16 Aug 2021
Whisky connoisseurs turn to casks
Several bottles of fine whisky are a fixture in many Hong Kong homes and family banquets often involve these being shared around the table.
Historical links with Scotland and a taste for quality liquor ensure a lively interest in collecting as well as consuming whisky in the city. Meanwhile, interest in holding quality whisky for the long-term has led many collectors to switch from bottles to casks.
Cask Trade, a marketplace for whisky in casks, this year set up an office in Hong Kong to cater for the strong demand in the city. Managing Director Simon Aron describes the journey.
When did you open your Hong Kong office?
The office was a dream come true. It was delayed by the global pandemic and was ready to go by February 2021. John Wong, our director [from Hong Kong], finally left the United Kingdom to travel home to open the new office in May this year. Since then we have already reached many clients, taken on a new employee and the business is going from strength to strength.
Did you look at other potential hub locations in East Asia before selecting Hong Kong? What drew you to the city?
We never looked at any other destination as our staff are from Hong Kong and their knowledge and reputation are well known in Hong Kong and all over Asia. We have been selling to trade clients and investors all over the region for the past two years. Hong Kong offers us the perfect infrastructure to grow, with the help of support companies, along with our great new office in the Admiralty Centre Tower.
We would also like to work with whisky lovers and customers in Mainland China as well.
Historically, Hong Kong had close ties with Scotland. Was that a factor in your decision?
Traditionally, Hong Kong has always been very close to Scotland not only because of the number of Scottish expats but also for the appreciation of whisky. I think Hong Kong is probably the most mature whisky market in Asia outside Japan. It has wonderful whisky bars and clubs, in addition to a large number of whisky enthusiasts. Most of our trade customers that bottle our casks are based in Hong Kong as well as Taiwan and Singapore. Cask-strength, single-cask, single-malt whisky from well-known distilleries all over Scotland is a rare commodity and the people of Hong Kong already appreciate it. The fact is, the people that helped establish this love of whisky made the introduction to the people of Hong Kong who are now enjoying this delicious and discerning spirit which offers many different profiles and tastes.
What has led to whisky cask collection becoming popular?
I have personally been collecting bottles of single malt for the past 25 years as well as visiting the majority of the distilleries in Scotland - it has always been my passion and hobby. My career over this period of time has been as an entrepreneur running IT [information technology] companies, software start-ups and building commercial property portfolios but whisky bought me the most pleasure and excellent returns on my investment. After collecting and cataloguing more than 3,000 bottles, my collection became difficult to handle and I started buying casks nine years ago, it’s far easier.
I am not the only collector that has graduated onto casks as there are hundreds of us now, globally! The variety available keeps my enthusiasm as strong as ever.
Does Keepers of the Quaich, of which Cask Trade’s Director Colin Hampden-White is a member, function as an unofficial global standard-setting body, along the lines of France’s AOC?
The Keepers of the Quaich maintain the tradition and culture of the Scottish whisky industry around the world. It is made up of the most experienced people from all aspects of the industry, from production to distilling on to brand and marketing. The global standard setting is actually done by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).
Much of the luxury and collector business in Hong Kong has come from tourists, particularly those from Mainland China. Do you anticipate a big rise in business when the borders begin to reopen?
I agree with you but times have changed and now the main audience is Hong Kong and Mainland China. Men and women from all over Greater China are now appreciating the natural taste of cask whisky and the fact [that] it’s rare, unique, fun to bottle, great to invest in and wonderful to drink. A whisky club in the UK [United Kingdom] has hundreds of members, but in Asia it is in the thousands.
Does your live auction site auctionyourcask.com overcome many of the problems brought by pandemic-related travel restrictions?
Yes is the short answer, although you cannot remove the cask from Scotland; it has to be bottled and then shipped. For investment purposes the cask is bought and sold while remaining in a bonded warehouse in Scotland. These casks can be traded virtually from anywhere, anytime. This is the big attraction to anyone who has a budget of HK$15,000 to HK$150,000 or more.
With many bespoke distilleries scattered across the scenic Highlands, whisky lends itself to experiential marketing, where the narrative and associated services such as tastings are part of the mix. Are you leveraging this in your operations?
All distilleries have unique and sometimes unusual distillation and maturation methods and that is what makes it fun. It’s a bit like wine and art - there is enough variety for all tastes. We check all our casks and provide samples without exception.
Cask Trade Director Sir Colin Hampden White is a world authority in whisky and will lead events in Hong Kong and online. Our office will have multiple events at various venues including tastings at clients’ homes and offices.
We want to share the wonderful experience of whisky with as many like-minded people in Hong Kong as possible.
Cask Trade Hong Kong