Private whisky cask ownership is becoming increasingly popular, but cask owners are still a rare breed. In these Cask to Glass blogs, we introduce you to some of the private cask owners we’ve helped to create, and give you some background on who they are and what makes them tick.
Let me introduce you to Robin Miller. A native Aberdonian, Robin’s travels led him to events hosting in Abu Dhabi, UAE – a crossroads of travel and an immensely international city. If you’re doing events in the UAE, you’re at the top of your game: the country is well known for the scale and skill of its hosting.
Developing a stronger connection with the culture of home is often a side effect of moving abroad. For Robin, as for Aaron Milligan, this was Scotch Whisky – a drink that reminded him of home, but more importantly had the ability to draw people together into a shared convivial experience.
“As an industry, it’s just so special for Scotland to have something which is still universally regarded as the ‘premier league’ of the broader whisky world – it’s a source of pride.”
About 3 years ago, in a flash of existential foresight, he knew he wouldn’t be working events in Abu Dhabi forever. He wanted a project for his eventual retirement – something to have fun and stay engaged with. Scotch Whisky was about to play a central role in that plan.
The Pre-Cask Days
There’s a healthy selection of whiskies on sale in Abu Dhabi – and though some are marked up on their UK counterparts, Robin’s reading on whisky showed that some of the bottles were a little undervalued on the shelves. Many of these he snapped up, growing a whisky collection at enough of a rate that he began to worry about where to store all the bottles. If only there was a way to collect some whisky at a safe, but remote location… Whisky in the cask, perhaps?
Robin found Cask 88 online and got to know us over a few conversations. Three years ago, his first contact was Fraser, but he’s since got to know Adam, Carl and even walked alongside the Spey with Patrick. He came for a cask, but stayed for the chat.
“I really liked the approach that I was asked a lot of questions. What did I like to drink, what had stirred my interest, what were my ambitions – and I had a million and one questions [of my own]. It was a friendly, educational conversation with someone like-minded, who understood exactly where I was coming from.”
“I really enjoyed seeing the lists of available casks. Every time I saw one I’d be straight onto Google, researching, because there were distilleries on there, frankly, I’d never heard of. There were also some I recognised and enjoyed drinking. I was fascinated by the differences.”
Robin’s first cask was a classic Highland: Tullibardine – a whisky distillery born from a half century old brewery. To him, already a familiar sight from about a million car trips on the road between Aberdeen and Glasgow, so there was a real sense of familiarity with this distillery – despite not having drunk their whisky before. Not too many months after, a Bunnahabhain caught his eye on a cask list and became the second cask and then;
“I saw Glenrothes. I’m very fond of drinking a Glenrothes, so as I was very excited by the whole cask ownership thing, I thought: Oh wow, I’m going to get my own cask of Glenrothes!”
Robin’s retirement nest-egg was growing as he magpied more interesting casks into the collection. He’s now up to 26 casks; a range across the Scottish regions, with ages from 2-20 years. Ardbeg, Glengoyne, Port Dundas, Teaninich joined the stable. Some potentially to be sold again, others for personal bottles – no pressure to make one’s mind up quickly as the whisky matures. Robin doesn’t intend to go into business as an independent bottler – his model is for some casks sold that will support the casks bottled for personal interest.
“I would like to see many of these stay in the cask for a while, sleeping in the Highlands. And it will give me something fun to do in my retirement. I rather like the idea of having a few cases of whisky that has been under my custodianship – that when my friends come round I can give them one as a gift.”
The UAE Whisky Club
As a cask owner Robin was naturally having more conversations about his whisky casks, and enjoying the bonding over whisky that is as strong anywhere in the world as it is in Scotland.
“The discovery of like-minded whisky enthusiasts in the UAE ( and the desire to meet more) resulted in the idea to create a club which would get together and collectively drink whisky. It was no coincidence that the post lockdown need to reconnect in person was factor in the numbers of members quickly growing to 80. The UAE Whisky Cub was born, another outpost of Scotch Whisky far from the damp and windy land that brought it into being.”
“There’s an association there – whisky club came along, and being Scottish and running it. It’s a nice thing to present the country in that way… Each glass stirs the spirits a bit – it’s a piece of home.”
We were honoured to be invited to visit Robin and Jacob, his co-leader whisky club in Abu Dhabi. Adam and Carl answered the call, flying over with several of Cask 88’s choicest releases in tow and treated the whisky club to a full Cask 88 tasting experience. Robin had worked with us in advance to design and bottle some unique bottles of 27yr old blended malt to mark this occasion – a first taste of independent bottlings to come?
Carl and Adam’s two tasting sessions went swimmingly, and we may well have picked up a few more disciples of the good gospel of cask ownership. It’s a movement we’re keen to expand. The more people who know about the possibility of private cask ownership, the more diverse and exciting the world of whisky becomes, with the potential of independently held casks and independently bottled whiskies creating new and previously unseen whiskies…
A New Frontier with Port Dundas
As a final question. I asked Robin (hypothetically) which of his casks he would bottle to best represent the whisky club. As a grain whisky enthusiast, I was well pleased with his answer:
“The club is about new things, new people, trying new whisky and learning new ideas. What would reflect that? It would be bottling a cask of the Port Dundas that I have. It’s a closed, demolished distillery, I understand. It’s also a grain whisky – something that many people (myself included) would know less about. It really ties in with the idea of newness and learning. I plumped on that one, which wasn’t an immediate, obvious choice.”
For now, we will have to wait and see. Robin’s casks are all going to keep maturing for a good few years yet, making the most of each year until their big day arrives.
“The only thing that I’m sure of is that I wanted to get in early and sit on this, not look at it every day and think ‘what’s happening with that?’ or even in a year ‘how’s that performing?’ – no no, not at all. It’s sleeping quietly and we’ll come back to it later and see how it goes.”
If you’re looking to get into the cask ownership game yourself and creating a whisky that’s never been seen before, drop us a line.