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Port Ellen and Brora casks to be auctioned by Sotheby’s

Two casks of single malt Scotch whisky from the ‘ghost’ distilleries of Port Ellen and Brora – billed as among the rarest in existence – could fetch more than £1m each when they are auctioned by Sotheby’s this month.

Part of the auction house’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the sale runs until next Tuesday, 14 June, and also includes one-off collaborations with artist Ini Archibong and photographer Trey Ratcliff.

The two refill American oak hogshead casks, supplied from Diageo’s Casks of Distinction VIP private cask purchase programme, both have pre-sale estimates of £700,000-1.2m.

The Port Ellen cask was filled on 15 February 1979, has a current strength of 52.9% abv and is estimated to hold 102 bottles. The Brora cask was filled on 25 March 1979, has a current strength of 52.8% and is estimated to hold 145 bottles.

The winning bidder for the Port Ellen cask will collaborate with artist and designer Ini Archibong in the creation of a unique artwork made from coloured Murano glass as a physical representation of the ‘Dram and the Water’.

Meanwhile, the Brora lot also includes a collaboration with New Zealand-based photographer Trey Ratcliff, with the winning bidder joining Ratcliff on his first visit to Scotland and choosing one photograph to be kept as a large format print, as well as being used as labels when the cask is bottled.

James Mackay, head of rare and collectable spirits at Diageo, explained that the winning bidders would have five years in which to continue to mature the whisky, if they chose to, before bottling. ‘They can go and visit it, take their friends, take samples to see how the whisky evolves,’ he said. ‘It feels different to owning a bottle if you’ve been part of the journey.’

Islay distilleries Port Ellen and Brora, in the eastern Highlands, closed in 1983. Brora reopened in May last year, and Port Ellen is scheduled to begin production again in 2023, with the stills already in place.

Bidding on ‘Whisky of Distinction – Port Ellen & Brora: Casks From A Bygone Era’ began on 31 May and closes on 14 June. Diageo will donate 5% of the hammer price from both casks to Care International to support the charity’s work in Ukraine.

Tasting notes

Brora 1982

Explosively aromatic, with tropical fruit and savoury undertones. Orange peel, then the merest wisp of smoke before a Clynelish-like honeyed waxiness with creamy lemon meringue pie. The smoke is more apparent – but still subtle – on the palate, before heady jasmine appears alongside more of that sweetly creamy tropical fruit. A silkily textured whisky, where the peat sits back and merges into a saline, Pontefract cake character.

Port Ellen 1979

Dark liquorice, sweet camphor and little initial sign of direct smoke from the peat. Instead this is more herbal and savoury in character, with green menthol and a pinch of garam masala. Where the Brora is a whisky of texture, this is all about length as the fiery, explosive power builds with plenty of char and tannin from the oak. Water teases out some orchard fruit and a more obviously phenolic note, with a sweet edge suggestive of aniseed balls.

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