What Makes This Record-Breaking $19 Million Whisky Cask Extra Special

Islay is a small island off Scotland's coast that's home to about 3,000 people and more than 42,000 sheep, which are the principal cause of traffic backups according to the Ardbeg Distillery. Known principally for its precious and peaty style of Scotch whisky, Islay is home to a mere eight distilleries, but the history of Scotch there is a long one. Founded in 1815, Ardbeg's tumultuous history hasn't stopped the distillery from winning numerous awards, including World Whisky of the Year, Scotch Whisky of the Year, and World's Best Single Malt.

Now owned by luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennessey (LVMH), Ardbeg has garnered its share of headlines, including for its experiment aging whisky aboard the International Space Station. The recent headline may be the most remarkable yet, however, because Ardbeg announced that a single cask of its prized whisky sold for a record-shattering $19 million. Why would anyone pay $19 million for a cask of whisky?

It's both rare and very old

According to Food and Wine, Ardbeg's Cask No. 3 is the oldest Ardbeg Scotch ever released. It dates to 1975 — a period in the distillery's history from which very little Scotch survives, as much of it was sold off to be blended before the historic distillery was shuttered for the first time in 1981. Cask No. 3 contains about 440 bottles worth of precious liquid, and the plan is to bottle it over the course of five years, creating a legendary vertical containing whiskies aged 46, 47, 48, 49, and 50 years old.

The Spirits Business tells us that Ardbeg Cask No. 3 was purchased by a single buyer — a private female whisky collector from Asia. Bill Lumsden, director of whisky creation for Ardbeg describes the cask and its value: "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 flavors 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."

While most whisky enthusiasts will never taste a dram of Cask No. 3, you can certainly include Ardbeg in your personal exploration of whisky styles. And should you encounter a 1975 Ardbeg, don't mix it in a cocktail.