Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Cask Trade - A cask company with several points of difference

Please note - this article in no way constitutes or should be taken as financial advice. It simply contains my personal views on cask ownership (whether for the purposes of bottling or otherwise), and shares some information from Cask Trade. As always, do your own research and come to your own conclusions!

Last month I finally got around to writing up my long-held views on cask ownership, and it's fair to say the article generated a lot of attention - quickly becoming one of the most viewed articles in recent months, and kicking off weeks of discussion on Instagram and (interestingly) my personal Facebook. Seems there were even more people than I thought out there getting bombarded by cask ownership ads on social media, keen to separate fact from fiction.

In that article, I mentioned I'd be doing a few sponsored posts with a cask company, and I'm happy to announce that company is Cask Trade. In this article, I'll outline their approach, how I think it differs to others, and why I'm working with them.

First, some background. I first came to know Cask Trade back in early 2021, but I've known Colin Hampden White (Keeper of the Quaich, Chairman of the Circle of Wine & Spirits Writers, World Whisky Awards & IWSC Judge and Amazon Prime Star) since 2015. Learning that Colin was a Cask Trade Board member (and responsible for their cask picks) gave me some comfort that this wasn't like many of the other cask companies out there - that they actually had some industry expertise behind them. I later learned that John Wong (whom I'd known for years from Hong Kong's excellent whisky shop/bottler "The Good Spirits") was involved - now heading up HK operations, and after a Zoom tasting of cask samples back in 2021 with Colin, John and CEO Simon Aron, it seemed clear to me that this was a reputable company in a sea of sharks.

Apart from the fact that the cask samples I tasted during that session were all solid, I learnt a few facts about Cask Trade which also (to me) helped set them apart from many of the others. Specifically:

Cask Trade owns the stock they sell. This is a big one - Cask Trade is not a broker. Any cask sold by Cask Trade is, according to the company, 100% owned by them (and as above, with a good chance of being selected by Colin). Management, sampling, updates, cask regauge (health check) etc... are all handled / overseen by Cask Trade, which they can do easily, and as owners of the casks prior to sale, they're able to actually perform quality checks on the casks they're selling, and typically arrange a sample prior to sale too.

They're open about different options ("exit strategies") - including bottling: Many of the shadier companies make grandiose claims about financial returns and easy availability of buyers, without a lot of detail to back them up. Cask Trade offer clear steps and services for what to do when it's time to move on, including bottling the cask, selling it back to Cask Trade, selling it privately, and even auctioning it on their sister site AuctionYourCask.com, which gives you some real-world ideas of what the current values of casks (over £400,000 of casks are said to have been sold via the site).


They're based in the UK, and have a physical presence in Hong Kong. If you're a Hong Kong customer, you can actually speak to the team here in Hong Kong - and be assured you're receiving the same pricing as a customer in the UK (or anywhere else).

Their buy-back service seems to offer fair and realistic prices. One of the concerns I raised in my article was spurious / questionable claims of significant financial returns on casks from less sought-after distilleries. Cask Trade shared with me some of the returns their customers have received when using their "Buy Back" service, and whilst I won't re-publish them here, to me they seemed believable - e.g. I'm not surprised that someone who bought a well-aged Clynelish cask in 2019 and sold it in 2022 made a solid % return, whilst someone who bought a Teaninich cask and kept it around the same time made a less significant (but still very respectable) return. 

In the course of my regular whisky discussions (and especially since writing last month's article on cask ownership), I've come across Cask Trade customers and potential customers, and they've all had good things to say regarding their interaction. Part of that is likely because Cask Trade caters to all types of customers - even beginners, and their team offers advice which reflects actual knowledge of the whisky industry, and an understanding that different distilleries/cask types/ages yield different results.

Cask Trade don't publish a complete stock list on their website (which is understandable, given how quickly it would change), but according to their site they do "have the largest most varied cask whisky stocklist in the world [with].....over 500 casks featuring Scotch whisky from over 90 distilleries across Scotland, as well as Irish whiskey, New World whisky and rum, plus other spirits like Cognac and Armagnac." From viewing stock lists previously, I'd say that stacks up, with everything from younger (even new fill) casks from lesser-known distilleries, to well-matured casks from some of Scotland's most sought-after distilleries.

It should go without saying that when getting involved in any kind of cask purchase, it's critical to do your own research and make your own decisions - and to not take any of the above as financial advice. This is simply my experience with Cask Trade as a company, and the people (two of whom I knew well before their involvement) behind it.


PS: Whilst I'm not currently a Cask Trade customer, I'm not a customer of any Cask company at the moment. The only casks I own / have owned are directly from distilleries, aged at those distilleries.

Friday, 3 March 2023

That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC) Return to Oz [Tasted #617 - #625]

Indie bottler That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC) has announced a new series of Australian whisky bottlings with Return to Oz, a follow-up collection to their Australia Series of independent bottlings first launched in 2021 (here's our write-up on the first series - part 1 and part 2).

Six distilleries never bottled by TBWC prior will feature in the collection, including a new Australian rye whisky from Melbourne’s The Gospel and eight Australian single malts. That's a total of eight whiskies and one rye, though two of the eight whiskies are quite young at only 2 years old (Riverbourne and Tria Prima) and as a result, TBWC has labelled these as TBMC i.e. That Boutique-y Whisky Malt Whisky - which I thought was clever.

