Ardbeg 1975 single malt smashes records to become most expensive cask ever sold

Ardbeg 1975 single malt smashes records to become most expensive cask ever sold

The record-breaking cask has been purchased by an unnamed female buyer

News | 11 Jul 2022

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A cask of Ardbeg Islay single malt Scotch whisky distilled in 1975 has been bought by a private collector in Asia for £16 million — more than twice what the distillery's owner, The Glenmorangie Company, paid for the entire distillery and all its stocks in 1997. Ardbeg has announced that £1 million of the proceeds will be donated to causes on Islay, though details of where these funds will be invested is yet to be made public.

Cask No.3 commanded such a high price due to the rarity of the whisky it contains, as very little single malt was made at the distillery throughout the 1970s and even less from that era remains in existence today. The cask has managed to avoid being bottled as single malt or blended over the past decades, and it also dodged being lost during the distillery's two brushes with closure in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Rather than being immediately disgorged, small amounts of whisky will be drawn from the cask over the course of five years for its owner. She is set to receive 88 bottles from the cask every year. By 2026, the plan is for the buyer to possess a vertical series of Ardbegs aged 46, 47, 48, 49 and 50 years old. Ardbeg will work with the buyer to develop personalised packaging for the collection.

According to Ardbeg, no private cask out-turn sale like this could take place again for at least another decade, as there is no similar cask from this period that would "lend itself to this kind of vertical bottling."

The sale far surpasses the previous record for the most expensive cask of single malt, distilled at The Macallan in 1988, though the circumstances of that sale were different as it was sold at auction.

While the private sale of old and rare casks is not unheard of in the industry, it is unusual for such transactions to be made public — especially when the sale has not been made through public auction. Though widely reported as a 'cask sale', the collector has actually purchased the future out-turn of the cask and has not taken outright control of the cask and its contents. While the difference seems semantic, this is an important distinction which sets the sale apart from an outright cask purchase or 'cask investment'. The cask itself will remain in the possession of Ardbeg.

The 1975 spirit's continued maturation will be overseen by Ardbeg’s director of whisky creation, Dr Bill Lumsden, who commented: “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.”

Dr. Bill Lumsden

Experts across the industry have spoken of the sale as a demonstration of Ardbeg’s popularity, as well as the global interest and rapidly increasing value of single malt Scotch whisky. Former Whisky Magazine editor Charles MacLean MBE called it “a remarkable piece of liquid history,” while OurWhisky founder Becky Paskin described Ardbeg as “a distillery that has a reputation for creating beautiful liquid, [which] commands a cult status worldwide and has a firm place in whisky enthusiasts’ hearts.”

The contents of Cask No.3 is actually the sum of two casks, an ex-bourbon barrel and an oloroso sherry cask, both filled with spirit distilled on Tuesday, 25 November 1975. On 31 March 2014, Dr Lumsden, decided to marry the two casks and refill the vatted liquid into a single refill oloroso butt. This is not unusual practice in the management of older liquid, as it can both stabilise volume and alcohol losses while also balancing the flavour profile of the maturing liquid. Refill casks are usually used for these 'second-phase' maturations, as by this point the liquid's continued development is often best driven by time-dependent reactions (oxidation and interaction of flavour congeners within the whisky), rather than further wood extraction or cask influence.

Ardbeg Distillery

Ardbeg CEO Thomas Moradpour said of the sale: “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 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 10 Years Old to limited edition releases. Today, our new still house 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!”
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