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Arbeg sets new record for most expensive whisky cask ever sold

A cask of Ardbeg Islay single malt Scotch whisky distilled in 1975 has smashed records to become the most expensive whisky cask ever sold.

The cask was 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.

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.

The cask's continued maturation will be overseen by 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.”

The sale far surpasses the previous record for the most expensive cask of single malt, which was set in April this year when a cask of The Macallan 1988 sold for £1 million in a Whisky Hammer auction.

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 liquid has been nosed and tasted, with the producer providing tasting notes on the Cask No. 3. The aroma is described as having notes of Brazil nuts in toffee, followed by linseed oil, while the taste is complex and rich with spearmint notes and hints of lapsang souchong tea. The dram is said to conclude with a sumptuous union of tar, smoky notes and oak.

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!”

11 July 2022 - Bethany Whymark