In Conversation With Aaron Damiano Sparkes, Founder & CEO, Whisky 1901

Aaron’s fondness for whisky developed from a relatively early age – he was drawn to its romanticism and appreciated it as a drink, while also recognising its potential for long-term financial returns. He has since built a career in whisky and wine investment over many years and in that time, he has developed detailed knowledge of the workings of the industry and a valuable portfolio of high-level contacts with leading distillers.  Read our interview with Aaron to discover more about this alternative and artisan investment industry. 

You had a very successful career within the whisky and wine investment industry. What motivated you to set up on your own? 

Whisky has long been a passion of mine. I have a personal collection of over 100 bottles of whisky, worth over £100,000, with my favourite being the Glendronach from the 1950’s as well as several whisky casks. My interest in whisky was first sparked by my father, who introduced me to the joy of top-quality Scotch. That’s what inspired me when it came to naming my own company, Whisky 1901 – it’s an affectionate nod to the man who first ignited my passion.

I haven’t always worked in this industry – I started out working for my dad as a tiler before I got an opportunity to train as a junior stockbroker for a company based in London. I was later approached by a wine investment company to move into fine wine investment. The company I was working for moved into whisky investment, and I ended up heading up the team. My background and enthusiasm for whisky have very much influenced and shaped my career to date. 

I have worked in this industry for 12 years now, but my fondness for whisky developed early on, as I was drawn to the romanticism and appreciation of the drink, whilst also recognising its potential for long-term financial returns. The reason for setting up Whisky 1901 five years ago was to allow me full autonomy over the casks we sell only dealing with blue chip distilleries, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with investors and collectors entering the market. 

Please describe a typical day for you – if such a thing exists.

I travel between London and Edinburgh regularly, so it depends upon where I am on any given day. If I’m in London, I work from our head office in Knightsbridge and start my day by reading through the news and industry trends. I then check in with the team and our external partners. I use this time to discuss stock, upcoming projects, and strategies. And I always make time to read any client feedback and reviews to ensure that any issues are addressed promptly. 

Parts of my time is spent overseeing the training and development of my team to ensure they are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in the business. 

When I’m in Edinburgh, a typical day might involve a visit to our Glenrothes warehouse facility in Fife and/or visiting the various suppliers we work with. 

I enjoy playing golf, so where possible I try to mix business and pleasure, meeting with clients on the golf course at The Renaissance. In fact, we have just sponsored pro-golfer Ewen Ferguson so it’s good to get a round in with him when I can.  

Not necessarily a typical day, but a good day ends with whisky tasting at the Cannonball restaurant in Edinburgh – something we host twice yearly for our valued clients in both Edinburgh and London. 

Today, Whisky 1901 has over 300 clients with more than 1,000 whisky casks under management across the finest distilleries in Scotland. Please tell us more about the journey so far……

I started Whisky 1901 in 2019, with a mission to connect investors with the right whisky cask based on their unique circumstances, including investment goals, budget, timelines, and risk appetite. We make it our mission to create a safe haven for our client’s investment. 

Over the last year, we have been in the process of moving over 1000 whisky casks owned by our 300-plus investors into two purpose-built bonded facilities in Glenrothes, Scotland. This move will enable us to closely monitor the maturing product, including regauging, re-racking, and bottling, as well as providing investors with greater transparency over the performance of their portfolios, regardless of the distillery of origin. The move also means our investors can visit their barrels in the Glenrothes facilities by appointment.

At the end of 2023, we celebrated revenues of £7.2 million, an increase of 227% on £2.2 million in 2022. Looking ahead we anticipate continued growth, with projected revenues of £8-10 million for the financial year ended 2024.

We recently introduced a bottling service for our 300-plus investors who are looking to sell their matured barrelled Scotch. Whisky 1901 will cover all the costs associated with bottling, including transporting the cask from the company’s Glenrothes warehouses to the bottling hall, weighing, and disgorging. And this summer we will also be launching our first bottled whisky – a rare Glenburgie 1988 single cask expression. This will be the first of what will become Whisky 1901’s ‘Collection’ range. 

And what (growth) plans are in the pipeline?

This year we are continuing to build on our successful 2023, with significant expansion plans coming in 2024. We announced earlier this year that we have expanded our finance and marketing departments, appointing a new Financial Controller and Marketing Director, to drive and support our growth. 

We are planning to launch our first bottled brand as part of our ‘Collection’ this summer, and we are also exploring a new Edinburgh-based office, in addition to our headquarters in Knightsbridge. This will allow us to better position ourselves within easy access to the Scotch distilleries and casks currently under management, as well as serve as a hub for our Scottish-based clientele. 

What are the key trends you’ve observed in the sector since you established Whisky 1901 in 2019? 

Inflation has played a big role in the investment industry, with investors looking to diversify their portfolios and explore alternative tangible assets. When it comes to whisky, despite fluctuations, market stability remains robust. 

