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  1. Luxury
July 20, 2023

World’s most expensive whiskies

The most expensive whisky sold at auction is the Emerald Isle Collection at $2 million, but what are the others?

By Silvia Pellegrino

Whiskies have a reputation for being among the most expensive collectors’ items and passion investments. It’s more than just the ageing and notes of the liquor that make up the price, as packaging, cask history and even label designers contribute to the value of prestigious bottles.

With rare bottles fetching into the millions, take a look at 10 of the world’s most expensive whiskies, including single bottles and collections.

The most expensive single whisky bottles

The Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare 60-Year-Old – $1.9 million

The Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare 60-Year-Old, one of the most expensive whiskies in the world.
The ‘holy grail’ of whisky sold for $1.9 million in 2019 / Image: Sotheby’s

This is what Sotheby’s calls the ‘holy grail’ of whisky. Bottled at 60 years old in 1926, it was sold for $1.9 million at auction in London in October 2019.

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Bladnoch Distillery’s master distiller Dr Nick Savage, who is also a former Macallan employee, told Spear’s: ‘With something like a 1926 it’s important to think about what that means, and the price [of the whisky] becomes understandable. This whisky was crafted just after the First World War. 

‘It has most likely sat in a cask in the exact same position in the warehouse maturing, survived the Second World War, multiple recessions, and changes in business strategy, and thinking of it in this context, it’s a miracle the whisky was even bottled at this age and from this time.’ 

The Fine and Rare series as a whole features high-quality, limited-edition bottlings.

The Macallan Michael Dillon 1926 60-Year-Old – $1.53 million

The Macallan Michael Dillon was distilled from the same 1926 ‘263’ cask as the Fine and Rare. Its origin was discovered in the ’80s when the Macallan team decided to bottle a 50-year-old scotch and uncovered a 60-year-old cask.

‘It went before the nosing panel, and the nosing panel approved it. Two of us had the hairs standing up on the back of our necks because we were so amazed that it could last for 60 years in a cask and it was still so good,’ managing director Willie Phillips recalled

Barrels of some of rarest and most expensive whiskies in the world.
Rare bottles of whisky can fetch more than a million / Image: Shutterstock

Like the Fine and Rare, it contains a scotch ‘full of dried fruits, prunes and dates and tons of incredible spicy notes of cloves, ginger and cinnamon […] zesty orange marmalade, hints of pear and smoke, finished with a delicious drying oak tannin from the sherry cask, and waxy, linseed oil and leather notes,’ whisky expert David Robertson told the BBC

This bottle’s label was designed by Irish artist Michael Dillon and depicts the Macallan Speyside estate and its Easter Elchies House. This unique Macallan was purchased by Fortnum & Mason in 1999, before being sold at auction at Christie’s in 2018 for $1.53 million.

The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60-Year-Old – $1.07 million

The Macallan Valerio Adami is part of the second batch of 12 bottles from cask number 263 and was released in 1993. Like the other bottles, it features a designer label, this time by Italian painter Valerio Adami, who drew a nude figure admiring another Macallan 1926 bottle.

‘The Adami and Sir Peter Blake collaborations with the Macallan 1926 further amplify the rarity through the story-telling of the whisky,’ Dr Savage noted. ‘Whiskies are always made to be consumed at some stage, but the story-telling can really add to the overall experience and desirability at this level of whisky.’

Only 12 Macallan bottles had labels designed by Adami, and one is thought to have been destroyed during an earthquake in Japan in 2011. A bottle from the sought-after collaboration broke auction records in 2018, fetching more than $1 million and when another came up for auction two years later at Bonhams in Edinburgh, 1,642 bidders from 56 different countries tried their luck. The successful party, from Europe, paid $1.07 million for the rare whisky.

The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60-Year-Old – $1.04 million

The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60-Year-Old, one of the most expensive whiskies in the world.
Macallan Peter Blake sold for $1.04 million at auction in Hong Kong in 2018 / Image: Bonhams

Officially, the Macallan Peter Blake was the first release from the 1926 cask. The first 12 bottles were put up for grabs in 1993, and they featured Sir Peter Blake’s painting on the label. Its astronomical price is also due to Sir Blake’s reputation, having also designed the album cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Bonhams whisky specialist Martin Green said that ‘it is dark honey-gold in colour, and it is almost inconceivably smooth with a luscious hint of dry-sweetness in the malt’.

