Bottler Highlight: Rare Cask Society
Founded in 2016, the Rare Cask Society is a small bottling company with a focus on art and whisky. Comprised of two lifelong friends, Cavan and Colin, the society has released a total of three bottlings in their time adorned with specially commissioned pieces of artwork and hand selected casks to match. I was greatly interested in learning more from both Cavan and Colin after their first release whisky art project in collaboration with Datsun Tran, so called the “Tyger”, hammered for $2,000 including premiums at our November auction. We have both the Tyger and their second release ‘The Eagle” in our upcoming January auction. They very kindly accepted the offer of an interview and I hope you enjoy this look into this fantastic Aussie bottler!
Q: How and when did you guys first meet? How did you decide you wanted to start bottling whisky together?
We (Cavan and Colin) studied at the same high school in Melbourne and have known each other more than 25 years. Cavan has a keen interest in contemporary art and a degree in art history. Colin has a pharmaceutical background (and enjoys experimentation). We decided to start Rare Cask Society one evening, over conversation and a few drams, of course!
Q: You managed to purchase the last remaining cask from a closed South Australian distillery, that's no mean feat for a new bottler and especially for your first release! How did you manage to acquire this cask and what drew you to the distillery?
One of the reasons why we love Australian Distilleries is the spirit of collaboration. It’s all about sharing ideas and vision. Having the alignment of ‘why’ we do what we do, was really the first step of a wonderfully creative and collaborative journey between bottler, distiller, and artist. In this case, we were grateful to have Ian Schmidt’s support, a real champion in the Australian whisky industry.
Q: In our November auction, that first release hammered for over $2,000 including premiums! What are your thoughts on this auction result?
We were pleasantly surprised about this result of $2,051 inc. buyer’s premium, given it represented a true market reflection (previously both Tyger and Eagle editions had sold for $3,600 and $2,500 each respectively at charity auctions in 2021). There also probably aren’t many of this 100 bottle-release left as we know many have been opened and enjoyed!
More importantly, we felt a sense of validation for RareCaskSociety and our product, and for the last 6 years of hard work creating the business. We thank all our collaborators and customers for their continued support and look forward to our next release this year!
Q: What was the thought process behind combining art and whisky?
The concept of our Whisky Art Project was to combine the best quality, unique and rare handselected casks of single malt whisky; with an original artwork created specifically for each release – making each individually hand numbered bottle a collectable and unique Whisky Art Edition. Once each Edition is sold out, it is gone forever and cannot be reproduced again.
For example, we have quite a number of whisky enthusiasts who enjoyed our first release and then decided to collect the whole Project, they have requested to reserve the same bottle number for each Edition in advance - in order to have matching bottle numbers for their Whisky Art Project collection.
Creating each Project itself has been such an enjoyable and creative collaboration between Artist, Distiller and in the case of our Project IV release, Cooperage. We think David Bromley has summed it up for us in our Project III release:
“Labels in contemporary life have become, like many things today, more digitally designed which betrays the very sense of how whisky is created. Like artwork, it should be nurtured into existence, so it was natural to paint the label for a crafted product that is made with great insight and intelligence,”
Q: Your third project was a collaboration with artist David Bromley and David Kernke of Shene Estate that contained 20L ex-port cask whisky. Why did you choose this distillery/cask combination for your third release? What characteristics were you looking for when making your selection?
I think that we both have an affinity to Port casks and natural cask strength. Perhaps it is the characteristics of caramel, seared figs and fresh honey. Our Project III was a triple-distilled single malt, drawn from five hand-selected 20 litre ex-port casks and bottled at natural cask strength ABV 64.9%. It was bold, with lashings of warm sticky date pudding and candied pecans. It had a thick, luscious silky mouthfeel and a lovely long, lingering finish.
After tasting a sample, David Bromley created a large painting to describe the nose, palate, and textures of our whisky. In some ways, we try to get out of the way of the artist and the whisky but work hard behind the scenes to ensure the final product honours the whisky maker, the artist, and of course, is of the highest quality with no compromises. Some casks just don’t make the cut unfortunately!
Q: You posted in April last year that you had a number of 100l finishing casks coopered exclusively for your whisky art projects, what kind of finishing are you guys experimenting with? What are you looking for when deciding to finish a whisky?
Let’s not take all the fun out of surprises. However, we can assure you that we do have an exciting pipeline of cask, distillery, and artist pairings to be released over the next decade or so. What we are looking for is new and unique ways in which we can combine all aspects of art and whisky together.
Q: You mentioned in a few social media posts that your fourth whisky art project is being released this year in 2022, what can you tell us about that bottling?
Yes. Unfortunately, there were no releases in 2021. Patience prevails. We estimate our next release will be in the first quarter of 2022. We are very excited about Project IV! Yes, we have an artist lined up – an Archibald Prize finalist. Yes, it is a unique original artwork created specifically for Project IV. And yes, the whisky is at its final stages and tasting sublime. This release will be a true reflection of our collaboration with the distillery, cooperage, and us.
And finally, yes it will be bottled at natural cask strength…wish we could tell you more ☺
Please keep an eye out on our Instagram, Facebook, and newsletter (sign up on our website) where you can register interest for an allocation. www.rarecasksociety.com
Q: Are you guys interested in bottling whiskies from elsewhere in the world, or are you purely focused on Australian producers?
Absolutely. It would be our dream to travel the world and sample casks in search of the perfect dram.
It just has been challenging the last two years! That said, wouldn’t it be great to show case Australian Whisky and Artists to the world? We are firm believers in both the quality of and supporting our whisky and art industry. Rare Cask Society humbly aspires to reach a global audience with our unique Whisky Art Projects.
Q: Are there any bottles you're enjoying at the moment?
Cavan is currently enjoying:
SMWS G7.17: A 29-year old Lowland ex-bourbon grain whisky from Scotch Malt Whisky Society (ABV 54.6%)
Starward NWP 120605-2-692T: Single-cask 100litre Doublewood cask strength (ABV 56.3%)
A 1984 36-year-old Jean-Luc Pasquet Cognac from Old Master Spirits (ABV 53.8%)
Colin is currently enjoying:
Hazelburn Oloroso cask 13-year-old (ABV 47.4%)
Smith’s Angaston Whisky Vintage 2011, 8 years old (ABV 43.0%)