Also forming part of the series is a brandy from Tasmanian distillery Sullivans Cove as well as four specially selected rums from the likes of Black Gate and Mt Uncle distilleries. Though we did not get to try them so we will focus on the set of nine below:

  • Chief’s Son 5yo - Batch 1
  • Corowa 4yo - Batch 1 
  • Fleurieu 3yo - Batch 2 
  • Launceston 5yo - Batch 1 
  • Limeburners 5yo - Batch 1 
  • Overeem 5yo - Batch 3 
  • Riverbourne 2yo - Batch 2 
  • The Gospel 3yo - Batch 1 
  • Tria Prima 2yo - Batch 1 
The release is the latest in Boutique-y’s themed offerings and for Australia, follows their initial 'Australia' series in 2021. With Return to Oz, The UK-based TBWC will give the broader whisky market abroad an opportunity to try whiskies from down under, some of which are rarely seen outside of Australia. The release also follows TBWC's recent quarterly releases in 2022 including 10th Birthday, the NorWest Euro Express and Boutique-y Records. 

As Sam Simmons noted with TBWC's first Australian collection, 

“While I think it’s fair to say that most of the world is just waking up to the fact that Australian whisky is on the map at all, I would dare say that these whiskies, and the future of whiskies from down under, may turn the world upside down. Literally flipping the hegemonic order on its head, with Australia at the top of the pile in the 21st century.”

That comment still rings true with the Return to Oz series with a number of nice releases including a surprisingly young and bold release. The labelling on these bottles is also unique, something that is customary with TBWC.

If you recall, TBWC's first collection of Australian whiskies had the Southern Cross constellation theme running throughout the collection of labels. There was also a Lark on each of the labels where the ‘godfather’ of modern Australian whisky, Bill Lark, had played an important part in the distillery’s history.

For 'Return to Oz' - TBWC adopted a more radical theme and featured some of the most dangerous animals, insects, and reptiles from across Australia. TBWC decided that it would be awesome to assign each label with a deadly animal that can be found around the area where each distillery is located. A drop bear is one of Australia's deadliest animals right? absolutely!

The Gospel 3yo Batch 1 (58.6% ABV, 3yo, Brunswick, Victoria, Australia, A$179.95


This particular release, the first that we sampled from the 'Return to Oz' series is a different take on an American-style rye whiskey from a distillery located in the back streets of Melbourne's Brunswick neighbourhood, The Gospel Whiskey. This particular release started in a new American old cask before being transferred into an Australian red wine cask. There are big fruity dimensions as a result. It's been distilled from a mash bill of 51% Australian unmalted rye, and 49% malted barley.

Nose: Notes of wheat, rye bread, mixed with strawberry jam, some vanilla, shortbread biscuits and light spices

Palate: The palate is sweet and delicious, I get more of the vanilla, mixed berries, hints of apricot jam, and jam donuts. The palate slowly morphs into some spiced cake and some marzipan.

Finish: The sweetness follows and sticks for a while. The sweet sticky date pudding slowly changes into a dry spiced finish.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Launceston 5yo Batch 1 (62.6% ABV, 5yo, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, A$319.95


This little gem is a release that's based on an ex-bourbon barrel from Launceston Distillery, a distillery that was launched by a group of five friends in 2013. They began making whiskies in 2015 in a facility that started as an airport hangar; Hangar 17. In fact, the hangar site is the oldest surviving aviation building in Tasmania and has been used as the passenger departure point up to when the current terminal was built in 1968. Though none of these details feature on TWBC's label for this release. What is featured though is the scruffy yet iconic Tasmanian Devil.

Nose: The nose has hints of caramel, honey with some nougat mixed with creamy vanilla

Palate: The palate carries through those sweet notes, it starts off smooth, almost custard like with more of that nougat and vanilla coming through before fading out into some spiced herbaceous note.

Finish: The finish is long with lingering spice and creamy sweetness finish

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

Limeburners 5yo - Batch 1 (51.5% ABV, 5yo, Albany, Western Australia, Australia, A$299.95 


Based in the Margaret River region in Western Australia, the Limeburners distillery may not be the largest distillery, with annual output of 120 thousand litres of alcohol. While generally, Limeburners spirit is matured in second fill American Oak barrel with some finished in Australian fortified wine barrels, TWBC's Return to Oz Limeburners release is an unpeated, 5yo single malt, that has been matured in ex-Apera cask. Loads of sweet and tropical fruit notes in a bottle that has been labelled with lime mixed with a little box jelly fish, one of the Australia's most venomous marine animal.

Nose: The nose has notes of biscuits and milk chocolate. It is slightly floral with some milk arrow biscuits. There are tropical fruit notes, specifically pineapple that's come through.

Palate: The palate is rich and sweet, the chocolate note mixed with some vanilla, strawberry jam and pineapple ice cream.

Finish: The finish is medium to long, with the sweet chocolate and some pineapple notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

Tria Prima (51.2% ABV, 2yo, xx, Australia, A$294.95


A release from a relatively small distillery shop based in Mount Barker, South Australia. Tria Primer is run by a husband and wife; Paul and Trang Shand and their output is comparatively small. They launched their first whisky in 2021 with TBWC's Tria Primer release being their first independent bottling. 

This particular release, while only 2yo is extraordinary good; the label also reads That Boutique-y Whisky Malt Company. If you disregard the age and blind taste this, you might not even realise it's that young - the texture is great, it's juicy and has layers of complexity that you might expect from older whiskies. It's a release that's been matured in a first fill, Grant Burge, Tawny cask.

