Ever spent too much on booze and woken up with buyer’s remorse? Spare a thought for one whisky collector in Asia who arose from a dulcet slumber this morning only to realise she’d dropped a staggering £18 million (AUD$28 million) on a cask of rare Ardberg Scotch. Sure, that’s roughly the same price as 34 brand new Ferrari SF90 Stradales, but it must have been worth it, right? Well, according to the long list of Scotch experts who’ve weighed in on the sale, it was.
The one-of-a-kind Ardberg Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky cask represents the oldest ever release to come out of the famed distillery, having survived two brushes with closure. ‘Cask No. 3’ as it is affectionately known, was laid down way back in 1975, but age marks just a small element to this spirit’s incredible story.
During the ’70s, Ardbeg wasn’t renowned for its single malt production and as such, the cask was a rarity for the distillery floor, particularly as the doors shut in the ’80s. It does make for an interesting crossover of time periods, however. When Cask No. 3 was first laid down on Tuesday, 25th November 1975, Ardberg was still malting its barley onsite, capturing a unique timestamp of old-world production in a bottle.
Accordingly to Ardberg, the release was laid down to age in two separate casks – a Bourbon and an Oloroso sherry. Patiently matured by generations of Ardbeg’s skilled warehouse workers over 38 years, the casks were finally married under the instruction of Ardbeg’s director of whisky creation, Dr Bill Lumsden. The result was extraordinary.
On 31st March 2014, he transferred the whisky into a single refill Oloroso butt, where it has remained ever since. A swirling triumph of sherried, smoky aromas and rich, elegant tastes, the 1975 Ardberg Islay Single Malt is somewhat of a holy grail for whisky fans, and it has a price tag to match.
According to the Islay Scotch icon, the £18 million sale doesn’t necessarily see the cask leave Ardberg’s hands. Cask No. 3 will be bottled over the course of five years for its owner, meaning she’ll score 88 bottles from the cask every year. 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, a truly one-of-a-kind collection.
“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,” Dr Bill Lumsden said. ” 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.”
For whisky fans, sales such as this aren’t coming out of the blue. For the decade, interest in whisky investment has skyrocketed, with collectors jumping on rare bottlings as a means of making their fortune. According to Andrew Shirley, editor of the renowned Knight Frank Wealth Report, rare whisky has become one of best-performing assets in recent memory.
“Over the last 10 years rare whisky has been the top performing asset class in our Luxury Investment Index,” he said. ” Our index, which tracks a basket of rare bottles sold at auction, has increased in value 428 per cent over the last decade, and 9 per cent 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.”
Needless to say, dropping a cool £18 million on a cask of whisky is a big call, however, a bottling of this heritage demands a premium price tag. Throw in the fact that author and world-renowned whisky expert Charles MacLean described Cask No. 3 as “exceptional” and you start to think this one might be a bargain.
“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,” MacLean said. “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.”