n 62 | Investing in whisky
How profiteers are using bots to corner the market on popular – and very profitable – limited releases Written by Mark Littler
he world of single malt whisky continues to expand in a global market and distilleries are always looking for the best way to meet that demand in a fair and profitable way. Recently they adopted ballots as a way to address issues of getting limited releases to a global audience, but the rise of new technology is always eventually followed by ways to manipulate that new system, and ballots are no exception. Automated computer programs known as ‘bots’ have been used for years to automatically buy stock and hack ballot systems. From concert tickets to computer consoles and now whisky, bots give an advantage to those who use them. But what is a ballot, and should you be using a bot? What is a ballot?
You may have come across a ballot when purchasing tickets online and since 2018 you may have seen them when buying whisky. A ballot works
like a raffle, but the ‘prize’ is the purchase of the item that is for sale. As a buyer, you put forward your details to the seller, and when the ballot is drawn the ‘winners’ of the items are randomly generated. Modern ballots are usually set up so that the seller can automatically collect payment, guaranteeing that purchase. In whisky there are predominantly two types of ballot style. A simple version that only requires an email address to register. Or a more complex one requiring an account to be made by the buyer, with a registered email address, home address and bank details. Both types can be hacked. Why are ballots useful?
Ballots were adopted by the whisky industry as an attempt to combat two growing issues: the difference in demand versus supply, and how best to reach an international audience for limited releases. Following the 2018 boom, the international market for Scotch single malt whisky has grown exponentially
and often those willing to pay a premium for bottles are found outside the UK. To limit exclusive releases to those who can get to the distillery or a shop in London excludes a significant proportion of the market. Releases direct from the distillery also began to cause some knock-on logistical issues. In 2018, the Macallan Genesis release was announced. There were 2,500 bottles available and, with the exception of a few bottles at travel retail, they were only available direct from the distillery. The release went on sale at 9.30am on a first-come, first-serve basis, prompting Macallan fans to camp overnight to be in with a chance of securing a bottle. The result was traffic gridlock, with major roads being closed for safety. Whisky ballots had already been introduced, but the event at Macallan was one of the factors that instigated their widespread introduction. The first official whisky ballot was introduced by the The Whisky Exchange in 2017 for their Karuizawa Geisha bottlings. There were only