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.

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