The blue ring octopus makes its debut on the label, given its status as South Australia's most venomous marine animal.

Nose: The nose is rich and fruity as well as juicy. There are hints of apricots, raisins and some vanilla, peppermint and milk chocolate

Palate: The palate is rich, smooth, somewhat milky and creamy. It is soft on the palate and there are some stone fruit notes including figs. It fades into a more of a dry spiced sweetness.

Finish: The finish is medium yet still smooth and relatively sweet.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

Corowa (48.5% ABV, 4yo, Corowa, New South Wales, Australia, A$239.95 


The Corowa story began when Dean Druce and his father, Neil bought the Corowa Flour Mill based in Corowa, in central New South Wales for the low sum of one Aussie dollar back in 1990. As a family of grain farmers, they transformed the heritage listed 1920s old flour mill into both, a liquid and chocolate factory. Founded in 2010, the distillery is now one of the bigger distilleries in New South Wales and has a capacity of around 350 thousand litres per annum. 

The 4yo TBWC Corowa release has been matured in ex Tawny cask and has been bottled out of a big batch that saw a tad over 500 bottles. On the label, the dreaded funnel web spider, a deadly venomous spider that you often find lurking in bushes.

Nose: The nose is filled with citrus notes with hints of oak. There are orange, marmalade and honey lollies notes.

Palate: The palate is creamy, rich and smooth, with some chocolate notes, mixed with tropical fruits, pineapple lollies rather and fades away into an oaky spiced note.

Finish: Medium length finish with some spiced remnants

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

Overeem (50% ABV, 5yo, Huntingfield, Tasmania, Australia, A$329.95 


As the story goes, Overeem has had a long history since their first release in 2012. With the distillery coming back to the Overeem family in 2020, the label on the TBWC's release signifies New Hope - very much inspired by the Star Wars saga and signals that Overeem is back. This release in fact follows TWBC's first Overeem release in 2015/2016.

The 5yo release has been matured in ex-Apera cask. This one is definitely quality and delicious. 

Nose: The nose has notes of mint chocolate, dried fruits, vanilla, raisins, honey and some peppermint, citrus notes.

Palate: The palate is oily, with some sweet chocolate notes and layered with honey, lime - perhaps lemon lozenge that fades into peppery spiced notes.

Finish: The finish is relatively long and carries some of the spices at the back of the palate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Chief's Son (52.1% ABV, 5yo, Somerville, Victoria, Australia, A$294.95 


A small distiller, or rather a micro distiller based in Somerville, Victoria. Chief's Son Distillery was established in 2013 by Stuart and Naomi Macintosh. Chief's Son use a brewers for their wash and they have just one four thousand litre capacity, electrically heated still. The TWBC Chief's Son release is awesome and unique, I mean what's not too like with an earthy, oily notes with some prosciutto thrown in. TWBC's Chief's son release is based from an ex Apera cask. 

Nose: The nose is rich, filled with some wood smoke. There is mint, fruity notes, apples and jelly.

Palate: The palate is rich and viscous and at the same time earthy, with layers of cold meat, salami, prosciutto. Some change to oaky and earthy notes at the end. Quite oily with black pepper and clove spices.

Finish: There are remnants of that oily, salami and smoky notes. Delicious.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Fleurie (65% ABV, 3yo, Goolwa, South Australia, Australia, A$309.95 


Fleurie has featured again, having been featured on TWBC's first Australian release. This time, it's a 3yo peated malt release aged in ex-Apera cask (named "Mary Ann Watkins"). Fleurie has always been a favourite of mine and this release is no different with beautiful hints of sweet notes, salted caramel, strawberry macaroon and rounded with some bonfire smoke. Great stuff as always from Gareth and Angela Andrew of Fleurie. 

The deadly animal that has been featured is no other than the legendary Australian drop bear :)

Nose: The nose is sweet, with notes of sweet sticky date, with some nuttiness and smoke.

Palate: The palate is relatively sweet, salted caramel mixed with strawberry macaroon before becoming quite spiced, nutty and oaky.  There's also that thin veneer of sea brine and iodine throughout.

Finish: The finish is long with spiced remnants, spiced salted nutty brittles.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Riverbourne (51% ABV, 2yo, Jingera, New South Wales, Australia, A$224.95 


The final whisky in the set that we tasted is from a distillery that has been re-featured by TBWC; Riverbourne Distillery. This time, a relatively young, 2yo peated malt that has been matured in a STR (shaved, toasted, recharred) 100l cask based on American and French Oak staves. 

Known for its big powerful flavours, Riverbourne have been appropriately represented by the death adder, one of the most deadliest land snake in Australia.

Nose: Salted fish and iodine jumps out with some black olives. The notes is rather earthy and somewhat herbaceous.

Palate: The palate is big and viscous, black olive tapenade with some citrus notes shine through with iodine and medicinal earthy notes. 

Finish: The finish is long, dry, earthy and quite salty.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 


Now the full lineup have gone live abroad in the UK and Europe since late January 2023. Australia stocks will be available mid-year, through retailers including The Oak Barrel & Old Barrel House and you might also spot some of these bottles at some select bars.

Thanks to Simon McGoram of That Boutique-y Whisky Company for providing us with samples from this new 'Return to Oz' series.



