Scotch whisky casks are assets with a considerable price range. Prices of freshly distilled casks start from only a few thousand pounds, and at the same time a 30-year-old sherry hogshead cask from the Macallan distillery was sold last year for a record amount of HKD 4.5 million (around £478 000).
The prices of casks are influenced by a number of interrelated external and internal factors that determine the market price of the cask, as well as its potential for value growth.
Let's take a look at the most important factors that affect the value of Scotch whisky casks.
1. The age of whisky cask
The most important factor determining the value of a cask is certainly its age. For the distillate to be called "whisky", it must be aged for at least 3 years. With each subsequent year of maturation, the value of the cask increases, but it is not a linear increase.
There are specific "border points", exceeding which increases the market value of whisky, especially if we plan to bottle our cask. It has been assumed that they are respectively: 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 25 years of maturation. The differences in the price of casks are not as significant as in the case of bottles, and a 15-year-old cask will not be much more expensive than a 14-year-old one.
Another aspect to consider is the large deficit of casks aged over 12 years on the market. Due to insufficient supply and growing demand for older casks, their prices begin to rise more dynamically after the 12th year of maturation.
Even rarer and therefore more expensive are casks with distillate aged for over 30 years. This is influenced not only by huge demand, but also by technological aspects - not every whisky is able to maintain the appropriate quality with such a long time of maturation. It takes a lot of knowledge and experience to assess when a given whisky is "ready" and further maturation can only harm it.
2. The distillery
Another factor determining the value of a whisky cask is the distillery it comes from. There are currently nearly 130 active whisky distilleries in Scotland, some of which are more desirable than others. Sometimes the quality of the produced whisky has an impact on the popularity of the distillery, and sometimes its history or well-conducted marketing activities.
However, we do not recommend paying too much attention to current fashion. Collectors' sympathies can change quickly, and currently popular distilleries may not be as desirable in a few years. Given the long-term investment in whisky casks, you shouldn't be guided by the changing preferences of collectors. Even more so, if we are not planning the bottling of our cask, but rather its resale to blended whisky producers - then the taste profile and the age of the drink will be much more important.
3. The type and size of a whisky cask
Whisky, maturing in casks, reacts with wood and acquires its flavor and aroma. The type and size of the cask are of colossal importance for the final character of the drink. Some connoisseurs have their preferences for the type of cask - casks after Sherry or Madeira leave sweet, fruity aromas, and those after Bourbon make noticeable notes of vanilla or caramel.
The cask size is also important - the smaller the cask, the more the distillate reacts with the wood. On the other hand, larger casks contain more distillate and are more desirable on the market, so their value can also be proportionally higher.
The most common cask sizes are:
· Quarter Cask - approx. 125 liters
· American Bourbon Barrel – approx. 200 liters
· Hogshead – approx. 250 litres
· Butt - approx. 500 litres
· Puncheon – approx. 550 litres
Due to the stronger interaction with alcohol, "first-fill" and "second-fill" casks are more desirable, i.e. those that are filled with whisky for the first or second time.
4. The alcohol content in the distillate
The last, but no less important factor is the alcohol content of the drink, referred to as ABV (percentage alcohol content in the distillate) and RLA (pure alcohol content in liters).
For a distillate to be called whisky, it must have an alcohol content of at least 40%. Because of the so-called "Angel's share", evaporation of alcohol from the barrel during the maturation, its content decreases over time.
Knowledge of ABV is necessary to determine the value of the cask, but also its potential for maturation. If ABV falls below 40%, the cask is in fact worthless. Therefore, it is necessary to regularly check the alcohol level and adjust the length of the investment to the potential of the cask.
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