the first time in South Africa.


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