Wednesday, 1 February 2023

NED Green Sash [Tasted #616]

"We want to put things in us that are nice!" noted NED Whisky (Top Shelf International) Master Distiller Seb Reaburn. For those that have come across Sebastian Reaburn or Seb the Cocktail Maker Extraordinaire - he's more widely known as the Winner of the Cocktail World Cup, Winner of Cocktail Menu and Winner of Cocktail Presentation.

Of all the great individuals in the hospitality industry, Seb is one that you can say, has been deeply immersed in the world of flavour. Seb has been working with NED since 2016, where he led the establishment of NED's 'grain to can' distillery implementation. In fact, he proudly touted that NED's distillery is the only 'grain-to-can' distillery.

The concept of 'grain to can' may be new to some but the idea had been born from the notion that the number one drink by volume in Australia has been the American-style whiskey and cola, in a can! In fact, Australians drink more whiskey and cola than anyone else in the world. 

So the philosophy goes, if Australians like to drink this combo, why won't NED make them. Seb noted that at NEDS, they can control everything - not only do they distil the whisky but they also run their own canning facility. From this philoshopy, NED was then born, to create a locally crafted Australian whisky that gave Australian a choice and something to call their own.

But there is also more to NED than their ambition to create the world's best whisky and cola. Their recently launched NED Green Sash pays homage to the legendary NED Kelly.

The whisky has been aptly named after the prized green sash that Ned received for saving another boy's life early in his life. 

We joined Seb at Webster Bar in Sydney where he talked through the inspiration behind NED Whisky's latest release.

When Ned (Edward Kelly) was 11, he had a close friend by the name of Richard Shelton. Shelton's family owned the local pub. On the way to school, Richard crossed the Hughes river bridge, in Victoria. That day, the river was flooded and swollen. Richard fell into the river and washed downstream. Not knowing how to swim, Ned saw his friend and managed to jump into the river and dragged his friend out of the river to safety. The two of them eventually managed to get to the river banks.

The Shelton family awarded Ned with a green sash; a long, silk wool and cotton woven green fabric, This was to symbolise Ned's bravery and courage for doing the right thing because it must be done. Ned didn't know how to swim but jumped in anyway to save his friend even though he knew the consequences could have been catastrophic. Ned's attitude is certainly what inspired NED Whisky's latest release. What was also remarkable was the fact that Ned worse the green sash right up to his last day when was felled at Glenrowan.

Seb noted, when he created the Green Sash, he wanted to do it, not because it has been done, nor would it follow tradition but he wanted to create something that is delicious, first and foremost.

The NED Green Sash is a culmination of reserved aged NED barrels that had been harvested over toasted American Oak. The Green Sash form part of NED's core series and will be available all the time. It'll be made every month using a consistent process of emptying the barrels over toasted American Oak, not charred. 

The maturation involve the selection and vatting of 40 of NED's reserved barrels, into a wooden Green Sash dedicated vat which is then drawn down further into 24 barrels which are then put into a final vat to rest for 90 days. This is longer than the rest time for NED Whisky's original whisky which only sees 30 days of rest. Seb noted that the extra rest time gives the Green Sash additional sweetness and additional complexity.

NED Whisky Green Sash (44% ABV, NAS, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, A$79.99 


The inherent vanilla, citrus, oak and fruity notes make this a great standalone dram or as a base to whisky cocktails such as the old fashioned.

Nose: Fruity, some berries and summer fruits, vanilla and some oak and orange citrus notes

Palate: The palate is dry at first, there is hints of chocolate, vanillin, citrus orange notes and berries. The palate then develops and becomes spiced and peppery with some nuttiness that remains.

Finish: The finish is medium to long, with some remnants of spice cake and oranges.

Rating (on my very non scientific scale): 91/100 (Hendy) 

Thanks to Scott Fitzsimons of Top Shelf Group and Seb Reaburn for giving us the opportunity to join in on the NED tasting for the Green Sash launch at Websters Bar.

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Cask ownership: A few thoughts...

For several years now, I've had questions from friends, colleagues, friends of friends etc.. about cask ownership. Every time, I give my thoughts and tell myself "I really should write a blog article about this", and then never do...

So finally, it's time to put all those thoughts into an article, which hopefully provides some points to think about when considering cask ownership. First though, a few admissions in the interests of transparency:
  • I own (and have owned) casks
  • I have bottled (and will bottle) my casks
  • I have a lot of whisky friends who bottle casks - some for fun, some as a business, and some in-between
  • I'll soon be doing a few (2-3) sponsored posts on the blog and socials (FB, IG) with a cask company - one of the very few cask companies (I can count them on one hand) that I actually trust

To begin, let's take it back to a few basics for those who may be completely new to the world of casks...

"What's all this about casks then?"
In simplest terms, "cask" refers to the wooden vessel in which many aged spirits (including all whiskies) are matured or aged. They come in different shapes, sizes, and have names like "Butts", "Hogsheads", "Barrels", "Octaves" etc.. but they're (almost) always made of Oak, and for the purposes of this article we'll refer to them generically as "casks".

Back in the 1980s, when non-aged spirits like Vodka were gaining in popularity, whisky - Scotch especially - took a backseat and the world experienced a Scotch whisky glut, referred to by some as a "Whisky Loch" (some of the distilleries which closed during this time are now amongst the world's most sought-after). To survive, several distilleries sold casks - to clubs, private individuals, and especially Independent Bottlers (of course some bottlers, like G&M had already been buying spirit and maturing their own casks for nearly 100 years by this stage).

