Would You Pony Up Around $1.55 Million For A Scotch Whisky Cask? This Distillery Hopes You Will - The Whiskey Wash
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Would You Pony Up Around $1.55 Million For A Scotch Whisky Cask? This Distillery Hopes You Will

By Nino Marchetti / February 23, 2015

Would you pay £1 million (around $1.55 million USD, or $1,545,750 to be exact at the current exchange rates) to own the first cask of whisky produced from a Scottish distillery which recently reopened after almost a century of slumber? That’s an expensive question to ponder as we take a look at the story of Annandale Distillery and a Scotch price tag stirring the always burning flames of what one considers to be overpriced booze.

Annandale first threw open its whisky making doors in the 1830s in Scotland’s Lowlands region, later being acquired by the Johnnie Walker blended Scotch brand in the 1890s. It was shuttered by 1920, and sat dormant for around 90 years before a new entity took it over, pouring approximately £10.5 million (around $16.2 million USD) into it to create what’s been described as a “modern distillery and new visitor attraction” that reopened to the world late last year.

The revived Annandale distillery (image via Annandale)

The revived Annandale distillery (image via Annandale)

Now it certainly makes sense the folks at Annandale would want to recoup the millions spent on the restoration project sooner rather than later, but the means by which they seem to aim to want to do this is what is stirring the debate of how much a bottle, or in this case cask, of Scotch is truly worth. What’s been unveiled in this regard are sales of the distillery’s first roughly 75 production 200 liter (52.8 gallon) single malt casks, filled this past November and December. Here’s how Annandale is breaking down pricing [PDF], with descending prices by cask denoting its rank forward from number one:

  • Cask #1 – £1 million (around $1.55 million USD)
  • Cask #2 to #38 (Man o’Words unpeated single malt) – £500,000 to £100,000 (except #8 – read on after this list to learn why)
  • Cask #40 to #75 (Man o’Sword peated single malt) – £800,000 to £100,000

You’ll see from the list above cask #8 doesn’t fall into the price range of the other barrels from the same whisky. That is because, according to The Scotsman, it is priced at £888,888 (around $1.37 million USD). Why this particular number, you might ask? Well, it is because eight is “the Chinese lucky number.” This is important to note because those at Annandale, finding they already have a strong Chinese following (again, according to The Scotsman), are “hoping to attract customers from the Far East.” It is from this market (i.e. China) that a good portion of the premium whisky brands are said to be seeing an increase in popularity.

What looks to be the  £1 million Annandale cask #1 is filled for its decade long rest (image via Annandale)

What looks to be the £1 million Annandale cask #1 is filled for its decade long rest (image via Annandale)

Now whether or not Annandale ultimately falls into these “premium whisky brands” remains to be seen, especially given they’ve just put their first new age spirit to barrel to rest. They certainly are asking a lot out of untested Scotch it seems like (you can, by the way, buy the unaged whisky by the cask for your more apparent immediate use if you want, with prices starting at around $3,200 USD).

What you get for your thousands of dollars is at least a decade of aging, a chance to visit and pet your aging cask lovingly, cask samples on request sent to you (certain costs do apply, of course) and, when the whisky in cask is deemed ready for its pubic debut by the master distiller, all of your Scotch transferred into standard bottles for delivery to you. You do not, however, apparently get to keep the barrel itself.

[vimeo 120029410 w=640 h=360]

Annandale Cask Sales from Kevin Ashcroft on Vimeo.

Doing a little whisky math, I could get a maximum of 200,000 ml out of one cask (minus whatever evaporates or is sampled during its decade rest). That translates into around 285 700 ml bottles maximum (again likely less), giving each bottle an approximate value of a little over $5,400 USD at retail if I’m the lucky owner of the around $1.55 million USD cask #1 (bottle values obviously drop for the other casks as they cost less to purchase). This price point, comparing it against a 50 of the most expensive whiskies list we recently published, places a 10 year old Annandale from cask #1 somewhere in the average price range of some higher end, very prestigious Scotches from the likes of Glen Grant, The Dalmore, The Macallan and Glenfiddich.

Assuming my math is right (and God knows journalists are not the best at numbers), is the prestige of owning these first casks of new make Scotch from a distillery that’s reopened almost a century later worth it? At least one other whisky blogger over at the awesome Dramming blog has made the statement that

there is a line between striving for profit and greed, and by slapping obscene price tags like these onto their casks without ever having sold a single drop it is beyond any doubt on which side of the line Annandale has positioned itself.

In this regard I think I would have to agree. I certainly would love to own a piece of whisky history, don’t get me wrong, but this seems way, way over the top in my opinion. If we were talking about ages old whisky in casks found behind a hidden wall that was then put up for immediate sale and bottling, perhaps, though even then it would be stretching the boundaries of what seems reasonable. Now, all of this being said, it will be interesting to see if the folks at Annandale can pull this off and I wish them at least some degree of luck despite my own reservations.