THE EXTRAORDINARY SALE OF AN EXTRAORDINARY WHISKY
Ardbeg enthusiast buys one-of-a-kind 1975 Islay single malt for £16million
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 MBE, 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.”
Industry experts hailed the sale as a demonstration of Ardbeg’s appeal, and the investment value of single malt Scotch. Author and world-renowned whisky expert Charles MacLean MBE 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 draw for 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. While £16million seems a breathtaking price for a cask of whisky, £36,000 per bottle is not unexpected for whiskies of that age and rarity.”
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.”
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About Ardbeg Cask No. 3, 1975
Colour: Deep Bronze
Aroma: 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.
Taste: 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.
Finish: A sumptuous union of tar, smoky notes and oak.
Ardbeg prides itself on being The Ultimate Islay Malt Whisky. Established in 1815, Ardbeg is revered by connoisseurs around the world as the peatiest, smokiest and most complex of all the Islay malts. Despite its smokiness, Ardbeg is renowned for its delicious sweetness, a phenomenon that has affectionately become known as ‘the peaty paradox’. During the 1980s and 1990s, Ardbeg suffered from an uncertain future and its doors closed in 1981 for several years. Although they re-opened later that decade, Ardbeg shut down again in 1996. It was not until the brand was purchased by The Glenmorangie Company in 1997 that the Distillery was saved from extinction. Since then, the Distillery has risen like a phoenix and today Ardbeg is well established as a cult malt with a passionate following.
The Ardbeg Committee
The legacy of the whisky was safeguarded in 2000 by the formation of the Ardbeg Committee. The Committee is made up of thousands of Ardbeg followers worldwide who are keen to ensure that “the doors of Ardbeg never close again”. Today there are more than 150,000 members of the Ardbeg Committee in over 130 countries. Committee members are regularly consulted on new bottlings and expressions and are offered exclusive Committee bottlings. Members also receive invitations to special gatherings, tastings and events. The Committee, chaired by Jackie Thomson, is free to join at ardbeg.com.
Ardbeg is the world’s most highly awarded smoky single malt whisky. Since 2008, Ardbeg has won more than 50 gold and double gold medals in key whisky competitions. Ardbeg has twice been awarded ‘World’s Best Single Malt’ at the World Whiskies Awards (2010, 2013). At the 2014 Global Icons of Whisky Awards, the previous Distillery Manager was voted ‘Distillery Manager of the Year’. The following year, Ardbeg’s expressions took the top three spots in Whisky Advocate magazine’s review of the best single malt Scotch whiskies under US$100. Meanwhile, both Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Ardbeg Uigeadail have been awarded gold medals at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Ardbeg Ten Years Old also won the Best Single Malt Scotch 10 Year Old at the International Whisky Competition 2019, while the Ardbeg Distillery won the Distillery of the Year 2019. In 2020, the International Whisky Competition awarded Ardbeg Corryvreckan first place for Best Single Malt Scotch, Best Single Malt Scotch (No Age Statement), Best cask Strength (Over 57% ABV), Best Peated Scotch and Best Islay Single Malt. Ardbeg Wee Beastie also earned first place for Best Single Malt Scotch Under 10 Year Old and The Ardbeg Distillery achieved another Distillery of the Year award. In 2021, Dr Bill Lumsden was awarded Master Distiller of the Year for the fifth time, and Ardbeg Uigeadail won World Whisky of the Year in the International Whisky Competition.
Ardbeg malted its barley onsite until 1981. Today its malt is produced by specialist maltsters in the Islay village of Port Ellen, where the barley is peated to Ardbeg’s exact specifications.
The record set for a cask of whisky sold at auction in April 2022 has been widely reported at just over £1m. Meanwhile, in 2019, a bottle of single malt whisky was reported to have sold for £1.5million at auction.
Rare Whisky 101 produces in-depth reports of the rare whisky market. In a recent report, its Collectors Ranking table shows Ardbeg as the second-most collectable whisky, equally weighting volume and value data for whisky sold in the UK at auction. https://www.rarewhisky101.com/intelligence
The Glenmorangie Company
The Company is one of the most renowned and innovative distillers and marketers of Scotch whisky brands worldwide and is part of Moët Hennessy, the wine and spirits division of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Company produces Glenmorangie Single Highland Malt whisky and Ardbeg Single Islay Malt.
Ardbeg and The Glenmorangie Company advocate responsible drinking and suggest that drinkers savour Ardbeg whiskies in moderation and in line with recommended daily guidelines for alcohol consumption.