Liquor industry legend Nick Havers is one of Australia’s most knowledgable authorities on Scotch whisky and, as the face of CASK Whisky Experiences – his new Sydney-based business pitched to share the delicious Scottish liquid with the world, is on a mission to educate his fellow travellers in the nuances and history of his favourite drinks.
CASK offers premium whisky immersions, designed for a high-end market who want something a little different for their next corporate event, party or celebration dinner. We caught up with Nick to get the low-down on why his events are such a hit, and how to get involved.
Your idea is obviously born of a desire to educate and inspire, tell us a bit about how it all started.
I’ve been in the industry for 10 years, starting off as a young 23 year old in the booze industry looking after brands like Absolut and Jack Daniels, but throwing parties every night eventually wears out. After working some whisky live festivals I fell in love with Scotland, Scotch whiskies and the distilleries and the beautiful countryside that is Scotland. After ten years I thought I’d branch out and try it for my own.
What was the pivotal moment when you decided ‘this is what I want to do forever’?
After 10 years I had some really incredible experiences, like attending the Highland Park boot camp up in the Orkney Islands which is a neolithic, viking place. I also got to visit Macallan in Speyside which is also an incredible place, staying in an old 1700s Jacobite manor after a distillery tour and fishing down the River Spey during the day. There are so many wonderful experiences to me, what I loved about them, and my time with Diageo, is that I got a strong endorsement and really positive reaction from my clients. If you give them a little bit of the romance and the passion they can really fall in love with the spirit the same way that I have.
One part of the job is standing up and immersing and educating and tasting whisky, but when you’re working for the brands directly unfortunately it’s not the only part of the job. There’s a lot of back-end stuff to make sure the products end up on shelves, and when I thought that part was over for me I didn’t want to leave the industry, I wanted to stay in the industry really sharing that passion – the fun part of the job and relate my experiences with the people and break it down, help them to discover whisky in their own right.
Tell us a bit about how the events actually operate.
We aim our experiences at the high-net individual / corporate market. People love the story and they love tasting four or five whiskies and having a chat about it. Large corporations are always keen to have these sort of services, for informal meetings or celebrations after they close a big deal because it’s different, and gives their people something out of the ordinary, that’s not their usual night at the steakhouse with red wine. I come to their office and create a beautiful whisky immersion for them and their team for 90 mins. It was born from that idea, but it has also grown from there.
The response has been great, especially with the luxury partners and other events companies. We essentially offer four different experiences which suit different clients’ needs.? The first experience we call ‘The 344’ – it’s a look at the differences between how whiskies are made. The three stands for the barley, yeast and water. We don’t go into too much detail about the production process. The four is the four different types of whisky; blended malt, single malt, blends and grain whisky, and then we look into the four different whisky producing regions of Scotland.
The second is called ‘Tour the Tastes of Scotland’ – a much more in-depth look at the different regions of Scotland and the romantic, rugged landscape that makes it a memorable and unique place. We go through each region at length a try a range of different malts.
Third is ‘The Garden of Scotland’, as look at Speyside as a specific region and learn about why 70% of the whisky Scotland produces comes from that particular region. This one goes though some of the most famous whisky houses which people will have heard of.
Lastly, we have ‘The Big Smoke’ – a look at the peaty, smoky whiskies from Orkney to Islay.
We also look at what flavours pair with different things, like chocolate with Speysides and oysters with smoky whisky. Anything can be tailored for each client, but these packages are a good guideline and starting point.
So what are Nick Havers’ personal favourite sippers?
We don’t really advertise this, but we do a special and rare tasting with some aged whiskies from Port Ellen, Dalmore and Glenmorangie. There’s a good market for that and when you tell people they’re sipping from a bottle thats one of only 3000 in the world it’s really exciting.
In terms of my personal favourites, I guess the whisky that started it all for me is The Macallan. I fell in love really experiencing that whisky, and was lucky enough through my industry to be taken to the estate where it’s distilled a few times, where you indulge in some very luxurious single malts. They feed you a very lavish dinner and you’re able to retire to the fireplace post dinner and indulge in a whisky cabinet of rare treats from Macallan. So for me that’s the one I always go back to, and Macallan 18 paired with a nice rich chocolate dessert is still one of my favourites.
I also really enjoy smoky whiskies. I was born in Capetown in South Africa and part of growing up there is being outdoors and going on game drives, game reserves up north. They evoke memories of sitting on the back of an open Land Rover looking across the Savannah plains while the sun’s going down, sipping on Highland Park 18 or Lagavulin 16. It’s one of my all time favourite experiences, and the flavour of those always reminds me of that and makes me keep coming back for it.
What Separates Cask from the other bespoke booze experiences on the market?
We really look at the high-end market, going though the romance, providence and history of whisky. No criticism of anyone but so often you find with these experiences that they spend a lot of time waxing on about the detail, getting really technical and a lot of the time you are talking to whisky consumers and whisky drinkers when actually, you can’t assume they know all of these things. That’s what I guess is what I view as being out point of difference. We like to share some little snippets and fun things that I have picked up along the way. For example, when you get a whisky there’s a lot to tell about it by looking at the colour – i.e. whether or not it’s European or American cask matured, or tilting the glass on the side and looking at the legs and tiers – given the evaporation and thickness of that essentially it’ll tell you the ABV, whether it’s around the 40% mark or whether it might be a cask strength.
Essentially it’s arming people with enough knowledge that they can go to their next function or bar and have the confidence to know what they’re talking about when they look at the colour and the legs and tiers of their whisky, and also about when to add ice and water and when not to. I find that people respond better to that, a lot of people come up and say thank you, you made that really easy to understand and I really learnt something.
Have you had any memorable events?
Quite a few corporate gigs. We’ve been around for about four months now so it’s early days but really some great clients. We’re looking at working with luxury bespoke tailors, some ASX events, luxury motorcar brands, there’s a lot in the pipeline and it’s all very exciting.
I think there are a few of these services out there, but I see CASK as an opportunity to really create something different for peoples’ next function, milestone, birthday, corporate get together, and make it a sensory, luxury, easy to digest experience. I guess if that sentiment comes through then I’ll be really happy.