Fast forward 25-30 years, and whisky started to gain in popularity in a big way. The Whisky Loch was no more and we started to experience the opposite - a shortage (especially of aged whisky), and inevitably rising prices. Despite this, at the time and even later (circa 2010-2015), there were still some excellent value casks around, and many distilleries still selling direct to the public. Nowadays there are only a handful doing so, and almost all of them are relatively young / new distilleries.

Fast forward a few more years, whisky continued to grow in popularity (especially during the pandemic - go figure) and unsurprisingly, amidst shortages and rising prices, the "cask investment" brigade emerged - companies taking advantage of the fervour around whisky, promising incredible financial returns in a short period of time.

(Out of sheer curiosity and to help guide some friends, I sat in on two presentations from one of these companies in 2021 & 2022. I won't name names, but my goodness - what I heard was enough to have me running for the hills. I'm not exaggerating when I say almost their entire business model could be summarised as "Buy this cask today, because in X months you can sell it to someone in Mainland China for a double-digit % profit". Never mind the fact that the company couldn't answer basic questions about cask ownership, and that the casks weren't from particularly good distilleries, weren't available for tasting, and/or were in my view horrendously over-priced...)


"I see ads all over social media offering me casks. Is this my ticket to an early retirement or a quick buck?"
Unlikely. Sure, people claim to have made very handsome short-term returns buying and selling casks in the past, but many (myself included) feel that ship has somewhat sailed, at least in terms of Scotch whisky. You may have a "whisky investment expert" quote you some incredible returns in the space of months, but is someone really going to pay 30-50% more than you paid for your cask of Glen Tartan (or other average distillery) in a short space of time? It's far from guaranteed.

Also, keep in mind it’s either impossible or very, very expensive to get a cask from a sought-after distillery like Macallan or Springbank these days (we’re talking hundreds of thousands, often millions of pounds / dollars for a well-matured cask, and forget getting a brand new fill - when it comes to private individuals, only the distillery’s very very best clients get that privilege, if at all).

"So what should I consider about cask ownership?"
First, think about your reason for cask ownership. Are you looking to make a quick buck (which, as above, isn't as easy as it sounds), long-term investment (which carries its own risks outlined below), or are you wanting to eventually bottle the whisky (and if so, to sell, gift or drink)?

Then think about why a cask is for sale in the first place. We've already established that whisky is popular these days, and that most distilleries aren't selling their casks (or at least, not on the open market) anymore. So when you see an aged cask for sale, think "why"? Is it a good cask? Maybe (certainly there are some AMAZING independently bottled casks out there), but think about it from a distiller’s perspective - are they going to sell their best casks? Probably not. They will however sometimes sell casks that don’t fit their flavour profile - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and has produced some legendary bottles in the past. 

Or maybe it's a cask that's been traded several times, and is floating around the market. Why? Again, that's not automatically a problem, but it is something to ask / consider. 

If you can taste a recent sample, that can help allay concerns about the quality. Keep in mind whisky casks are unique. Two casks maturing side by side, filled on the same day, in the same type of wood, can taste completely different. One might be amazing, one might be terrible. If you’re not getting samples before buying, you have no guarantee if you’ll end up with an amazingly balanced whisky, or 200L+ of tannic sulphured oak juice.

Then let’s say your cask is good, AND you choose to bottle it at the right time (remember not every cask will make it to 25, 30, 40+ years old - some will be terrible at an older age, some won’t even be whisky if the ABV drops too low)! Then you have 200, 350, 450L of whisky...that’s a lot of bottles. You then have to pay for the glass bottles, label design, labelling, taxes, packaging, and storage / shipping. Certainly some (better) cask companies help with all this, but it can be an expensive exercise. Note this isn't a reason not to buy a cask, but it is something a lot of people don't consider.

(Some distilleries, like Sydney's Archie Rose offer "turn-key" cask ownership, where you pay one up-front fee and eventually end up with labelled, duty-paid, delivered bottles. I've done this, and can recommend it as a hugely fun exercise, but of course you pay more up-front for the privilege.)

OK, so you've bottled your cask. Then what do you do with 200, 300, 400+ bottles of your whisky? If you're looking to share it with friends, gift it, or just drink it yourself - great! If you're hoping to sell it though, that’s a lot of whisky to sell in a crowded market. What if it’s just average? Or not even good? It's probably not from a top-tier distillery, so that leaves the less popular distilleries, which is fine, but again, not easy to sell hundreds of bottles unless you’re an established bottler or bar with a following already. Certainly some well-respected bars, shops and whisky clubs can sell bottles in minutes, even from "lesser" distilleries, but who wants to buy an unknown bottle from Joe Smith? 

Also consider the outturn - you may expect to get 300 bottles, but may only end up with 220. That suddenly raises the cost of each bottle significantly. Evaporation can vary wildly from cask to cask, and can hit in a short space of time (and that’s before we consider leakage).

This is all assuming you bottle it. If you’re just looking to sell the cask to someone, it removes some of these headaches, but will someone buy it? For the price and in the timeframe you expect? Maybe, but it's not always guaranteed. 

(There's also a whole minefield around cask ownership which I won't go into in detail, but suffice to say, if you're buying a cask, make sure you're getting the appropriate paperwork to confirm that you indeed own the cask. A "Certificate of Title" or similar may not be enough, and may leave you exposed in the event that your cask broker / "investment company" goes out of business.)

