Brora & Port Ellen Cask Sale (pic: Sotheby's)

Brora & Port Ellen Cask Sale (pic: Sotheby's)

Sotheby's partnered with spirits giant Diageo to offer two “ultra rare” casks, with each expected to fetch £1.2 million.

Sotheby’s partnered with spirits giant Diageo to offer two “ultra rare”casks of whisky from Brora and Port Ellen’s “ghost casks”, which were left behind when the distilleries closed in 1983, with each expected to fetch £1.2 million.

This summer in London, Sotheby’s will offer two rare casks – Brora 1982 Cask of Distinction and Port Ellen 1979 Cask of Distinction on June 14. 

The sale of the casks is part of Sotheby’s month-long programmes of exhibitions and events in its New Bond Street premises to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen, which takes place from 28 May to 15 June. 

Brora and Port Ellen gained cult status among whisky aficionados for their exceptional quality and character of whisky due to its rarity after both were shut down in 1980s. 

Coming from Diageo’s Casks of Distinction programme, each cask carries an estimate of  £700,000 to £1,200,000 (US$877,485 to US$1,504,260). The successful bidders will be invited to further age their casks for up to five years before they are bottled.

Brora cask (pic: handout)
Brora cask (pic: handout)

Brora 1982 Cask of Distinction is estimated to yield 145 bottles, while Port Ellen 1979 Cask of Distinction is estimated to yield 102 bottles.

Both casks will come with a unique artistic experience following the auction, with the resulting artwork printed on the bottles of the cask yield. 

For Brora’s rare cask, renowned photographer Trey Ratcliff will travel to Scotland with the cask owner on an adventure to capture a portfolio of images of the landscape around its distillery.

For Port Ellen’s rare cask, Ini Archibong, the globally recognised designer and artist, will create a one-off sculpture as a physical expression of the “Dram and the Water”, which represents both the precious nature of the whisky inside the cask and the distillery’s most precious resource. 

The sculpture will be presented to the cask owner in Port Ellen once the distillery has reopened. 

New owners of the casks can also invite up to three guests to join them for a Diageo Rare & Exceptional experience.

Diageo will donate 5% of the final hammer price from both casks to Care International in support of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

The first whisky auction of 2022 in London will also include highly collectible fine and rare whisky from Scotland and Japan, as well as a small selection of vintage Moutai from China.

Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s Head of Whisky, North America and EMEA, said, “This partnership between Sotheby’s and Diageo showcases an unrivalled offering of rare whisky casks at auction. On trying the 1982 Brora I was astounded by its quality – the rich cooked fruit flavours elevating its signature lightly peated character. The Port Ellen is a masterclass in 1970s Islay smoke with significant cask influence, which, especially when from a closed distillery, is precisely the style that the world’s top whisky collectors seek out.”

James Mackay, Head of Rare and Exceptional Spirits at Diageo, said, “With the help of two highly accomplished contemporary artists, we are thrilled to offer these casks for sale by Sotheby’s as true works of art.”

Port Ellen cask (pic: handout)
Port Ellen cask (pic: handout)

Two fabled distilleries awakened

Established in 1819, Brora is a whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands, the largest whisky-producing region of Scotland by area. 

Brora is known for producing heavily peated spirit in the early 1970s, but its production was halted in 1983 due to the industrial downturn. The distillery was purchased by Diageo in 1997.

In 2014, Diageo released just 160 bottles of a Brora 40 Year Old at a recommended price of £6,995 (US$68,834), which is Diageo’s most expensive and rarest single malt whisky release to date.

The name of Port Ellen is often referenced in the same breath as Brora. Founded in 1825, Port Ellen is a single malt whisky brand produced in Islay, arguably the most famous whisky-producing region in Scotland.

Port Ellen’s whisky is known for being complex and highly peated. Although the distillery was mothballed in 1983, its remaining bottles of single malts are regarded as some of the finest made on Islay in the 1970s and 1980s, which command high prices among collectors during the closed years.

Driven by the crave towards the two shuttered distilleries, Diageo pooled £35 million investment to kickstart the revival of their whisky production in 2017.

In 2021, Brora resumed operations after a three-year restoration process and the first cask of Brora was filled in 38 years. Spirit will also be made at Port Ellen from spring 2023.  

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