Although the locations of the other 11 bottles are unknown, one of them (number eight), was sold for approximately $1.04 million in 2018 at a Bonhams auction in Hong Kong.

The Yamakazi Single Malt Whisky Aged 55 Years NV – $789,814

Sold at a Bonham’s auction in 2020 for $789,814, the Yamakazi 55 Years is a rare limited edition bottle of luxury whisky. Its rarity was also due to the fact that, upon its release, it was only available for Japanese residents via a random lottery and only 100 bottles were released.

The liquor is a mix of a Japanese Mizunara oak cask and white oak casks from 1960 and 1964. 

In addition, it is the oldest single malt ever produced by Suntory, Yamakazi’s house. Shinju Fukuyo, Yamakazi’s chief blender, explained that ‘Very old scotch whiskies gave me this impression of them being perfect Greek sculptures with beautifully toned beauty. Instantly impressive as a piece of art.

But the Yamakasi 55 is more like an old Buddhist statue. Calm and mysterious. It takes time to take in its inner beauty with the smell of Japanese incense and stripped old wood, like the Toshodaiji Temple in Nara.’ 

When it comes to flavour, the citrus and sandalwood aftertaste is characteristic of the Yamakazi Single Malt Whisky. 

Karuizawa Single Malt Whisky ‘The Dragon’ Aged 52 Years 1960 – $312,103

Also named ‘The Dragon’ this Karuizawa Single Malt Whisky is a Japanese scotch that was aged 52 years and sold for over $300,000 at a Bonham’s auction in 2018. 

Not only it is adorned with classic and curated calligraphy on the label, but its box is handcrafted too out of a sherry cask. Its aesthetic reflect its warm undertones of tobacco, smoked wood and spice. 

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It is a rare find since Kuruizawa closed down around the year 2000 and it is not very often that a bottle ends up on auction since there are only 41 of them. 

Springbank Aged 50 Years 1919 – $204,509

Christie’s is responsible for the sale of this bottle of Springbank Aged 50 Years in 2021, for just over $200,000. It used to be considered the most expensive whisky in the world, according to Guinness World Records.

This bottle went through a slight change of design since, originally, it was a pear-shaped crystal bottle, but then it was decanted in the 1970s into a taller and thinner container. 

Its price is also due to the fact that it belongs to the oldest distillery in Scotland, the Springbank Distillery in the Campbeltown region first opened in 1828, and this particular blend was produced over a century ago.  

The Macallan Lalique Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 50 Years – $126,515

Part of the Six Pillars Collection, this Macallan and Lalique collaboration bottle is a rare find. To be specific, it is one of the rarest bottles and whisky collections in general. 

It was sold for $126,515 at a Bonham’s auction in 2019, and it was a surprise since all the 470 bottles sold out almost immediately after their release in 2005.

The unique personality of this whisky is not only due to its flavour and 50-year-long ageing process but also to the custom-made crystal decanter designed by Lalique which resembles an oak cask with detailed wood-like details on the sides. 

Port Ellen Queen’s Visit Aged 12 Years 1980 – $110,968

The Port Ellen Queen’s Visit aged 12 years is, as the name suggests, a very historical bottle. Indeed, it was part of a very limited edition of 40 bottles released in honour of late Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Port Ellen Maltings in 1980. 

The liquor derives from two casks from 1967 belonging to a warehouseman, Iain McArthur, who produced a rich and smooth blend of fruity notes and spiced undertones.

This bottle was sold for over $110,000 at a Whisky Auctioneer event in 2022 and it is believed that it was the only remaining Port Ellen bottling. 

Yamakazi Single Malt Whisky Aged 55 Years (left) and Yamakazi Single Malt Whisky Aged 35 Years / Image: Sotheby’s and Bonhams

The Yamakazi Single Malt Whisky Aged 35 Years – $74,477

Distilled between 1966 and 1970, this 35-year-old Yamakazi single malt whisky was sold by Whisky Auctioneer in 2022 for $74,477. 

Its blend was aged in second-fill Spanish oak casks and was not bottled until 2006, after being distilled in straight-head copper stills between 1966 and 1970. It is one of the oldest releases of Yamakazi, Suntory’s flagship distillery, which first opened in 1923. 

Only 200 bottles of this blend were produced, each cased in a detailed and beautiful hard wooden box, which only adds to the charm.