Barrelled whisky has significantly outperformed traditional investment options over the last few years, with the value of whisky casks continuing to show double-digit growth. For example, a £100,000 investment in cask whisky in July 2018 would have been worth £214,113 in December 2022. The same investment in gold would be worth £150,864 and investment in the best-performing stock index, the sp500 would have been worth £132,327, according to the latest BC20 Index (a representative sample of 20 casks from a range of distilleries, whose value has been tracked since the beginning of 2019). 

Unlike many alternative investments, the value of whisky casks is not driven by economics alone, but by maturation. 

In recent years, we have seen that consumers have become less adventurous when it comes to investing in whisky, but the trend for premiumisation continues to grow. Enthusiasts and collectors are looking to purchase quality over quantity. As the prices of bottled whisky increase in line with inflation, consumers are more likely to stick with the brands they know and love rather than being adventurous. With this in mind, larger distilleries will be seen as a potentially safer option for whisky cask investment.

And please share your predictions/insights for the next 5-10 years? 

Whisky is hugely popular in India. It is already Scotch Whisky’s second largest export market by volume, with the equivalent of more than 219 million bottles exported there in 2022 and the volume of exports has grown by more than 200% in the past decade alone. It is expected that the UK-India trade deal talks regarding the 150% tariff on Scotch Whisky will be reduced soon and this will help increase exports by over £1 billion in the next 5 years.  

Technology’s involvement with whisky will also increase, as we see more distilleries utilising data for cask management. There is so much data currently available that isn’t being used that could benefit the investor and the broker in terms of better understanding ABV levels and regauging of the casks. At Whisky 1901 we offer our investors a unique portal that allows them to track the progress of their whisky and monitor the data of the cask over time. We expect this to be more commonplace in the coming years.

We expect whisky auction websites to continue providing a prominent platform for buying and selling bottles globally. The online world of whisky will benefit from this over the years as the reach of these events will expand, allowing collectors and investors from around the world to participate.

We also anticipate and encourage increased regulations in whisky investment and continue to advocate for the creation of a standardised grading system and more transparent rules for investment funds to protect investors. 

Has the demographics of your client portfolio changed since you started Whisky 1901? And if so how?  

We recognise the huge impact that women make in the industry. We have seen a growing interest in whisky culture and appreciation among women in recent years. This increased interest has also extended to the investment side of the whisky industry and we’re seeing greater female representation at our whisky-tasting events. The popularity of whisky cocktails has had a huge influence and is a natural gateway to larger whisky appreciation and experimentation with different brands and types of whisky.

As sustainability becomes a global priority, investors will pay closer attention to the distilleries prioritising ethical and sustainable practices – such as organic farming, renewable energy, or environmentally friendly production methods. This is particularly important to the younger demographic who are more eco-conscious. 

What is your key piece of advice for anyone new who is considering investing in whisky?

Like any asset class investment, whisky cask prices can go down as well as up and we always advise investors to do their research and exercise due diligence. Whisky increases in value as it matures so the key is to invest early in the ageing process and see it as a long-term investment. A cask purchased today will become a different, more desirable, and therefore more valuable, asset with each year that passes.

But, with 147 distilleries operating across Scotland, choosing the right cask as a beginner can be daunting.  It’s important to check distilleries based on merit, history, and worldwide demand. At Whisky 1901 we work with the top 20-40 distilleries in Scotland owned by the likes of Diageo, Suntory Holdings and Edrington Group – those that invest their money back into marketing and tourism which, in turn, increases the brand value and credibility. 

Paying over the odds is a common pitfall with cask investment. Due to the growing appeal of the market, some companies are offering consumers highly inflated prices. While we always advocate investing in quality over quantity, it is important that investors get value for money. 

The company’s name, Whisky 1901 pays homage to your father, with whom you shared a love of whisky and enjoyed a dram or two from a GlenDronach cask dating back to 1901. Other than the sentimentality, why is this your favourite whisky?  

GlenDronach Distillery uses time-honoured traditions that I appreciate, not only as the CEO of Whisky 1901, but also whilst tasting. The rich, full-bodied spirit speaks for itself, with 70% of the flavour of the whisky derived from the casks they are matured in.

Luxury is a highly subjective term, what does it mean to you? 

To me, luxury means craftsmanship (I appreciate the artistry and uniqueness of the whisky casks we sell at Whisky 1901), attention to detail (paying attention to the finer details can set you apart in the fast-paced start-up world) and providing an exceptional service. As a CEO, going above and beyond for our customers creates a sense of luxury.

What is your life motto? (if you have one!) 
Behind every business, there is a story worth knowing. 

Aaron is fully certified by WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) and Edinburgh Whisky Academy in Scotch Whisky.

Find out more: and read our business profile here.

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