"Any final thoughts?"
Don’t get me wrong, cask ownership can be a tonne of fun, but you have to ask what your goal is up-front, and consider the above points (and many others - this article is far from comprehensive).

If you're planning to buy a cask or two as a long-term investment, cool good luck - but consider the above points first.

If you're planning to pump all your savings into casks and hope to double it within the space of a year...maybe reset your expectations.

If you’re buying a cask to share with friends or colleagues, or as part of a group, and your goal is to have some of your own whisky at the end, or perhaps gift it, go for it! That's my plan with my casks, and it's a lot of fun. 



Please note - this article in no way constitutes or should be taken as financial advice. It simply contains my personal views on cask ownership (whether for the purposes of bottling or otherwise). As always, do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Glenmorangie "A Tale of the Forest" [Tasted #615]

Glenmorangie, much like their LVMH counterpart Ardbeg, have become known for releasing annual special editions that actually have a point of difference to them, rather than just a different label and slightly different mixture of ex-sherry and ex-Bourbon whiskies. For years it was the Private Edition series (EalantaSpiosBacaltaMilseanCompanta etc..) and more recently the "Tale of" series - first "A Tale of Cake", then "A Tale of Winter" and now "A Tale of the Forest".

A Tale of the Forest uses barley kilned with "woodland botanicals" - more specifically juniper berries, birch bark, heather flowers and just a hint of peat. I'm sure I'm not the only one who read this and thought "a gin-esque whisky!?"

My biggest question when it comes to interesting, unusually-made whiskies like this is - does the uniqueness actually shine through in the final product? Can you actually taste those woodland botanicals in the whisky? Let's find out...


Glenmorangie "A Tale of the Forest" (46% ABV, NAS, Highlands, $980HKD / $169.99AUD / £62.46ex-VAT)
Colour: Honey gold

Nose: There really is an initial whack of pine needles and a touch of eucalyptus here. It's certainly an unusual nose for a Scotch. Freshly-cut grass, heather and herbal tea. If you'd told me it was a cask-rested gin, based on the nose, I'd believe you. 

Palate: A bit of the spice from the nose carries through, along with the pine notes. The eucalyptus too, but it's more prominent than on the nose. There's still Glenmo DNA though - soft yet flavoursome with noticeable citrus, vanilla cream & honey. Doesn't feel overly young either - there's not a lot of complexity here, but it's also not rough or under-aged.

Finish: Long, with residual resin, pine and grassy notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100 (Martin). This isn't a hugely complex whisky, but it 100% matches the name and purported character, and it's tasty too. Some distilleries use special release NAS whiskies to hide young whisky that (in my view) isn't quite ready. That's not the case here at all - this feels spot-on in terms of age and "meets the brief" in terms of character.

Thanks to MHDHK for the review bottle.


Wednesday, 28 December 2022

Malt Whisky Yearbook 2023 review

There are a huge (and growing) number of whisky books in the market, some of them good, some of them not so good. Personally though, there's only one annual book I always ensure I have in my collection on its release - Ingvar Ronde's Malt Whisky Yearbook, now in its 16th year with the recently-released 2023 Edition.

Since my first copy in 2008, I've found it to be the the quintessential source of whisky knowledge - easy to read, accurate, current, with a good mix of distillery profiles/histories and thought pieces written by some of the industry's best writers. This year's release for example includes articles like "The SWA - Rottweiler or St Barnard?", "The Complexities Of Whisky Sustainability" & "Lowlands on a High" (about the rejuvenation of this once-unloved region).

What makes Ronde's Malt Whisky Yearbook the one I always keep within easy reach however is the reference material. Whether it's distilleries, Independent Bottlers, whisky shops, "distilleries by owner", closed distilleries or distilleries by country, there's a huge amount of information laid out in an easy to find format. Did you know for example China has 4 active whisky distilleries? Can you list every single distillery under Diageo's ownership? Do you know the output capacity of Holyrood Distillery? All this sort of information is available within seconds - very handy for a whisky blogger, or anyone with more than a passing interest in whisky.

This year the book again includes "Websites to Watch" (page 73) - and again we're humbled to be listed alongside a number of fantastic sites.

At £15.95 (with shipping to Hong Kong only £3.95), Malt Whisky Yearbook continues to be excellent value, and in my opinion well worth picking up if you haven’t read it before, and a must-buy if you have! Available from www.maltwhiskyyearbook.com.


This copy of the Malt Whisky Yearbook was kindly provided by Ingvar Ronde, however the views above are entirely my own and would remain unchanged had I purchased the book myself.

Tuesday, 27 December 2022

The Whisky Exchange Ben Nevis 1992-2020 23 Year Old Cask #1709 [Tasted #614]

Given my love of Ben Nevis (and how often I post / talk about them on Instagram), I really should post a few more tasting notes on this blog. So in an attempt to pad out the Nevis quota before the end of the year, here's a Whisky Exchange bottling kindly donated by a Hong Kong whisky mate, the talented Damoo from The Whisky Journey (IG / FB).

Distilled in 1996 (of course), this one was bottled from a single Hogshead in 2020 at 23yo & 52.1% ABV. The Whisky Exchange have a number of whisky ranges through their Elixir Distillers company, but I've always had good ones from this label, so it came high expectations...

