When people think of Scotland, the obvious associations and stereotypes come to mind. Tartan and shortbread; legends such as Adam Smith, Alexander Fleming and William Wallace; and, of course, whisky. All have helped to develop and maintain a Scottish identity both at home and abroad.
Burns Night is an occasion for us to not only celebrate the life of our favourite son, Robert Burns, but an opportunity to acknowledge, embrace and enjoy all things Scottish.
For me, it can only be one thing: whisky.
As someone who has been lucky enough to spend 25 years working in the whisky industry I have seen first-hand how this one elixir plays such an important role to Scotland.
Whilst most people may be able to name a handful of whiskies off the top of their heads, few realise that there are well over a hundred distilleries employing around 10,000 people in some of Scotland's most remote areas.
Last year's decision by Diageo - the global spirits giant - to invest more than £1bn over the next five years in Scotch whisky production included plans to build two new distilleries and expand existing warehouses. That's a massive boost to the UK economy and signifies how whisky is moving from strength to strength, not just at home but, more fundamentally, abroad too.
And it's big money too. In 2011, the whisky industry was worth an estimated £4.2bn in exports, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. That's £134 per second to the UK balance of trade.
In the emerging markets of the East and South, particularly in Russia and China, the middle classes with their new wealth are looking for a drink with cultural value and heritage. Whisky is not just a drink; it is crutch to and a mirror of social status. Sought after by connoisseurs and collectors a new emerging interest is developing - whisky as a serious investment opportunity.
In UK auction houses in 2008, around 2,000 bottles of rare single malts were sold. By the end of 2012, that number had risen to over 15,000. You may think the increase in supply may have driven down prices, but in actual fact this dynamic growth in demand across the board had led to a hardening of prices paid.
In late 2010, I helped secure the sale of the world's first bottle of whisky over £100,000, a 64-year old Trinitas from The Dalmore. Further evidence of a market enjoying global success - especially at the very top of the market.
You may ask, why are people spending so much money on whisky? Why aren't they investing it in fine wine or some other alternative investment?
It is worth keeping in mind that whilst wine may be a sought after commodity, particularly in China and Hong Kong, it ultimately perishes and can turn to vinegar. Whisky, on the other hand, is a far more stable liquid, lasts almost indefinitely and, in my opinion, only gets better in the bottle. Provided, of course, that it was originally matured in the right type of wood first!
To understand why returns from whisky investment are so significant we need to return to my original point: whisky is a unique product with a peerless history and heritage. People are not just buying a drink; they are buying into a spirit crafted by artisans, endowed with provenance and with a delicious quality unmatched by any other spirit. The demand to acquire, consume, collect and invest has never been stronger and premium malts are leading the way.
People have asked me whether I feel whisky can be a genuine asset class for investment in the long-term. As I say to them time-and-again, as with all investments, their value can go up as well as down - but none will go down the throat as well as a large dram of Scotland's rarest liquid gold!
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