What to look for in premium whisky casks

There are more whisky casks than ever hitting the market at the moment. So there's plenty to choose from. But, sometimes quality is better than quantity. Here are three key factors to remember if you're looking to buy premium whisky casks. 

Factor 1: Distillery name

In the same way a trendy distillery name can make a bottle more desirable, so too can the distillery name impact the value of a whisky cask. When looking at a cask list you'll likely see three naming conventions. 

The first convention is where the cask is cited as coming from a "secret" distillery. For example, a "Secret Islay".  This usually means one of two things. First, it could mean the name has become lost in time and paperwork. A name becoming lost is increasingly unlikely with younger casks, as technology makes it easier to keep track of cask movements - and as the government authorities demand ever-more traceability. Second, and more likely, it could mean the distillery doesn't want its name associated with the cask, and has sold it with no naming rights. 

The second convention is when a proxy name is used. Think of it akin to a pen-name for an author, this is where a substitute name is used in place of the distillery name. This approach is often adopted where the distillery is comfortable with the cask being traced back to them. But, they don't want their official brand name being used. For example, if you see the name Williamson then it'll be a cask from Laphroaig, they just don't want you to use the brand name Laphroaig.

The third convention is where the official distillery name is used. Probably the most obvious of the three approaches, this is pretty straightforward. A cask labelled Laphroaig comes from Laphroaig.

Generally speaking, the more transparent and obvious the name, the more desirable. So in the examples used above, Williamson beats Secret Islay, and Laphroaig beats Williamson.

Factor 2: Age of the whisky

Again, similar to bottles, an older age statement is (rightly or wrongly) typically viewed as more desirable than a younger age statement.

Putting aside very old age statements, let's take three examples: new make spirit, 3 year old whisky, and a 15 year old whisky. 

Buying casks of new make spirit is fine, particularly if you're holding for the long term. But, it's vital this is reflected in the price of the cask. New make spirit is easy and relatively inexpensive to come across, so the casks should be priced at entry level. 

Once a cask has hit the 3 year mark, it officially becomes whisky (in Scotland). So this is a real milestone, and if you're buying at or above this age you are buying "whisky" as opposed the new make.

And then finally, a 15 year old whisky is something more premium. At this age, the whisky is already well-matured. Indeed you could bottle it tomorrow and be able to print a most respectable age statement on the label. But you could also continue to hold and pursue even more desirable age statements - 18, 21, 25 to cite just three other milestones.

Your intuition will be telling you that, based on age alone, 15 years is more premium than 3, which in turn is more premium than new make spirit.

Factor 3: Type of whisky cask

The third factor that influences how premium a cask may be is the nature of the cask itself. As in, the barrel. Size is part of the answer. Bigger equals more whisky, and therefore a more premium price. But the element worth highlighting in this factor is the style of cask.

Ex-bourbon casks are the most commonly used cask for Scotch whisky. They're imported from the USA, where virgin oak casks can only be used once by regulation. And then reused here in Scotland Because they're widely available and affordable, they are common.

Other cask types start to get rarer, relative to bourbon. For example, sherry and port, while still stalwarts of the industry, are considered more premium. They're harder and more expensive to acquire. And, they impart extra flavour, resulting in an even more delicious whisky.

So when it comes to premium whisky casks, something like a sherry or a port would be more desirable than an ex-bourbon cask.

Are you looking for premium whisky casks?

If you're interested in premium whisky casks, we'd be pleased to help. Spiritfilled is an expert cask broker, helping clients around the world find and buy the best whisky casks.

Our stock list is wide and varied, with new casks being added all the time. If you'd like to see what premium whisky casks we have available, contact us here.

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