Ben Nevis 1996 - 2020 Cask #1709 bottled by The Whisky Exchange (52.1% ABV, 23yo, One of 205 bottles, Highlands, no longer available)
Colour: Yellow straw

Nose: Lemon tart and butter menthols, followed by peach, pear and stewed apple.

Palate: Follows the nose, with an initial fruitiness, but more pear, heather, and a very slight grassy funk. I wouldn't call it tropical (though there is a little candied grapefruit) - more honey and stone fruits, but it's a wonderfully delicious dram.

Finish: Long, with heather, honey and orange slices.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin). Up there with the better 1996s.


Thursday, 1 December 2022

Indri Single Malt Indian Whisky - Trini [Tasted #613]

In the 3rd century BC - trade between India and other parts of the world was blooming. At that time, Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the ancient Indian Empire build a trade route that would connect Central Asia (all the way to Greece) to important trade centres in India. Many years later, the British Empire considerably rebuilt the road between 1833 and 1860 and aptly named this route the Grant Trunk Road or now also referred to as GT Road. 

Over the centuries, the GT road acted as one of the major trade routes in the region and the road is still very much used in the present-day Indian subcontinent for transportation. This route has been the gateway to the Indian sub-continent and has seen Traders, Merchants, Armies come and go, making it a prime region of cultural confluence. 

So what's this got to do with whisky you ask? Fast forward to 1995 and a distillery was built just off this iconic trade route. Piccadily, an Indian hospitality and entertainment group built a sugar mill and distillery off the GT road, in a small village known as Indri in the Haryana region. What would not be known at the time was that Indri would eventually feature on the global scale as one of India's award-winning whiskies. Since then, Piccadily has become the largest independent manufacturer and seller of malt spirits in India. 

The Haryana region is naturally abundant in water and it's also known as the 'Green Bowl of India.' Landlocked between mountain peaks that form part of the Himalayas range, the region, its surroundings and history would soon form part of the Indri single malt whisky story. 

The distillery in Indri, Haryana has six copper pot stills, three being wash stills and the other three being spirit stills. The production capacity is rated at around 4 million litres annually. The preparation of American imported oak barrels is also done on-site by the coopers at the distillery who would toast, char and repair the barrels on-site.

The development of the Indri single malt whisky has primarily been driven by Master Blender, Surrinder Kumar who has been developing malts from the distillery since 2004. The Indri Single Malt Whisky, in particular, has won numerous awards and also took gold at this year's International Spirits Challenge (ISC) overtaking the likes of Paul John and Rampur Whiskies. The former, I still love to this day; I fondly remember my first time, tasting the Paul John Oloroso when it first launched.

So what do I think of the Indri Single Malt Whisky, here are my thoughts.

Indri Single Malt Whisky - Trini; The Three Wood (46% ABV, NAS, Indri, Haryana, India, A$79.99 


While there is an inherent oakiness throughout, the layers of flavours on the nose and the palate make this a particularly interesting whisky. It is fruity, and light and can be had with or without a drop of water.

Nose: Summer fruits, loads of raspberries and blackberries, pineapple lollies and a dollop of creamy vanilla ice cream layered with a drizzle of honey.

Palate: Light, to begin with, the berry notes come through initially before a layer of gentle spice that follows. There is an undertone of oakiness that is carried throughout. The spices are mixed with citrus notes, orange zest, and some white pepper. 

Finish: The finish is medium and there are the tannin and the oak notes that remain along with some sour pineapple juice that lingers.

Rating: 91/100 (Hendy) 

Thanks to Madhu Kanna of Piccadily for sending us a bottle of Indri Single Malt Whisky to check out. 

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Westward Dominio IV Pinot Noir, Tempranillo [Tasted #611 - #612]

Shape tasting? What is shape tasting? It's the term coined by Dominio IV's founder, Patric Reuter, to describe the pictorial representation of the aromas and flavours that unfold in time with his wines. 

Dominio IV wines, based in Mosier, Oregon is known for its syrah, tempranillo and pinot noir. Dominio IV winery is also where the method of "shape testing" was developed by Patrick Reuter. Visual presentation of tasting notes of the flavours and aromas can be seen on the labels of the Dominio IV Imagination Wine Series.

Inspired by both, the wines of Dominio IV and the visual representation of the profile of those wines - Miles Munroe, the Lead Distiller of Westward Distillery developed the Cascadia Creative Series. Dominio IV's innovative shape-tasting method was essential to the development of this new release with Patrick also painting the sensory experience from the whiskey to which his drawings are now featured on the Cascadia Creative Series boxes.

So what forms part of Westward's Cascadia Creative Series? The series will include Westward Whiskey Dominio IV Single Barrel Tempranillo Whiskey as well as a re-release of the Westward Whiskey Dominio IV Single Barrel Pinot Noir Whiskey. Both whiskies will have an ABV of 62.5% and the series has been developed exclusively for the Whisky Club.

We joined Miles Munroe for the launch of the Cascadia Creative Series here in Sydney where Miles talked through the long partnership that he's had with Dominio IV winery that culminated in the development of these expressions.

The last time Miles was down under was back in March 2019 and I got to sit down with him and spent some time getting to know him and his back story prior to joining Westward and what inspired him at Westward. Fast forward to 2022 and Miles has undoubtedly taken Westward to the next level, inspired by all the elements that make Westward what it is.

