EWA Alumni: Russell Spratley
The market for buying and selling whisky casks has never seen such global interest. With investments in rare whisky increasing by the barrel-load, we caught up with former diploma candidate Russell Spratley, a founder of cask brokerage Spiritfilled.
How did you first discover whisky?
I first discovered whisky aged 16 in what turned out to be rather unfortunate circumstances. I ‘borrowed’ a bottle of Macallan from my dad’s collection for the last day of school. Let’s just say he swiftly found out about it. My real interest in whisky began with a bottle of Laphroaig that my uncle brought to a family party. Even at a young age I was intrigued by the flavour profile, the levels of smoke and peat on the nose and palate. I jumped in at the deep end and haven’t looked back.
Tell us about your current role in the industry.
We kept reading articles about whisky increasing in value year-on-year, about auction prices being at all-time highs and it really caught our attention. We wanted to use our backgrounds in sales and marketing to get involved, so we did our due diligence on the industry and generated some great contacts for the supply of quality single malt. That led to us founding Spiritfilled, where we buy and sell rare Scotch whisky to individuals and businesses all over the world with an interest in whisky investment.
What attracted you to the EWA and our Diploma courses?
Part of the due diligence process was to show clients that we were accomplished in our field. We researched many courses and the Academy stood out as being the most comprehensive with which to impart as much knowledge as possible to our future clients. And we’ve been able to do just that. The setting at Arniston House and the fact it is certified by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) were also real selling points for us.
Which aspects did you find most fascinating about the Diploma?
It was fascinating all round, but for me the heritage and history of whisky is where my interest lies. Understanding how and why the industry has evolved was incredible to learn. The maturation element was also excellent. In whisky, time makes all the difference! Being with like minded enthusiasts from all over the world was a bonus and we really helped each other learn.
How have you used your Diploma and new-found knowledge since you completed the course?
Our diplomas played a huge factor in launching Spiritfilled and imparting valuable knowledge onto out clients. One of our main clients was interested in investing but didn’t know much about whisky as a product. We were able to guide him through the whole process, from raw materials onwards, thanks to what we learned with the Academy. Without that knowledge or credibility, I doubt he would have felt the confidence to invest with us.
What do you think makes your proposition so attractive to customers, and how do you see this market evolving?
The key to our business is transparency – we are open with our clients, sharing the fact that our margins are kept low and that our focus is on both the quality and value of the product over the long term. We also retain full control of the process – our WOWGR and AWRS licences mean we can handle the products personally. Growth and expansion of Scotch whisky production and markets means supply will increase over the coming years to meet demand. Whisky’s intrinsic value is time, and value comes with that. Our clients like the idea of ‘armchair’ investment that isn’t necessarily correlated to the wider market.
Whisky wisdom: quick fire questions
First whisky you ever tasted?
The Macallan, I have no idea which expression.
Best whisky you’ve ever tasted?
Port Charlotte MRC: 01, finished in red wine casks.
Who is your ‘whisky hero’?
Richard Paterson, I’ve followed him for a while and hope to meet him one day.
Who would you most like to conduct a whisky tasting for, dead or alive?
Phil Mickelson or John Daly.
Ultimate bottling for your collection?
Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish.
Favourite way to mix whisky?
In an old fashioned, but I typically just drink it neat.