Why Some Whiskies Are Worth More Than Others
You can pick up a bottle of perfectly acceptable blended whisky for as little as £10 to £15 so why is it that some bottles go for hundreds of thousands? Any whisky fan or aficionado will have their own beliefs on the matter. Here we’re looking at some of the world’s most expensive whiskies and what makes them worth so much.
Is Age Just a Number?
No. When it comes to whisky, especially single malts, it really matters. The ageing process for whisky relates to how long the liquid spends in its cask. Wooden barrels of many different materials, styles, sizes and types contribute significantly to the flavour and colour of each malt. The benefits of the barrel and the effect it has on the ageing process ends as soon as the whisky is bottled. This differs from wines which still age once bottled.
Age effects value because whisky which has been kept for many years is rarer than a batch which was brewed up in the last decade or so. It is limited edition and once it’s gone it’s gone, it cannot be repeated as we’re no longer in 1950 or 1965 or any other year. Older whiskies are rare and this ramps up the cost.
Single barrel aged whiskies are amongst the rarest because the whole bottle is drawn from a single aged cask, selected specifically for the ageing process. This differs from most blended whiskies which combine the flavours of different casks aged between 2 and 25 years to deliver the essence of flavour the blend is known for. Each standard whisky cask contains on average 250 bottles of a unique whisky and with such small numbers its clear to see why single barrel and small batch malts are particularly highly sought after.
Another aspect the effects the value of a whisky is the prestige and heritage of its distiller. The older Scottish distilleries have a rich history and reputation which ensures their rarest whiskies are sought after by collectors. This in turn sees many bottles go to auction where prices once again can be astronomical. Below is a closer look at some of the most expensive whiskies in the world.
Mortlach 75-Year Old
Renowned almost as much for its design as its exceptional flavour, the suppliers and retailers behind this Mortlach offering released it in 2015. They described it as the world’s ‘most exclusive’ single malt whisky and created it using a first-fill ex-sherry butt. The whisky was bottled in 100 uniquely designed teardrop-shaped decanters and each decanter has its own unique number. Cleverly the decanters are also designed with 75 multi-level cuts into the glass which represent the malt’s years of maturation. Worth £20,000 per bottle, it’s certainly not cheap.
The Macallan “M”
A jaw dropping price of $628,205 was paid at auction for the Macallan “M” bottle in 2014 in Hong Kong. It is the highest price ever paid for a bottle of whisky at auction in recorded history and yet again its design is a key factor in its sale price. 17 uniquely gifted craftsmen worked to make the whisky’s bottle. The glass is hand-blown and the decanter is named after the Roman emperor Constantine. The whisky itself comes from seven barrels which were hand-selected from over 200,000 by the master blender.
The Balvenie 50
Created by David Stewart, Scotland’s longest tenured distiller, the Balvenie 50 is his magnum opus. First left to age in 1962, it is a single barrel whisky which aged in an oak sherry hogshead cask. With a limited run of just 88 bottles each one is packaged with limited edition status. The bottle design is simple but the presentation box is a custom-designed wooden contain which assures this premium malt gets the premium treatment. Each bottle is worth £30,000 and is a testament to the work of one of the finest distillers of all time.
When you hear the price of this whisky it is a little hard to believe but when you look more closely it is once again not entirely due to the exceptional quality of the amber liquid hidden within the sparkling bottle. Isabella’s Islay is said to cost $6.2 million per bottle. Much of this is due to exactly that, the bottle design. Over 8500 diamonds, 300 rubies and a fair chunk of white gold used in its creation. It has been described as taking the whisky market to a new level and is a product designed with the highest luxury market in mind. The whisky itself is single malt cask strength and is described in their own words as ‘an outstanding expression of the Islay dram.’ Whilst no age has been clearly defined, this is described as a ‘Very Old Single Malt Whisky’.
Investment or Enjoyment?
In most instances people investing at these levels do not buy their whisky to drink. It is something to be treasured and collected. Others are passionate about flavours and collecting as many different styles and types of whisky as possible, always tasting them because where’s the fun and enjoyment in being a lover of whisky if you can’t enjoy its flavours?
The world’s most expensive whiskies may not be something many people get to try and enjoy on a regular basis but if the opportunity arises, it is always worth digging deep and getting that extra special bottle for a big occasion or to satisfy your curiosity.