mountainous landscape with lake in distance

The whisky trail in the Scottish Highlands

Tod Bradbury is head of rare and collectable whiskies at the renowned fine wine and spirits merchants Justerini & Brooks, London. Here, he tells LUX about the company’s elite collection of casks and why whisky is about the experience

man in whisky cellar

Tod Bradbury. Photograph by Gary Morrisroe

1. Can you tell us about the concept behind the Casks of Distinction programme?

The buying of malt whisky by the single cask is the pinnacle of collecting. There is nothing more bespoke, more personal than buying your own unique cask and having it bottled to your very own specifications. The Casks of Distinction programme does just that: it is the private sale of individual casks of rare and exceptional Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Each Cask of Distinction is chosen on the basis of its quality, representing the most exceptional and singular expression of the distillery’s character.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

Buying a cask of whisky is a personalised journey, guaranteed to provide an unforgettable experience. For casks from silent distilleries (those no longer in production) it may even be a once in a lifetime opportunity as these are produced in tiny volumes and supplies are fast dwindling, but with the Casks of Distinction service, they are occasionally within the reach of the individual collector.

whisky bottle and glasses

Whisky tasting at Justerini & Brooks in London. Photograph by Gary Morrisroe

2. How do you select which whiskies will be included in the Casks of Distinction programme?

Once a year, at the liquid library at our archives in Scotland, the Casks of Distinction selection team gathers, led by our four Master Blenders (Dr Craig Wilson, Dr Emma Walker, Maureen Robinson and Dr Jim Beveridge) who have more than a century of combined experience. Their judgement and knowledge is highly regarded and sought out by whisky connoisseurs across the globe. The group of experts select which casks should be considered for the esteemed Casks of Distinction list. They employ their collective understanding to identify the rarest and most exceptional casks to be put forward for evaluation and inclusion to the programme. Many of these casks have been watched closely for years with the group waiting until they reveal a distinctive quality that sets them apart. Others are chance findings of a rare gem, but one that makes a lasting impact on the finder. Each is entirely unique.

Through repeated tastings, each cask is held to the utmost scrutiny by the experts in their analysis of the specific nuances and character of each whisky. No cask reaches the final list without unanimous agreement by all four Master Blenders.

Read more: Product designer Tord Boontje on sustainable materials

3. Where are the casks normally stored after purchase?

If you are one of the privileged few to own a cask, you can rest easy knowing that your individual cask is stored in our warehouse facility at Royal Lochnagar distillery on the Bergeldie Estate nestled near the gates of the Balmoral in the Highland whisky-producing area of Scotland. This ability to get hands on with your own cask during its slow maturation gives a privileged few individuals peace of mind.

Once your whisky has matured, it will be ready for bottling which is where the next stage of the Casks of Distinction journey begins. Some collectors want to store their bottles to be appreciated later in which case we can arrange storage in our subsidiary company Cellarers Ltd, at Octavian Vaults —a bomb-proof storage facility where safekeeping is guaranteed. Other collectors might want to gift bottles to friends and loved ones, or simply have them sent home to take pride of place in their cellar. This, too, can be arranged.

coastal building

Port Ellen distillery isle of Islay, Scotland.

4. Have you noticed a distinct difference in the types of whiskies enjoyed between the sexes?

The whiskies are as individual as the people who consume them and they can be enjoyed by anyone equally. I am always under the impression that everyone likes whisky. It is just a process of finding out which one. At the start of a cask ownership journey, we always begin with consultation. In these conversations, we will build up a picture of a client’s taste profile. The kinds of foods they like, cookery styles preferred, even the variety of tea they drink – these subtle nuances will give form to their preferences. Customers will often come to us with a set idea on the type of whisky they like but our discussions can lead them to some unexpected new discoveries. I’m also of the view that whisky can be enjoyed however you like – whether that’s with water or without, on the rocks or even in a high-ball.

5. What distinguishes an exceptional whisky from a good one?

For me, an exceptional whisky is just as much about who I am with, when and where, as it is about the actual age and quality of the whisky. Whisky is for sharing. An exceptional whisky is one that transports you back to that moment. So pick an excellent group of friends and pull the cork.

6. Which is the most unusual distillery you have visited?

The most unusual Scotch whisky distillery for me would be Mortlach for its fiendishly complicated distillation in which the liquid is actually distilled 2.81 times creating this heavyweight, viscous and “meaty” new make spirit.

Find out more: justerinis.com