The most expensive whisky collections

Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series – $1.52 million

The most expensive Japanese whisky ever sold, Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series went under the hammer at Bonham’s Fine & Rare Wine and Whisky auction in Hong Kong in 2019 for $1.52 million,

Belonging to the now-closed Hanyu distillery, the series includes 54 bottles that were handpicked out of 400 casks by the owner’s grandson before the distillery closed its doors in 2000. The bottles, which each picture a different card in a playing deck, were released one after the other, between 2005 and 2014.

‘When casks make it through the main decision points, they by definition become rarer and with a brand affiliated with quality and craftsmanship, it’s really a logical position that the whiskies can ultimately enter the luxury world,’ Dr Savage explains. ‘However, that’s never the starting point. It’s the simple part of the distillery history that people value the most, exemplified in these amazing whiskies.’

The Dalmore Decades No.6 Collection – $1.24 million

The Dalmore Decades whisky bottles in a row
The Dalmore Decades is one of the few time-based whisky collections / Image: The Dalmore

The Dalmore Decades No.6 Collection is the only complete set of Dalmore Decades whiskies, making it one of the rarest collections ever created.

It includes bottles from 1951, 1967, 1979, 1980, 1995 and 2000, all contained in a crystal decanter with silver details. 

The six pieces, chosen by master distiller Richard Paterson, were sold to a collector in Asia for $1.24 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2021. Around $123,000 was donated by the auction house to the V&A Dundee design museum in Scotland, to honour the partnership between The Dalmore and the museum.

The Macallan Red Collection – $975,756

The Macallan Red Collection bottle with its box and a full glass
The Macallan Red Collection whisky was sold in 2020 by Sotheby’s / Image: The Macallan

The Macallan Red Collection comprises six whiskies, and it was sold at auction in 2020 at Sotheby’s in London with a starting bid of $259,000. In the end, with bids coming from all over the world, it was sold for $975,756, and the whole proceeds went to the food charity City Harvest London.

Two of the six whiskies, a 74-Year-Old and a 78-Year-Old, are some of the oldest bottles ever released by Macallan. This edition also differs from the other Red Collections because Spanish artist Javi Narez drew and signed the labels, making them unique pieces.

‘These whiskies showcased the amazing aspects of the Macallan, and placing them together in a hyper-aged collection to amplify the story-telling aspects of the distillery’s history really does put releases like this in huge demand,’ Dr Savage said.

Expensive whisky collections with designer additions

The Emerald Isle Collection – $2 million

The Emerald Isle Collection is the most expensive whisky collection sold at auction / Image: The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.

The Emerald Isle Collection, which includes two bottles, is technically the most expensive whisky collection after selling for $2 million at a private auction in March 2021. Distilled in Bushmills, the world’s oldest distillery, its auction sale price is slightly skewed by including a gold and emerald Fabergé Celtic Egg, a 22k gold watch and a Cohiba Siglo IV Grand Reserva cigar with a gold cutter.

The entire proceeds of the 2021 sale were donated to a charity that supports and finances children’s cancer research, the Correa Family Foundation.

There are only seven of the sets, making it one of the rarest collection pieces for any whisky enthusiast

The Macallan Lalique Six Pillars Collection – $993,000

Six designer crystal decanters filled with valuable vintage whisky make up the Macallan Lalique Six Pillars Collection, which was sold for $993,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2017.

The bottles were designed by Lalique, the French glassmaker and jeweller, and the collection also includes six pairs of Lalique Macallan glasses and six miniature bottles, housed inside a bespoke natural ebony cabinet.

Even though each bottle was once a single release, the complete collection of the collaboration between Macallan and Lalique elevates the rarity of the 65-year-old scotch. 

The world’s largest whisky bottle

The Macallan The Intrepid – $1.38 million

Created by Daniel Monk, son of late explorer Captain Stanley Monk, the whisky’s name takes inspiration from Monk and other famous explorers and comes from two American hogshead casks that were each matured for 32 years.

It was sold for $1.375 million at Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2022. 

As well as being a Macallan, The Intrepid’s high price is also partly down to an additional important factor – it is the largest bottle of whisky ever made. Standing at 5’11, it contains around 311 litres – the equivalent of around 444 regular-sized whisky bottles.

‘For me and the whole team, The Intrepid project has always been about more than money. This is a passion project to celebrate the life of my late father, Captain Stanley Monk, who was himself an explorer and achieved many amazing things during his life,’ Monk explained

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