Cask ownership is a marvellous thing if affordable. The days of being able to purchase a cask or octave for a few hundred pounds or slightly more have vanished. Today’s asking price tends to start at a couple of grand for a 50-litre octave and double/triple that for a full sized barrel.
On a personal basis, I am fortunate enough to own casks outright alongside shares in others before the prices started to skyrocket. Much like when a bottle of Brora hit 4 figures, the cost of a cask became prohibitive to the majority. Unfortunate timing on the whole as whisky enthusiasts are more informed and educated than ever before. For a small segment, the next logical step is to purchase a cask or at least have that experience.
Rising demand for casks means that few reach the open market as eager independent bottlers – who themselves are growing in number – snap up the majority of options. Several casks have fetched mind-boggling prices via online auction sites with the bidders only able to speculate as to the quality of the contents. And followers of our Facebook page will have seen Mark Watt of Cadenhead’s fame comment that when approaching new distilleries regarding their casks, he’s been quoted prices that match a cask of 20 year old Ardbeg!
Sheer madness seems to be the way of things currently.
Demand is rising for the cask ownership experience from my discussions with organisers. These enthusiasts have undertaken the arduous task of collectively buying casks then splitting the cost. A traditional method is to split a cask into shares – normally in tenths – that add up to the price of the cask. This leaves the cost of bottling, labelling, taxes and warehousing beyond a certain period down to the individuals. A group that I’m a member of, pays a fixed amount by standing order each month to cover these future costs. It is relatively painless and straightforward. Demand is just as strong to get on a share list from my involvement with these groups.
Barriers still remain as towering and formidable as ever. Successfully purchasing a cask can be a long wait with Ballindalloch distillery like several others only filling a certain number of casks annually. Finding likeminded individuals who have necessary cash and patience isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you split a cask then you have to reach a consensus and agreement when to bottle. Compromise is the rarest of qualities in today’s society and I envisage it also applies to whisky.
By chance, I stumbled across a new crowdfunding dynamic utilised by the Whisky Crowd. I was intrigued because I can see the potential in such an approach that cuts back the administration, the wait and overall costs. After all, I’m told, who wants a couple of hundred bottles from a single cask when they have enough whisky themselves? The debut funding option is a 7 year old Islay distilled, French oak ex-Bordeaux cask with 2 bottle sizes available, ranging in price from £58 to £74. I reached out to Guy from the team behind the Whisky Crowd, who kindly sent over a sample of the Islay cask that’s up for grabs until the end of October. I also had a few questions that they kindly answered for MALT.
How did you come up with the idea and have you owned casks before?
The idea was born out of frustration when purchasing a cask. We felt that the process of buying an aged cask is beyond the financial ability of the average whisky enthusiast. We wanted everyone to be able to enjoy a single cask, cask strength, amazing whisky for a similar price to the supermarket. And crowdfunding a whisky cask enables this.
What process did you go through to pick out the debut cask and do you own it outright, or have the first refusal on a purchase?
Luckily for us, it was a lot of tastings. We had a wide range of casks available to us, some nearly 30 years old, we sat down and did some blind tastings. We wanted to pick the whisky we liked the most, not the oldest or most famous distillery. We don’t own the cask but have the first refusal, so it really is all or nothing with this.
Why Islay and this cask in particular?
Taste. We do love an Islay whisky but this one really stood out. It has a gorgeous pink hue and then the finish in my personal opinion was really unique.
Will you be able to name the distillery or is this not permitted as part of the purchase?
As with a lot of independent bottlers we aren’t permitted to name the distillery but you are more than welcome to take a guess.
In terms of maturation has this been a distillery warehouse cask or sold onto a broker for maturation?
For us to have the first refusal like this it has had to go through a private collector. They have been maturing it away from the distillery warehouse.
Currently, you still have a long way to go to fund the cask purchase before the end of October. If this isn’t successful will the deadline be extended or will you move another cask instead?
Yes, it has been a bit of an uphill battle, loads of interest from people across the world and even distilleries. We plan on selling 100% of the cask, it really is go big or go home for us.
Whisky Crowd Islay 7 year old – review
Colour: A light honey.
On the nose: A gentle yet familiar coastal arrival tinged with honeycomb and a subtle cherry sweetness. That Gorse aroma again and autumnal vegetation. Salty, but not overly so. There’s definitely more redness trying to break through and a touch of smoke. Time reveals bacon crisps and IPA grapefruit.
In the mouth: an interesting cesspool of oak, peat and sweetness. Punchy as well. Proper Islay. Dark chocolate and quite meaty. There’s a lot to chew upon here. A rich maple syrup, toffee and a squeeze of lemon. Almost mulch at times with charcoal and orange peel.
It says something when the team were quite happy to send over a sample to us. We’ve seen influencers of late with their own releases avoiding such a transparent approach. A very enjoyable cask from Islay that has a dynamic of its own. If I was to put a score on this it’d be a 7. That’s a very impressive mark as you can see on our scoring guide. Hopefully, this debut cask reaches the required level to unleash the bottling.