Ready to Buy a Scotch Cask?By Thijs Klaverstijn
It often comes as a natural step in the evolution of a Scotch whisky enthusiast. But for those ready to buy a scotch cask of their own, there are a few things to consider. It’s not as simple as just forking over a big wad of cash.
Scotch whisky is in the middle of a boom the likes the industry has rarely seen before. For the Scotch whisky enthusiast that means plenty of choice, sometimes even overwhelmingly so. And yet, there are always new frontiers to explore; from blends to malts to independent bottlers, and finally to purchasing an entire cask of whisky. The latter is a significant step to the upper echelons of whisky geekdom, albeit one that requires research AND caution.
But before preaching vigilance and common sense, let’s highlight the positive and fun sides of cask ownership. Because when your love for whisky reaches stratospheric levels, buying a cask is sometimes the perfect way to channel some of that excess passion. Luckily, because of the boom, there are many upstart distilleries offering casks for sale.
Choices to Make
For new producers there are limited options for generating cash flow during the long wait for mature whisky. Some decide to make gin or vodka, while many also settle on offering up casks for purchase. It’s a strategy that helps ease the financial strain during those first few years, but also allows consumers to get involved at an early stage. By drawing samples during the maturation period of the cask, the consumers can follow the progression of the spirit, often before the distillery has released its own inaugural whisky.
Ardnahoe casks /Photo Credit: Ardnahoe
Once the decision to buy a scotch cask has been made—it is quite the monetary investment after all—the real work begins. There are many variables at play, meaning lots of choices to make, not in the least from which distillery to buy. That might even be the hardest of choices, because in most cases there isn’t much to go on yet.
New distilleries are unproven for the most part, but in some cases are founded by companies with decades of experience in the Scotch whisky industry. Examples are Hunter Laing’s Ardnahoe on Islay—which has employed legendary master distiller Jim McEwan—or Adelphi’s Ardnamurchan. If you don’t put too much stock into experience, you might choose a distillery because of their unique or innovative approach, such as Ncn’ean.
Style and Barrel Picks
After you’ve zeroed in on a distillery, there’s often a plethora of options still. In certain cases you can pick between unpeated and peated spirit. Most distilleries offer a multitude of different cask types for maturation, ranging from regular bourbon barrels to smaller firkins and everything in between. Edinburgh-based Holyrood really pushes the envelope and lets you choose the yeast type, fermentation length, flow rates and cut points.
Arran casks /Photo Credit: Arran
So far so good, but now the due diligence starts—and there’s more to it than simply comparing list prices. For instance, there are perks to consider. They vary widely, from a straightforward visit of your cask, to the rights to a bottle from the first ever cask from a distillery and overnight stays in nearby hotels. Some distilleries really pull out all the stops and give their cask owners the VIP treatment.
Consider All the Costs
Then there’s the little matter of hidden costs. For example, after paying a one-time fee of £3,000 for an ex-bourbon barrel, you still need to account for duty, bottling costs and VAT, essentially almost tripling your initial investment. That’s not including shipment. Also, make sure to check how long you’re allowed to store your cask in the distillery’s warehouses. Some cask purchase schemes offer ten years, but others just five—you’ll pay a fee if you want to mature your cask longer.
Ncn’ean casks /Photo Credit: Ncn’ean
Finally, and most importantly, what are you going to do with all these bottles once they arrive on your doorstep? A standard size barrel will yield 200-250 bottles at cask strength, and even more if you decide to bottle your Scotch whisky at a lower strength. That’s an awful lot of whisky to drink or share with friends, family and acquaintances.
If, after taking all of the above into consideration, you still want to go ahead and buy a scotch cask for yourself, we’re certainly not going to stop you. Actually, we’ve prepared a convenient shortlist of several Scotch distilleries that offer casks for sale.
Founded by Hunter Laing, Ardnahoe is situated on the legendary isle of Islay. It produces a heavily peated new make whisky, employing traditional production methods including the use of worm tubs. The distillery offers European oak oloroso sherry hogsheads for sale at a hefty £11,000 per cask.
Arran is one of the few established distilleries offering a cask purchase scheme. In the 25 years since it was founded, Arran has built an admirable reputation. That means you can at least somewhat predict the end result. The distillery offers first-fill ex-bourbon barrels (£2,950) and first-fill ex-sherry hogsheads (£3,950).
Ncn’ean is an innovative distillery run by Annabel Thomas, producing 100% organic whisky and employing environmentally friendly production methods. The distillery offers ex-bourbon casks (£3,000) and ex-wine casks (£3,900). For that price you get five years of maturation. If you decide to up that period to ten years (for an extra £500), your cask will be filled with a different new make spirit that’s more suitable for a longer maturation.
Founded in 2018, buying a cask at Lagg Distillery offers a lot of benefits. Owners of a first-fill ex-bourbon barrel (£6,000) will become a member of the Lagg Cask Society. This includes a bottle from the very first cask, their name on the Wall of Fame within the distillery, an Arran Golf Pass, and dinner and an overnight stay at the Lagg Hotel.
Located on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, the eponymous distillery is owned by independent bottler Adelphi. The distillery has been around since 2014 and has released several young spirits, generally to much critical acclaim. The distillery produces both peated and unpeated spirit. Cask types range from standard bourbon barrels (£2,500) tot Spanish oak sherry butts (£6,950).
Even if you’re not ready to buy a scotch cask, you can still try some of what each distillery has to offer.
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