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The First-Ever Online Whisky Cask Auction Is About to Take Place

Let your fingers do the walking and bid on barrels from a throng of masterful distillers.

Old aged traditional wooden barrels with wine in a vault lined up in cool and dark cellar in Italy, Porto, Portugal, France; Shutterstock ID 1367965925; Notes: Robb Report—Whisky Auction Shutterstock

Score one for serious whisky lovers—and for people who hate to leave home: You can now buy a whole cask of the good stuff online.

On Thursday, rare whisky and cask reseller Cask 88 will launch the first-ever online whisky cask auction, with a score of coveted casks available for purchase. The platform is designed to let your fingers do the walking (or clicking) and bid on barrels from a throng of masterful distillers. The first auction takes the theme of ‘Maritime Malts’—among the barrels on offer are the Laphroaig 23 Year Old, the Kilchoman 12 Year Old, as well as a first fill sherry cask from Orkney and a first fill six-year-old bourbon cask from Aultmore.

The online auction marks an important step for the spirits industry. Until now, procuring a cask has been a little cumbersome. Occasionally, distilleries may offer their tipple by the cask, or a barrel might roll onto the auction block—but it’s all been rather old fashioned (unfortunately, not the cocktail variety).

“Online cask auctions are a natural next step for Cask 88. We have been in the whisky cask market for many years and have seen demand for cask whisky grow enormously during that time,” the director of Cask 88 Patrick Costello said in a press release.

Laphroaig-1995-2

A barrel of Laphroaig on auction.  Courtesy of Cask 88

Of course, it’s not all tipples and giggles: There are unique risks to investing in an entire cask of Scotch whisky online. For one, there’s no chance to sample any of the auction casks. The buyer is taking a stab in the dark, something which whisky expert David Robertson cautions against.

Robertson—who in 2014 co-founded (with Andy Simpson) Rare Whisky 101—is adamant you should be able to sample the cask in question. Speaking to  Robb Report last year, he said, “Many casks we have seen for sale have failed to mature appropriately and are young, harsh, and fiery, as the cask may have been used many times and has lost its ‘wood extractive’ potential. The color of the whisky can be a good indicator of cask type and quality, with a rich, dark amber color suggesting that a good-quality cask has been used.”

Then, there are the additional costs: Cask 88 slaps an additional 10 percent commission on the hammer price—plus bottling and storage fees, if required.

For proponents of the online auction model, these are relatively minor drawbacks for a platform that promises to give connoisseurs, collectors, and investors direct access to entire casks. Only time will tell whether that convenience proves to be a template for the future.

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