Skip to content
PYC_Web_Articles Banner
Risky Whisky Business – Examples of Scotch Whisky Cask Investment Fraud

Throughout its history as a large-scale industry, Scotch whisky has featured, or suffered from, a host of shady characters seeking to make money from unsuspecting investors. Though some companies may pitch the purchase of a Scotch whisky cask as a surprisingly ‘safe’ alternative investment, the marketing language used by some of today’s firms and scams of the present and recent past echoes a rich history of cask investment fraud.

The 1970s

In an article on Master of Malt, former Diageo executive and historian Nick Morgan draws attention to phrases that could well appear in social media ads today; “15 – 30% capital growth per annum”; “in four years your matured whisky may double in value”; “malt whisky investment shows an average profit of 50% at maturity.” But these claims from the late 60s and early 70s were made by dodgy companies looking for investors to sign on to risky or fraudulent schemes.

Morgan points to historical examples such as the 1970s story of John Haffenden. A flashy self-promoter selling himself as a plucky upstart entrepreneur shaking up the industry, he sold Scotch whisky casks to aspiring US and UK investors using high-pressure sales techniques. He and other similar firms lied about the returns investors could expect on their whisky, the risks involved in buying casks and how the whisky itself could be transported while casks were sold at an enormous markup. His businesses were shuttered following investigations by the FBI, Interpol and Scotland Yard.

The judge writing the memorandum opinion on the USA court case against Haffenden makes clear how investors lost their money:


Then there were the two partnering fraudster firms, Michael Lundy & Associates and its collaborator, Scotch Whisky Limited, which issued warehouse receipts to US-based investors for casks that were both real and imaginary. Convicted by a Rhode Island court for fraud, Michael Lundy ended up in jail for six years.

The 1990s

The history of the modern whisky industry is filled with booms and busts – a parallel to waves of whisky scammers through the ages. In the 1990s, a number of firms emerged claiming that buying whisky casks was a safe investment. 

A firm called Cavendish bought casks from Macallan, Ledaig and Tobermory and sold them as ‘investments’ at a significant markup. Cavendish eventually moved its office to Gibraltar and renamed itself as the Hamilton Spirit Management Company while collecting £6.2 million from mostly elderly investors who paid the grossly inflated prices for the casks. Its founders and sales director were eventually found guilty and sent to prison.

Another scammer firm, The Napier Spirit Company, sold casks at enormously inflated prices compared to actual market value, collecting £3.2 million in investments from people who were promised annual returns of 18%. The company claimed that this lofty target was supported by data from JP Morgan. (It wasn’t.)

Eventually, the Department of Trade & Industry petitioned the High Court for an order to wind up the company.

The 2020s

Casey Alexander is the latest whisky cask scammer brought to public attention. Alexander’s company, Vintage Whisky, was one of several — his firms Windsor Jones and Charles Winn were selling wine — cold-calling elderly Americans and aggressively pushing them for investment, eventually collecting $13 million from his victims across all three companies. Investors attempting to retrieve their money were ignored or fobbed off with excuses. His activity eventually caught the attention of the FBI, which conducted a sting operation that resulted in his arrest in Ohio. He faces up to 20 years in jail after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

These examples are a few of many scammers over decades who have committed fraud in an unregulated market, making it all the more critical for potential investors to be both aware of and educated about the risks involved in buying a Scotch whisky cask.


The information provided on Protect Your Cask is intended solely for educational and informational purposes and does not constitute legal, financial, or investment advice. We strongly encourage readers to conduct their own research and, where necessary, consult with professional advisors or legal counsel before making any investment decisions in the Scotch whisky cask market. The views and opinions expressed herein are not intended to serve as a guarantee or prediction of future events and should not be relied upon as such. Protect Your Cask disclaims any liability for decisions made based on the information provided on this website.