The Westward Whiskey Dominio IV Tempranillo Single Barrel at cask strength is made from scratch with Westward's original single malt. The distillation begins with a brew of an American Ale, using locally sourced two-row barley, ale yeast and a slow, low-temperature fermentation process. The whiskey is then distilled twice in custom low-reflux post stills before being matured in lightly charred American Oak barrels and finally, transferred at cask strength into an emptied Dominio IV Tempranillo French Oak Wine Casks. The whiskey is finished for an additional year before being bottled.

Head Distiller Miles Munroe noted, “The Dominio IV Tempranillo vineyard on the east of the Cascade Range produces incredibly robust grapes that match the fruit-forward flavours of Westward Whiskey. Because of this, we knew that finishing our Westward Whiskey at cask strength in their Tempranillo barrels would be the ideal flavour pairing and make for an extraordinary first expression to launch the Cascadia Creative Series in Australia."

So what's the Cascadia Creative Series like?

Westward Dominio IV Pinot Noir (62.5% ABV, NAS, Portland, Oregon, United States, A$195


The re-release of the Westward Whiskey Dominio IV Pinot Noir Single Barrel at cask strength comes after an incredible response to the initial release in Australia, which previously sold out through The Whisky Club in January 2021. Another exclusive release at cask-strength, this re-release expression sees the maturation of Westward's original single malt for 19 months in French Oak Pinot Noir Barrels from Dominio IV Wines.

Nose: Fruity, loads of strawberries, orange peels with some coconut shaving, mixed with raisins, some vanillin beans, green apples and a small remnant of nutmeg.

Palate: The palate is reminiscent of a Christmas panettone cake, with raisins and some candied orange. This sweetness is then followed by lots of spices, particularly cinnamon, nutmeg and some light chilli. 

Finish: The finish is long and elegant and transitions from the spice bomb to remnants of tannin, and nougat.

Rating: 92/100 (Hendy) 

Westward Dominio IV Tempranillo (62.5% ABV, NAS, Portland, Oregon, United States, A$195


The Westward Whiskey Dominio IV Tempranillo Single Barrel at cask strength sees the original Westward single malt being finished for 12 months in an emptied French Oak Dominio IV Tempranillo cask.

Nose:  The nose has layers of sticky date and sticky pudding. I can sense some crème de la crème and caramel. The sweetness is then followed with some earthy spices, clove, cinnamon, and perhaps a cinnamon donut. The nose is very dessert-like.

Palate: Those layers of sweetness ripple through the palate with notes of sticky date, burnt caramel, crème brûlée and maple-covered pancake. The spices that follow cut through the sweetness, with loads of clove and notes of cedar oak, 

Finish: The finish is dry, earthy and with some remnants of tobacco.

Rating: 92/100 (Hendy) 

I am quite impressed with both the expressions that make up the Cascadia Creative Series. Personally, I've been a fan of Westward's core single malt and seeing the culmination of the core single malt with the casks of various wine varietals has elevated the profile of their core single malt.

Thanks to Westward Whiskies and Agent 99 for having us as part of the Whisky Club preview event.


Monday, 21 November 2022

Tasting the BlockBar x BenRiach 40 Year Old NFT Whisky [Tasted #610]

Hot on the heels of Hendy's recent "Brown Forman Whisky Showcase" post comes another Brown Forman single malt, although released in a very different manner...

I ran a poll on Instagram Stories back in January about NFT spirit sales, and unsurprisingly, there was a lot of distrust / disinterest. I'd write out my 2c on the matter here, but I think I covered it pretty well back then:

In summary, whilst there's a heap of BS NFT projects out there with little to no utility (and in my view, value, as the Crypto world is now realising), this isn't one of them...and the fact that so many well-established brands have partnered with BlockBar in such a short space of time (they just had their first birthday) says a lot.

One of those more recent brands is Benriach, who recently released their first NFT recently in the form of the Benriach 40yo Twin Set NFT, available in a limited "drop" of 10 sets only, exclusively via BlockBar.

A 1 of 10 release of a 40yo whisky is a pretty impressive thing to begin with, but not content to stop there, Benriach and BlockBar actually made this a set of two different 40yos. Both 40yo Benriach, but very different whiskies:
  •  "The Forty" - a peated Benriach matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Port casks, bottled at 43.5%; and
  • "The Forty Octave Cask Matured" - a "classic Speyside" Benriach, matured in Octave casks and bottled at 51.5%
Benriach & BlockBar were kind enough to send me a sample of the former recently, so we could actually taste the liquid behind the NFT...

Benriach "The Forty" 40yo BlockBar NFT release (43.5% ABV, 40yo, One of 10 bottles, Speyside, ~6.78ETH / $8,000USD in a twinset)
Colour: Deep coffee copper

Nose: Old dunnage warehouse, dusty old school (desirable) old sherry casks, but with a vibrant fruitiness too - some blackcurrant, red apple and even some marzipan.

Palate: Follows the nose, with marzipan, then red apple. Theres oak, but it's balanced. I don't get any noticeable peat, but after 40 years (and presumably not an extreme level of PPM to begin with) that's to be expected. There's some humidor notes and coffee beans, a little walnut tannin towards the end, with some oolong tea and rich red berries.

Finish: Long, strong earl grey tea notes with residual oak tannins.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin). A lovely dram.

Thanks to BlockBar, BenRiach / Brown Forman & GustoLuxe for the sample of "The Forty" Benriach, available via BlockBar now.