Whisky & Spirits

The Crown Jewels of Diageo's Casks of Distinction

By Sotheby's

T he names of Brora and Port Ellen are often referenced in the same breath – and with distinct tones of reverence – by whisky aficionados. This summer, Sotheby’s are offering two ultra-rare casks, one from each distillery, from Diageo’s Casks of Distinction programme. Never to be seen again, these offerings are among the rarest and most valuable casks in existence from Brora and Port Ellen’s dwindling stocks of ghost casks. Carrying an estimate of £700,000 to 1,200,000 each, they will open Sotheby’s Whisky of Distinction | Port Ellen & Brora: Casks From A Bygone Era sale on 14 June, with advance bidding open from 30 May. Diageo will donate 5% of the sale proceeds from both casks to Care International to support the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

“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.”
Jonny Fowle, Head of Whisky at Sotheby’s

This sale of the casks, in partnership with Diageo, is part of Sotheby’s month-long programme of exhibitions and events in its New Bond Street premises marking Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which is taking place from 28 May to 15 June. Two casks are now on display in the galleries, specially loaned for the occasion.

All distilleries from Diageo’s Scotch portfolio are eligible for Casks of Distinction; however, on very rare but cherished occasions, a cask taken from the diminishing stock of casks of the fabled Brora and Port Ellen distilleries are also included.

Representing the pinnacle of rare whisky ownership, each cask comes with a unique artistic experience in collaboration with the ultimate owner, and commissions from two artists. The resulting artwork will be printed on the label of each of the bottles from the cask yield. The successful bidders will have the option to further age their cask for up to five years. The new cask owners will also be given the opportunity to invite up to three guests to join them for a Diageo Rare & Exceptional experience.

“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”
James Mackay, Head of Rare and Exceptional Spirits at Diageo

Both closed in 1983, Brora and Port Ellen became renowned for the exceptional quality and character of whisky maturing in their shuttered warehouses. Viewed as the lost icons of the whisky world, these two distilleries and whiskies gained legendary status during their closed years. Since it was announced in 2017 that there would be a £35million investment into their reopening, interest in these whiskies has been reignited.

Brora 1982 Cask of Distinction: The Spirit of Brora in Collaboration with Trey Ratcliff

The highland distillery of Brora – located where land meets sea at the northeastern edge of Scotland – was reawakened in May 2021 following a three-year restoration process. Renowned photographer Trey Ratcliff, who has dedicated his life to capturing the beauty that exists at the edge of the world, will travel to Scotland for the first time ever, accompanied by the cask owner on an adventure to capture a portfolio of images that bring to life the landscape that helped shape this exceptional liquid. The cask owner’s selected image will become a large format edition print, in addition to being used to create a set of bespoke labels for the bottles that will be drawn from the cask. Distilled in 1982, the whisky in the cask is estimated to yield 145 bottles.

Port Ellen 1979 Cask of Distinction: Capturing the Light in Collaboration with Ini Archibong

Located on the western edge of the Isle of Islay, or the “Queen of the Hebrides”, Port Ellen is a priceless jewel in Diageo’s crown. Spirit will soon begin to be made at Port Ellen again from Spring 2023. Ini Archibong, the globally recognised designer and artist, will create a unique piece of art capturing the light of Port Ellen and its spirit in coloured glass. The one-off sculpture will be a physical expression of the “Dram and the Water” – representing both the precious nature of the liquid inside the cask and the distillery’s most precious resource.

Crafted from Murano Glass and finished in the colours of Islay, the unique sculptural piece will be presented to the cask owner in Port Ellen once the distillery has reopened. Ini will also develop and create a bespoke colour gradient that will be used to design a set of labels for the bottles drawn from the cask. Distilled in 1979, the whisky in the cask is estimated to yield 102 bottles.

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