Whisky experts show concern over 'illegitimate' Cask Whisky Association

Whisky experts show concern over 'illegitimate' Cask Whisky Association

Business owners and industry commentators have spoken out against the new organisation, questioning its legitimacy and whether it is fit for purpose 

News | 27 Sep 2023

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Whisky business owners and industry commentators have slammed the newly founded Cask Whisky Association (CWA), claiming it to be an "illegitimate" organisation with "vested interests" among its founder-members.


The CWA, launched in the UK on 21 September, has set out to improve education and guidance for those investing or looking to invest in cask whisky, to encourage best practice among cask investment companies and traders, to lobby government for better consumer protections, and 'protect the reputation' of Scotch whisky.


However, a number of high-profile figures within the whisky industry have come out strongly against the organisation, claiming that it may not as impartial as declared and may not be capable of fulfilling its stated goals. 


The CWA has refuted the allegations, but said it "welcomed the opportunity" to clarify enquiries about its governance.


In a post on LinkedIn, Ian Macleod Distillers managing director Leonard Russell said the CWA's foundation was "very disturbing" and queried whether it could be an attempt by companies and individuals working in the cask whisky space "to give themselves unmerited credibility". He added, "I'm concerned that some of these unscrupulous brokers will taint the reputation of the Scotch whisky industry."


Sam Simmons, head of whisky at Master of Malt and its parent company Atom Brands, said: "The Cask Whisky Association (CWA) is an unmerited entity of individuals positioned to financially gain from their self-appointment and as such, is neither a credible nor legitimate organisation well suited to achieve its own objectives: 'to protect cask whisky customers and uphold the reputation of Scotch industry'."


George Keeble, director at the Keeble Cask Company, also expressed concern over how the organisation would function and raised questions over its credibility.


Meanwhile, in an article for Forbes, whisky specialist George Koutsakis – co-founder of Coachbuilt Whisky and Malty Verse – wrote that the gravest issue with the CWA was the fact that many of its founding members work in the cask whisky industry.


"Much like a student does not grade their own paper, a criminal does not choose their own verdict, and an official does not elect themselves, cask brokering companies should not, in any scenario, be self-proclaiming themselves as protectors and advisors of the entire cask whisky industry and positioning themselves above all the other companies who are operating fairly and with integrity," Koutsakis wrote.


Founding members of the CWA include Dutch asset management firm Scotch Whisky Investments, Cask Trade, and Dalkeith Brokerage, as well as a number of independent bottlers.


In an open letter, Colin Hampden-White, chairman of the CWA's independent advisory panel, said that the organisation had been founded "our of the very real frustration and fatigue from seeing our industry tarnished by fraud and malpractice".


"While our launch has been widely celebrated by many in the industry, we have received some enquiries asking us to clarify matters relating to governance of the association. We welcome the opportunity to clarify these," Hampden-White said.


"The Cask Whisky Association is a membership organisation and is accepting applications from any cask whisky trading businesses who operate in the UK. It is overseen and governed by an independent cross-industry advisory board, made up of individuals from distilleries and independent bottlers, as well as whisky experts, authors and legal and insurance professionals working in the sector.


"This advisory board plays a crucial role in ensuring the independence and impartiality of the association. They will oversee governance of the association, which includes vetting potential members and reviewing any decisions taken by the members."

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