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A Glass For How Much?

August 8, 2022
A public domain image of whisky or whiskey being poured into a lowball glass with ice


As a whisky-drinker, I’m very aware of how much some people are willing to pay for a bottle of the good stuff. And sometimes, I can be weak-willed myself. I go into a store fully intending to just spend $40 on some Jura or Glenmorangie, yet I walk out with a bottle of Tomatin for twice the price. But that’s nothing compared to a private sale a few weeks ago, where a buyer paid £16 million (or $19.3 million) for a 47-year-old cask of Scotch whisky.

The cask, known simply as “Cask No. 3”, was first distilled at the Ardbeg distillery in 1975. Nowadays, Ardbeg is one of the nine distilleries on the Scottish island of Islay (pronounced EYE-lah). Many Scottish whiskies give off flavors like caramel, spices, and vanilla, but some are also known for having a smoky flavor. This is thanks to burning peat harvested from bogs to dry out the grains in preparation for distillation. While this peating makes some whiskies slightly smoky, whiskies from Islay are known to be intensely smoky, with additional aromas and flavors like leather, cigars, salt, seawater, and iodine being very common. While Islay whiskies like Lagavulin and Laphroaig are perhaps more well known, Ardbeg’s reputation is that they make some of the most heavily-peated whiskies on the market. Having had bottles of Ardbeg on my bar before, I can speak from experience that they taste like a liquid bonfire.

In Scotland, scotch whisky is aged in previously-used barrels, with bourbon barrels from the United States being the most popular. These casks can fit around 200 liters, or a little over 50 gallons. But Cask No. 3 contains 308 liters of whisky, mainly because in 2014, it was transferred to a much larger barrel known as a butt, imported from Spain, where it was previously used to age sherry. Cask No. 3, therefore, contains enough to produce four hundred and ten standard American bottles, which works out to £39,000 each (or about $46,890); or about £3,000 (or about $3,750) for a single glass.

Of course, a large barrel is incredibly hard to transport. So the Ardbeg distillery will ship the whisky to the buyer a little at a time. Eighty-eight standard British bottles, slightly smaller than American ones, will be shipped to the buyer yearly for the next five years. I’m not sure if they send it all at once on New Years’ Day, or if they send a slow trickle of one bottle every four days. Either way, I know I’d be having people over more often, knowing I had such a steady supply of scotch.