Whisky maker Ardbeg will donate £1 million to community projects on Islay after selling a rare cask for £16m earlier this year.
While Scotch whisky these days is a booming sector worth £4.5 billion in exports, in the 1970s the industry was struggling to survive.
As a result, Ardbeg produced very little whisky during the decade and the distillery was actually shut for long periods in the 80s and 90s, making casks from the period rare and highly sought after.
In July, a woman from Asia, an unnamed private collector, paid £16m to purchase a cask, referred to as No 3, which was distilled on November 25, 1975 – the highest price ever paid for a cask of Scotch whisky.
For the next five years, cask No 3 will give its owner 88 bottles of Ardbeg each year, while the rest will continue maturing in the same cask until 2026.
The cask is the oldest ever released by Ardbeg and contains enough whisky for 440 bottles – making them worth around £36,000 each.
Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg’s director of whisky creation, said: “So little stock survives from this era that this cask really is one of a kind.
“Its complex flavours are testament to the extraordinary skill of the Ardbeg team who have cared for it over the decades.”
He added: “I look forward to exploring how it continues to evolve over the next five years.”
After making the record-breaking sale the distiller has decided to set up a £1m fund to support community and environmental projects on Islay.
The Ardbeg All Islay Fund will launch early next year and be distributed over five years to sustainability projects and organisations such as sports and cultural groups.
Applications for the new fund will be considered in association with local development organisation South Islay Development (SID) and will be decided on by a panel featuring two SID directors, five members of the local community and a representative from the Glenmorangie Company, which owns Ardbeg.
Thomas Moradpour, Ardbeg chief executive and president, said: “Many people at Ardbeg have played a part in the story of the whisky that makes up Cask No 3.
“It is only right that the community in which our distillery is rooted should share the rewards of its extraordinary sale.
“We look forward to supporting some great causes with The Ardbeg All Islay Fund and making a real difference to the island.”
The Ardbeg distillery is one of nine distilleries on Islay and one of three on the same road out of Port Ellen along with Laphroaig and Lagavulin.
It had been producing whisky since 1798 and has been selling it commercially since 1815, though for most of its history it was largely used in blended whiskies.
Following the shutdown in the 1980s and 1990s it was bought by Glenmorangie Plc and reopened in 1997, and it now produces around 10,000 barrels per year.
Moradpour said: “This sale is a source of pride for everyone in the Ardbeg community who has made our journey possible. Just 25 years ago, Ardbeg was on the brink of extinction but today it is one of the most sought-after whiskies in the world.
“That is a reflection of generations of hard work, from those in the still house who craft our smoky spirit, to the warehouse staff who care for our casks over decades, to teams around the world who build the reputation of our whiskies with fans, bartenders and collectors.
“While such a rare whisky is out of reach for all but one of our fans, we put the same passion and care into every bottle of Ardbeg as went into this exclusive single malt in 1975 – from flagship Ardbeg 10 Years Old to limited edition releases.
“Today, our new still house is working at full capacity to make more Ardbeg available than ever, and whisky creator Dr Bill Lumsden is busy imagining many more surprising smoky releases for Ardbeg fans.
“Because when a business like Ardbeg gets rewarded for 50 years of patience, it gives us the confidence to keep investing in the future of our distillery and in our island community.
“The journey continues.”