7 Questions to ask before buying your cask

Owning a cask of whisky is a unique and rewarding experience. But before you invest in ‘the water of life’, it’s vital to ask the right questions to establish its true value:

  1. How many bulk litres does my cask hold?
    Quite simply, this is the volume of all the liquid in your cask. For an emerging cask, this its total filling capacity. However, in older casks, the volume of bulk litres will drop due to the natural evaporation that occurs in the porous oak.

  2. What’s the alcohol by volume (ABV)?
    The ABV shows what percentage of the liquid in your cask is alcohol. The minimum ABV for whisky is 40%, but cask strength can rise to over 70%. ABV tends to drop with time as the alcohol evaporates.

  3. What about original litres of alcohol (OLA)? And re-gauged litres of alcohol (RLA)?
    OLA is the amount of alcohol first poured into the cask. RLA applies to casks over 10 years old, and is the amount of alcohol that remains following re-measuring at a certain date after the original filling.

These first three points are vital to determine the health – and value – of your cask. The following questions will have a large effect on both the flavour of the whisky and the lifetime of your cask.

  1. What type of cask am I buying?
    By this we mean, is it a first fill or refill? Experts agree that the cask adds between 60-80% of a whisky’s flavour, so it’s important to know exactly what’s helping your whisky to mature, and how it will affect the buying and selling price. The most common types of cask are ex-bourbon and ex-sherry. These can be what’s known as first fill – i.e. it’s the first time they’ve been filled with Scotch – or refill, which means they’ve previously been used to mature whisky. Bourbon and sherry add distinctive flavours but have different costs associated with them. In addition, a first fill cask will add a more dominant note, whereas the effects of a refill cask will be more subtle, making them more suitable for long-term maturing. With such a strong impact on the taste, it’s therefore important to know exactly which type of cask is influencing your precious investment.

  2. What size is it?
    Larger casks are best for long-term maturation and yield a different volume of whisky, but also incur higher storage costs. So always check if your cask is a barrel, a hogshead, a butt or another type of vessel.

  3. Are there any restrictive covenants in place?
    Always check if the supplying distillery has applied any conditions that might limit how you can sell or bottle the cask in future. Some won’t let you use their name on bottles filled from the cask, which could impact on value when you come to sell.

  4. And finally…where will it be stored?
    Casks are stored in bonded warehouses regulated by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), where they must remain until bottling. Find out which warehouse in Scotland is responsible for storing your cask, and which unique number it was assigned on the date it was filled. This number will be used throughout its lifetime.

So, there you have it – the seven questions you should always ask before investing in a cask. If you have any other enquiries, please drop us a line.