A one-of-a-kind 1975 cask of Ardbeg Islay single malt Scotch whisky, which survived the Distillery’s two brushes with closure, has sold to a private collector in Asia for £16million. The oldest ever released by Ardbeg, “Cask No. 3” is incomparably precious, since little single malt was created at the Distillery in the 1970s and it 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 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 £1million to causes on Islay.
Far surpassing any previous auction records for a cask of single malt, Cask No. 3’s private sale 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 for ever. 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.
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. That is a reflection of generations of hard work: from those in the stillhouse who craft our smoky spirit, to the warehouse staff who care for our casks over decades, to teams around the world who build the reputation of our whiskies with fans, bartenders and collectors.
“While such a rare whisky is out of reach for all but one of our fans, we put the same passion and care into every bottle of Ardbeg as went into this exclusive single malt in 1975 – from flagship Ardbeg Ten Years Old, to limited-edition releases. Today, our new stillhouse is working at full capacity to make more Ardbeg available than ever, and whisky creator Dr Bill Lumsden is busy imagining many more surprising smoky releases for Ardbeg fans. Because when a business like Ardbeg gets rewarded for 50 years of patience, it gives us the confidence to keep investing in the future of our distillery, and in our island community. The journey continues!”
Created in a bygone era when the Distillery still malted its barley onsite, the smoky, balanced spirit of cask No. 3 was distilled on Tuesday, 25th 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, Dr Bill Lumsden, decided to marry the two casks, creating an even more extraordinary single malt. On 31st March 2014, he transferred their whisky into a single refill Oloroso butt, selected to give only the subtlest of wood influence. There it has remained ever since. Today, more than 46 years after its story began, this single malt is a smorgasbord of sherried, smoky aromas and rich, elegant tastes.
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.
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.”
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 – an evocative taste of what Ardbeg was like when it malted its own barley. 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.”
On Ardbeg’s appeal to collectors, he added: “The factors which make a particular whisky investable are threefold: rarity, flavour and variety. And collectors do love Scotch, because of the provenance and history. Furthermore, there is a keen interest in smoky Islay whiskies. And Ardbeg is particularly rare – there just aren’t many bottlings of this age out there.”
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. It hails from a Distillery that has a reputation for creating beautiful liquid, commands a cult status worldwide, and has a firm place in whisky enthusiasts’ hearts. Of the many distilleries in Scotland which have a legacy, a history and a charm about them, Ardbeg is certainly one of those which could command such a high price for a vanishingly rare cask like this. What’s most fascinating is that the owner hasn’t simply purchased an Ardbeg cask, she has invested in a vertical series of bottlings from one single cask, which will develop and mature over the next five years. This is a rare opportunity to witness a cask’s development over time.”
Rare whisky has become increasingly sought-after by investors in recent years. 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. Although the equivalent price for a bottle – £36,000 – is comparable to some of the rare bottles sold at auction.”