Rare and exclusive bottles of whisky and tequila, worth hundreds of thousands, sit unopened as collector’s items. Meet Reinhardt Paulsen, the man behind Urban Spirits and a purveyor of sought-after spirits from across the globe.
Reinhardt Paulsen has sourced whiskys and tequilas that most people will never see in their lifetime. Many of the bottles in his own collection and the collections of clients are worth thousands of rands – or even hundreds of thousands. They include the old, the new, the rare, and the exclusive. For Reinhardt, who has been in the food and drinks industry for over two decades, fine liquor is about more than just ‘having a drink’ or enjoying a whisky. It’s a way to connect with people, to appreciate nuance, culture and national pride, and to celebrate experts of their craft.
If you’ve ever walked into a bottle store, seen the beautiful glass displays and wondered who on earth is drinking R500 000 whisky, you’re not alone. As the owner of Urban Spirits, Reinhardt is a purveyor of rare, exclusive and sought-after spirits from across the globe. He has sourced a number of unique buys from auctions, private collectors and distilleries.
The secret behind those eye-wateringly expensive bottles in the display cabinets? Nobody’s drinking it. ‘I haven’t met anyone personally who drinks them. I have clients who have collections worth R40 million. It’s a great talking point, they look beautiful, and they’re collector’s items,’ Reinhardt says. When the gin revolution of a few years ago hit, the bitter and aromatic tipple that you associated with your grandma was being served at upmarket lounges, and being sipped thoughtfully at distilleries. But after the COVID-19 pandemic forced South Africans to retreat to their homes and put a stop to the sale of alcohol, the business model changed and interest in other spirits started to pique.
When restrictions were lifted, Reinhardt slowly started fielding requests for rare and investment spirits. Maybe someone wanted to track down an old Japanese whisky, or a boutique tequila. Perhaps you needed one specific Macallan to complete your collection. If you were that person, Reinhardt was your guy. Initially, these were occasional requests but over time, the demand for someone who could help people get their hands on exclusive or hard-to-find spirits only grew. And so Urban Spirits was born. At the heart of Urban Spirits is a desire to help people, to bring moments of joy to as many lives as possible, and to fuel the same kind of passion that keeps Reinhardt returning to the world of spirits and Investment beverages.
‘I guess I just love helping people. I like being able to track down a whisky that nobody thought they’d ever be able to get. I love seeing the history behind a bottle of whisky or tequila.’ Admittedly, there’s something intimate about a bottle taking pride of place in your cabinet knowing that it was made under the gaze of a much-loved grandfather or that a young artist half the world away painstakingly handcrafted the bottle.
Nowadays, the craze for gin has somewhat slowed down – but tequila and whisky have stepped into the limelight, both in terms of popular drinking beverages and investment opportunity. In fact, sales of tequila have risen around 6% year on year since 2002. And over the years, it’s slowly transitioned from a party drink to a connoisseur’s drink.
Urban Spirits, however, focuses on a more refined type of liquor: handcrafted ceramic tequila bottles, sourced from artisan farms in Mexico where agave plants are lovingly tended for ten years before being transformed into liquid gold. Or rare whiskys made in cherry wood casks from Scottish experts of yesteryear. Though of course, they’ll source anything you need. A Korean boutique whisky? No problem. A gin from Kenya? Absolutely.
If the whisky, gin and tequila that Urban Spirits carefully sources aren’t typically for drinking, it begs the question of what the world of investment spirits is about. ‘Investment spirits have a better return than property,’ Reinhardt assures me. And it isn’t just the experts at Urban Spirits saying this. In fact, as people look to hedge their portfolios and protect against a volatile market where inflation reigns supreme, alternative assets like whisky, gold and art are becoming more attractive prospects. Rare whisky alone has seen its value rise by 586% over the past ten years.
Urban Spirits does for liquor lovers what others do for car connoisseurs or art collectors: some are for driving or hanging in your home. Others are for collecting, admiring, talking about and eventually selling. ‘I want Urban Spirits to be the preferred finder,’ says Reinhardt. ‘I want to fill the gaps for people, whether it’s whisky, tequila, rum, even champagne. It brings me a lot of joy to find things for people and track things down that they’ve been looking for. I have to find exactly the right time with the exchange rates, look for reliable suppliers, handle breakages and customs … but I love making the impossible possible. I haven’t yet failed to find something!’
And sure, you can’t live in the whisky or wine cabinet the same way you can live in your property investment. But the rungs of the investment spirits ladder are certainly easier to get a foot on than the rungs of the property ladder. And if you do gamble wrong from time to time, you can take solace in the fact that your art in a bottle will always be drinkable.
Reinhardt’s Tips for Investing in Spirits:
- Go with a known brand. Now isn’t the time to be trusting a tiny distillery from Milwaukee with your hard-earned cash. Macallan and Yamazaki are both low-risk options, which tend to increase their value consistently so they are good places to start.
- Look for limited releases. They’ll always be sought-after.
- Enlist an expert, such as Urban Spirits. They can advise you, help with the importing process and ensure you don’t get scammed or end up buying an inferior product. Treat it like any other investment product and work with reputable suppliers to safeguard your finances as much as possible.
Written by Sophie Baker
Photos: Andrea Caldwell