Auction record

Rare Ardbeg whisky cask sells for £16 million

Barrel of cash: the record-breaking cask

A rare cask of single malt Scotch whisky, which survived the distillery’s two brushes with closure, has sold to a private collector in Asia for £16 million.

The one-of-a-kind 1975 cask of Ardbeg Islay – Cask No. 3 – is regarded as incomparably precious, as little single malt was created at the distillery in the 1970s and it was closed through much of the 80s and 90s.

Cask No. 3’s private sale is an extraordinary milestone in the distillery’s 200-year history and far exceeds any previous auction records for a cask of single malt.

Described as a “remarkable piece of liquid history” by renowned whisky expert Charles MacLean, Cask No. 3 will be bottled over the course of five years for its owner, giving her an unparalleled vertical collection of aged Ardbegs, which cannot be replicated for at least a decade.

To celebrate the half-century of patience and generations of distillery workers behind this “vanishingly rare” whisky, Ardbeg will donate £1m to causes on Islay.  

In the 1970s, most of the distillery’s whisky was sold for blending and because just a few casks each year were set aside for single malt bottling, stock from that decade has always been exceptionally hard to come by.

Ardbeg Distillery on Islay

Through most of the 1980s, the distillery was closed as its future hung in the balance. While Ardbeg re-opened for a time, it shut again in 1996 – some thought for ever.

It was saved from extinction the following year and has developed a near-cult global following.

CEO Thomas Moradpour said: “This sale is a source of pride for everyone in the Ardbeg community who has made our journey possible. Just 25 years ago, Ardbeg was on the brink of extinction, but today it is one of the most sought-after whiskies in the world.”

The smoky, balanced spirit of cask No. 3 was distilled on 25 November 1975, and laid down to age in two separate casks – a bourbon and an Oloroso sherry.

Over the next five years, Ardbeg will continue to mature Cask No. 3 in a secure location on Islay for its owner. Every year, she will receive 88 bottles from the cask. By 2026, this Ardbeg enthusiast will possess a unique vertical series of rare Ardbegs from 1975, aged 46, 47, 48, 49 and 50 years old.

Thomas Moradpour and Dr Bill Lumsden with Cask 3 sample

Dr Bill Lumsden, who will oversee the cask’s ongoing maturation, said: “Cask No. 3 is an extraordinary taste of Ardbeg’s past. Its aromas are nutty, herbal and smoky, while its tastes of tar, espresso coffee and spearmint have an astonishing finesse for a whisky of such age.

“So little stock survives from this era, that this cask really is one of a kind. And its complex flavours are testament to the extraordinary skill of the Ardbeg team who have cared for it over the decades. I look forward to exploring how it continues to evolve over the next five years.”

Rare whisky has become increasingly sought-after by investors in recent years. Andrew Shirley, editor of the Knight Frank Wealth Report, said: “Over the last 10 years rare whisky has been the top performing asset class in our Luxury Investment Index.

“Our index, which tracks a basket of rare bottles sold at auction, has increased in value 428% over the last decade, and 9% in the past year. This record cask sale has set a very interesting new benchmark. Although the equivalent price for a bottle – £36,000 – is comparable to some of the rare bottles sold at auction.”

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