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How to buy an entire cask of Indian whisky from Paul John and Piccadily Distilleries

Plus, what is a cask whisky program, how does it work, cost of booking a whole cask of whisky, and suggestions for what to do with the hundreds of bottles of whisky after it has matured.

March 18, 2023 / 02:04 PM IST
Piccadily Distilleries' cask whisky program will start at Rs 1.8 lakh, with ex-bourbon, ex-French wine European Oak and specialty casks on offer.

Piccadily Distilleries' cask whisky program will start at Rs 1.8 lakh, with ex-bourbon, ex-French wine European Oak and specialty casks on offer.

After having introduced an entire generation of whisky enthusiasts to the pleasures of their single malts, Indian distilleries are now targeting the evolved – and wealthy – whisky drinker by offering them entire casks of whisky.

Goa-based Paul John and Karnal, Haryana, based Piccadily Distilleries are among those who’ve quite literally opened up their warehouses to whisky lovers. If you are one, either of these companies will mature a cask of whisky chosen by you at their distillery and help you sell, or bottle the casks after the whisky has matured. There are many things you could do with your own single cask release. You could gift bottles to close friends, or celebrate a personal milestone, or an anniversary, or simply sell them.

But, right at this moment, you are probably thinking: how exactly does one go about purchasing a cask?

Paul John Warehouse Goa. Paul John Warehouse Goa.

Heemanshu Ashar says that it all starts with the payment of a security deposit. “The security deposit is about Rs 3 lakh, which is a lien on the cask. Between the third and fifth year, after the whisky has matured, it can be sold to the interested party, or it is bottled in the sixth year in compliance with local excise regulations,” said Ashar, global brand ambassador for Paul John. “The whiskies can be bottled in any state in India after meeting statutory requirements. We will also help with the labelling formalities. The labelling will involve the payment of an additional fee.” The Goa-based distillery offers two cask options: ex-bourbon first fill and virgin oak.

Piccadily Distilleries' cask whisky program

Up north, Piccadily Distilleries, which makes, among others, Indri Single Malt, is putting in place a cask whisky program that will start at about Rs 1.8 lakh. The distillery will offer ex-bourbon, ex-French wine European Oak and specialty casks to buyers.

“All the barrels are first fill, but consumers will have the option of using second-fill Indri barrels, too. Our warehouse houses barrels between 1YO (1 year old) to 8YO, so the customer has a lot to choose from,” said Prabhkaran Hundal, a general manager at Piccadily Distilleries.

According to Hundal, at the end of the whisky’s maturation period, customers will have the option of selling the barrel back to the company, getting the malt delivered to their choice of distillery after completing excise formalities, or bottling the whisky at Piccadily Distilleries after paying the requisite fees and duties. “Our portfolio includes a 10-year storage plan, which is the maximum, and the program covers all kinds of expenditure, including labelling,” said Hundal.

Who decides the ABV of your whisky, and how many bottles per cask?

While Paul John will bottle the matured spirit at a maximum of 50 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), Piccadily’s bottling ABV will be decided by the investor. “We will recommend an ABV between 42.8 percent and 46 percent. In certain states such as Goa and Haryana, this can be higher,” says Hundal. (For perspective, the vast majority of malts are bottled at 40 percent ABV.)

Each of their casks can yield 200-odd bottles, says Paul John’s Ashar.

At Piccadily a newly filled cask in which the spirit has been matured for a year will hold about 250 750ml bottles. “It depends on the age of the whisky. The older it is, the lesser the number of bottles,” says Hundal.

A cask of whisky is like a piece of art or music, says Krishna Nukala. “If you are the proud owner of a cask, you could take your friends for a visit to the distillery where the cask is resting and taste the maturing spirit. You can’t do that with any other investment,” says the Hyderabad-based whisky aficionado. But Nukala, who consults with several whisky companies and manages the whisky investment portfolios of whisky connoisseurs in the country, says that there are a few things that one needs to keep in mind before taking the plunge.

Things to keep in mind before you book a cask of whisky

– It is critical to have good knowledge about all aspects of the spirit before purchasing a cask of whisky. Distilleries usually sell casks to generate cash. Obviously, a smart distillery manager will not sell his best casks, so the buyer has to have a comprehensive understanding of the newly made spirit, the cask in which it will be matured, the site, and the temperature at which it will rest at the warehouse.

– If you are buying the casks as investment, you are playing a different game. India is at the moment a nascent market, but, in general, the value of the spirit in a cask goes north. If the spirit and cask turn out to be good – or, at times, exceptional – the returns will be multifold. One can either sell the cask as is to other interested buyers, or sell the bottles in retail or at auctions. There are several independent bottlers in the UK and Europe to whom you can sell the cask, or enter into an agreement to sell the bottles after keeping some for yourself. On the other hand, if the whisky does not exhibit good taste and complexity, you might end up losing your money.

– If you are taking delivery of the bottles within India, you’d have to keep in mind that not only do taxes and duties on alcohol vary across India, even the strength of alcohol at which the spirit can be bottled is different across states. The smarter option, if you have contacts in the UK or Europe, is to get the bottles exported to a country of your choice. This means, you don’t have to pay any taxes or duties, or labelling charges. This arrangement will work even better if you find a buyer, as the bottles can be exported to a foreign country of his or her choice and then released into retail markets. The buyer will obviously have to pay taxes and duties, but these will be much less than the prevailing fees in India.

– Once you’ve got the hang of investing or purchasing whisky casks in India, you could start looking at distilleries abroad. Casks from top distilleries such as Macallan, Laphroaig, Springbank and Glenfarclas are difficult but not impossible to obtain.

If you have especially deep pockets, I’d suggest casks from closed distilleries such as Rosebank, St Magdalene, Brora and Port Ellen (the last two have now reopened.) Another option is to buy casks from companies such as Diageo, which has a Casks of Distinction program. Of course, one should keep in mind that prices here are kind of stratospheric. A 1972 Brora (the distillery is now owned by Diageo), which yields about 220 bottles at cask strength, will cost anywhere between GBP 2.5-3 million.

Murali K Menon works on content strategy at HaymarketSAC.
first published: Mar 18, 2023 02:04 pm