Two Rare 'Ghost Casks' of Scotch Are Going Up for Auction

Port Ellen and Brora both shut down in the 1980s, leaving dwindling stockpiles behind.

Two Ultra-Rare Casks of Whisky from the Fabled Brora and Port Ellen Distilleries
Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's

As a general rule, the longer a whisky has been aged in cask, the more coveted it becomes. As a result, in recent years, a battle for world's oldest Scotch has ensued with The Macallan announcing an 81-year-old bottling in February to top an 80-year-old Glenlivet bottling announced in September.

But even the minimum three years that Scotch is required to be aged is a decent chunk of time (for pretty much anyone besides the Queen) and so occasionally casks of Scotch outlast the distillery they were produced in. Like unreleased songs from a late artist, these so-called "ghost whiskies" can draw incredible interest. And if the casks themselves carry a significant age statement, well, in today's wild Scotch market, they can command some stunning prices.

A stunning price is exactly what drinks giant Diageo and auction house Sotheby's are expecting for two ghost casks of whiskey that are currently under the hammer until June 14. A Port Ellen cask distilled in 1979 and a Brora cask distilled in 1982 are both anticipated to sell for around $1 million each.

Adding to the intrigue is that both distilleries — which have seen their reputations only grow in the decades they've been gone — will soon be releasing new whiskies for the first time since they shut, meaning their "ghost" status will soon change. Brora reopened in May 2021 while Port Ellen is planned to start distilling again in 2023.

Selected from Diageo's Casks of Distinction program, the auction items are billed as "among the rarest and most valuable casks in existence from Brora and Port Ellen's dwindling stocks of ghost casks" and are estimated to sell for between £700,000 to £1,200,000 each (about $880,000 to $1.5 million) — with five percent of the hammer price going to Care International to support Ukraine.

More than just some leftover castaways, Sotheby's emphasizes that the Cask of Distinction program features casks that are "hand selected by master blenders and chosen on the basis of its quality; as such, they represent the most exceptional and singular expression of the distillery's character."

Two Ultra-Rare Casks of Whisky from the Fabled Brora and Port Ellen Distilleries
Courtesy of Sotheby's

Specifically, the Port Ellen cask is billed as "the most precious cask" remaining in Diageo's stash and is estimated to hold about 102 bottles' worth of Scotch. Meanwhile, the Brora cask is said to be "the oldest in existence for sale" from the distillery and is expected to yield about 145 bottles. Further sweetening the deal, buyers will have the choice to work with Diageo's experts to age these Scotches for up to an additional five years.

Two Ultra-Rare Casks of Whisky from the Fabled Brora and Port Ellen Distilleries
Courtesy of Sotheby's

"On trying the 1982 Brora, I was astounded by its quality — the rich cooked fruit flavors elevating its signature lightly peated character," Jonny Fowle, Sotheby's head of whisky stated. "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."

Finally, each cask "comes with the opportunity to collaborate on a commission with an internationally acclaimed artist, creating one-off pieces that reflect the distilleries and their whisky." The Port Ellen cask buyer will receive a one-off sculpture from Ini Archibong while the Brora cask will come with a custom shoot from New Zealand based photographer Trey Ratcliff. Surprisingly, neither is an NFT, but hey, these are classic casks best suited for classic art, I guess.

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