A one-of-a-kind 1975 cask of Ardbeg Islay single malt Scotch whisky, which survived the distillery’s two brushes with closure, has been sold to a private collector in Asia for £16 million (US$ 19 million).
The oldest ever released by Ardbeg, ‘Cask No. 3’ is incomparably precious, since little single malt was created at the distillery in the 1970s. The distillery was closed through much of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Described as a “remarkable piece of liquid history” by world-renowned whisky expert, Charles MacLean, Cask No. 3 will be bottled over the course of 5 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 £1million to causes on Islay.
Far surpassing any previous auction records for a cask of single malt, the private sale of Cask No. 3 is an extraordinary milestone in Ardbeg’s 200-year history. While the distillery is famed for creating the world’s smokiest drams – and is among the most highly awarded of the smoky malts – its journey has often been turbulent.
In the 1970s, the majority of its whisky was sold for blending. And since 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.
Then, 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 forever. Saved from extinction the following year, the distillery has since gone from strength to strength.
Today it has a near-cult global following, has won countless awards and is enjoyed in the world’s most prestigious bars. But Ardbeg’s darkest days remain fresh in the memories of its fans even now.
Commenting on the sale, Thomas Moradpour, CEO of The Glenmorangie Company 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.
“That is a reflection of generations of hard work: from those in the still house who craft our smoky spirit, to the warehouse staff that cares for our casks over decades, to teams around the world who build the reputation of our whiskies with fans, bartenders and collectors,” he added.
Created in an era when the distillery still malted its barley onsite, the smoky, balanced spirit of cask No. 3 was distilled on Tuesday, 25 November 1975, and laid down to age in two separate casks – a bourbon and an Oloroso sherry.
Those casks were patiently matured by generations of Ardbeg’s skilled warehouse workers over 38 years. Then Ardbeg’s acclaimed Director of Whisky Creation, Bill Lumsden, decided to marry the two casks, creating a more-than-extraordinary single malt.
On 31 March, 2014, Bill transferred the whisky into a single refill Oloroso butt, selected to give only the subtlest of wood influence. There it has remained ever since. More than 46 years after its story began this single malt is a smorgasbord of sherried, smoky aromas and rich, elegant tastes.
The cask has imparted a deep bronze colour to the liquid. Brazil nuts in toffee fill the nose, followed by linseed oil, a suggestion of flowering blackcurrants, sweet, aromatic peat smoke and a hint of tobacco.
A splash of water brings forth even more complexity, with delicate lime and fennel. The taste is complex, rich and surprisingly elegant. A spearmint top note emerges with hints of lapsang souchong tea, some biscuit notes and gentle tar.
Espresso coffee simmers alongside salted caramel toffee. It has a sumptuous union of tar, smoky notes and oak.
Bill Lumsden, who will oversee the cask’s on-going maturation, said: “Cask No. 3 is an extraordinary taste of Ardbeg’s past. Such little stock survives from this era that this cask really is one of a kind.”
Over the next 5 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.
Experts have hailed the sale of Cask No. 3 as an illustration of Ardbeg’s unique appeal, and the investment value of single malt Scotch. Praising its exceptional quality, author and world-renowned whisky expert Charles MacLean said: “This truly unique whisky is a remarkable piece of liquid history. Many old whiskies can go flat with age. But Cask No. 3 is a really lovely whisky, hugely complex, still having vitality after nearly half a century.”
Becky Paskin, whisky expert and founder of OurWhisky, explained that the strength of Ardbeg’s following and the continuing maturation of Cask No. 3 further increased its desirability.
She said: “Cask No. 3 is undoubtedly alluring, and not just because of its own rarity. Its owner hasn’t simply purchased an Ardbeg cask, she has invested in a vertical series of bottling from one single cask, which will develop and mature over the next 5 years. This is a rare opportunity to witness a cask’s development over time.”
Andrew Shirley, Editor of the renowned 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.”