A barrel of whiskey for 16 million pounds

Dhat is one word: £16 million for a cask of whisky. That’s a good 18.6 million euros. They might not make the Ardbeg Cask 3 the most expensive whiskey in history. The Macallan 1926 Fine & Rare has been adorned with this label for a good three years, for which 1,452,000 pounds, i.e. around 1,680,000 euros, were paid for a bottle at an auction at Sotheby’s in 2019.

The deal with the Ardbeg distillery will nevertheless go down in spirits history. Because a private collector who buys a whole cask of almost 50-year-old single malt and spends so much money on it has never happened before in the world of whiskey, which is not exactly lacking in craziness.

The sale of cask number 3 has special meaning for the Ardbeg distillery on the Scottish island of Islay, which is known for its particularly smoky, peaty whiskeys and has been popular among collectors for years. Not only because the distillery makes headlines and strengthens its name as one of the big Scotch brands. But also because the deal shows that whiskeys with an extreme taste profile that is not adapted to the mainstream can also play in the top league of the collector scene.

Burned November 1975

The single malt in Cask 3 is the oldest that the more than 200-year-old distillery, which has been closed twice in its history, most recently in 1996, and was close to the end, has ever circulated – and of course the most valuable. It was distilled on November 25, 1975 and then placed in two different casks, a former bourbon cask and a cask that was previously aged for Oloroso sherry. For a good 38 years, until March 2014, these two bottlings remained untouched – until Bill Lumsden, the master blender responsible for all whiskeys at Ardbeg and the Glenmorangie distillery, which also belongs to the Moët Hennessy group, decided to put them in to “marry” another sherry cask. The master distillers understand this term to mean the merging of differently matured whiskeys – in this case in the Cask 3 that has now been sold, a particularly large Oloroso sherry cask.

The fact that she comes from Asia is one of the few pieces of information that Ardbeg reveals about the identity of her solvent customer. And that it is not a man, but an obviously extremely whiskey-loving woman. She is also a lover of the special Ardbeg style, which is considered particularly rough and edgy. Typical of the whiskeys from the distillery, which is located directly by the sea, are earthy and mineral notes, hints of charcoal and ash, but also tart citrus notes and an unmistakable saltiness. All of these aromas are likely to have ground down and harmonized in the Cask 3 over the almost five decades of aging. This historic whiskey is a typical Ardbeg, however.

The Ardbeg distillery


The Ardbeg distillery
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Photo: Ardbeg Distillery

88 bottles are to be delivered every year

At least that’s what those who have tried it say and attest the bronze-colored single malt great elegance and finesse. Thomas Moradpour, General Director of Ardbeg, puts it this way: “An Ardbeg is always a beast – and of course the Cask 3 is too.” Master distiller Bill Lumsden describes the description of nutty, herbal and smoky notes and also recognizes the taste Hints of mint, lime, coffee, tar and salty caramel. And well-known whiskey author Charles MacLean describes it as a stimulating and complex “flowing story”.

When will the collector, who wants to remain anonymous, get her first bottle? During the year. The plan is to release the cask to them in five bottlings within five years. 88 bottles are to be delivered every year, so that in 2026 the buyer will have a unique collection of Ardbeg whiskeys from 1975 in the cellar, which have matured in casks for 46, 47, 48, 49 and 50 years – and that too a price that, at £36,000 per bottle, seems almost cheap compared to what is otherwise called for in auctions for such old and rare whiskeys.

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