The price difference for the most expensive whiskeys in the world is drastic. Our list ranges from whiskeys in the millions of dollars, all the way down to a few thousand dollars per bottle. So, why has the world’s obsession with Whiskey enabled these ridiculous prices?
Maybe this Irish proverb has the answer: “What whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for.”
Whiskey — spelled with the “ey,” is typically used in Ireland and the United States, while almost all other countries use “whisky.” In common practice, the two spellings are used interchangeably. However, by common consent, when referring to a specific brand, the label spelling should be applied. All whiskeys are distilled alcoholic beverages made from fermented grain.
More than a score of nations produce some type of Whiskey, typically from a mash of barley, corn, rye, wheat, or a combination of grains. The resulting liquid is aged in wooden casks or barrels, often of charred white oak. Beyond those basics, there are few unifying characteristics.
All whiskeys are highly regulated, and all are sold today with an alcohol content of about 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) or higher. Aging occurs prior to bottling, and some whiskey is aged in barrels previously used for other spirits in order to impart distinctive flavor and “nose.”
As simple as that sounds, there is widespread disagreement about just what makes a great whiskey, although there is general agreement that some whiskeys are outstandingly good. Anyone who drinks Whiskey will have a favorite.
Table of Contents
- Important Whiskey Terms
- Popular Types of Whiskeys
- Choosing Your Whisky — or Whiskey
- The 17 Most Expensive Whiskeys in the World
- 1. Isabella’s Islay
- 2. The Macallan M
- 3. Macallan 64 in Lalique Cire Perdue
- 4. Dalmore 62
- 5. Macallan Lalique — Other Vintages
- 6. Dalmore 64 Trinitas
- 7. Yamazaki 35-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky
- 8. Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve 1955
- 9. Springbank 1919
- 10. The Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare
- 11. Glenfiddich 1937
- 12. Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt
- 13. 1964 Black Bowmore 50-Year-Old / The Last Cask
- 14. Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Chapter One
- 15. Micter’s Celebration Sour Mash Whiskey
- 16. Old Rip Van Winkle Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve
- 17. Crown Royal’s Extra Rare Heritage Blend
Important Whiskey Terms
When speaking about Whiskey, one must understand the basics. Whiskey is related to beer in essential ways. Both begin with grain and water.
The fermentation process is simple enough, entailing Malting and Mashing. Barley is encouraged to germinate to generate the needed alcohol-producing sugars. That process is called malting. Then water is added to the sprouted grain, and the mixture is stirred and mashed until a wort is formed. The type of water used influences the ultimate flavor. A bit of yeast is added to the wort at this point, producing a liquid known as a wash. Beer is produced from the wash by adding hops at this point.
The wash is typically a liquid with an alcohol content of approximately seven percent. Two standard methods are used to transform the liquid into a substance that is usually about 70% alcohol. They are known as Copper Pot or Column Stills. The process takes time. Sometimes, the “raw” Whiskey is distilled two or three times, sometimes more before being transferred to a wooden cask for aging.
All Whiskey is aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks or barrels, one of its primary distinguishing characteristics. The type of wood, whether the cask is new or previously used, and the time spent aging are all factors that determine the color, flavor, and scent of the finished liquor. The environment surrounding the storage of the aging casks also can affect the final product.
Following the aging process, Whiskey is filtered and blended in distinctive ways to produce the final product. Aged products from different casks are used in precise formulas to produce blended Whiskey, and sometimes caramel and other flavorings are added. Once the Whiskey is bottled, no further aging occurs. If a bottle of Whiskey specifies an “age” of the spirit, it always refers to the number of years in the barrel, and it represents the youngest age of the blend.
Popular Types of Whiskeys
1. Irish Whiskey
Irish Whiskey is produced only in Ireland, and it is typically distilled three times. By law, it must be aged no less than three years, and better brands spend three or four times that in their aging casks. Irish Whiskey is made with a blend of malted (sprouted) and unmalted barley in the pot still phase, whereas Scotch Whiskey is derived strictly from malted barley. The word whiskey is derived from the Gaelic fuisce or uisce beatha, which means “breath of life.”
Once the world’s most popular drink, the production of Irish Whiskey fell to only three in the late 1900s from one time high of more than 30 distilleries. In the 20th Century, its popularity grew once again, and today more than 88 licensed distilleries exist in Ireland. In 2019, an estimated 175 different brands of Irish Whiskey were being marketed.
2. Scotch Whiskey
Produced in Scotland, Scotch Whiskey is known in much of the world as Scotch. Usually distilled twice, three distillations are not uncommon, and some Scotch is distilled up to 20 times. Specific regulations govern its production, and Scotch is today produced in five distinct variations: Single Malt (barley), Single Grain, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Blended Grain Scotch Whisky, and Blended Scotch Whisky. Blended Malt refers to Whiskey that is produced using single malt whiskey from two different distilleries, while “blended” allows other grains in the mix, including rye or wheat.
All Scotch must be at least three years old, and it must be at least 40% alcohol by volume when it is bottled. Allowable alcohol content can be as high as 94.8%. In 2018, 133 Scotch Whisky distilleries were in operation.
Bourbon is “a horse of a different color,” to use a colloquialism that seems appropriate for at least a couple of reasons. Distilled from corn, bourbon whiskey originated in Kentucky, and it is the basis of the legendary Mint Julep, a drink long associated with that most familiar of horse races, the Kentucky Derby. There is a type of bourbon produced in Tennessee known as Tennessee Whiskey. Bourbon sold in the United States must be composed of at least 51% corn, and it is required to be stored in new white oak casks. It has been recognized since 1964 as a “distinctive product” of the United States.
4. Canadian Whiskey
Canadian Whiskey is most commonly a blended variety produced from corn, with small amounts of rye added, but some Canadian brands contain wheat or barley. Although strict regulations apply to production, other flavorings and color additives are allowed. Canadian blends are typically lighter and smoother than other whiskeys. Within the country, Whisky and Rye (or Rye Whisky) are terms used interchangeably. Canadian Club, popularly known as “CC,” and Crown Royal, instantly recognizable because of its distinctive bottle and purple felt bag, are the best-known brands.
Canadian Whisky must be aged in wooden casks for a period of at least three years, but the type of wood is not specified. It can take on a wide variety of flavors and colors and is typically lighter in both than other well-known whiskeys.
One historical fact: During the years of Prohibition in the United States, Canadian distilleries just over the border were instrumental in supplying the legendary “speakeasies” of cities such as New York and Chicago! The Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario, fueled the illicit trade of rum runners who used high-powered boats to speed Whiskey across the river to Detroit, Michigan.
Choosing Your Whisky — or Whiskey
Ironically, Prohibition is one reason Canadian Whisky is so prevalent in the United States. But, even when whiskey aficionados agree on what constitutes good Whiskey, there are still a lot of varied opinions about “how good.”
So, while Whiskey exists in almost infinite variety, and a lot of people love Whiskey, it has enjoyed periods of high popularity and occasionally fallen from favor throughout the world. Demand is said to be increasing. More than a score of countries today produce well-known whiskeys, and it is enjoyed by drinkers in more than 200 nations.
Scotland remains the largest whiskey producer, followed by the United States. Surprisingly, Japan ranks in third place, followed by Ireland. Japan produces both Single Malt and blended Whiskey, using traditional methods. Japanese whiskey exports have increased tremendously in the past 20 years, and some Japanese brands are highly prized.
Today, there is no consensus about the best of the best. What exists is a high number of expensive brands. In colonial America, according to some sources, Whiskey was used as currency among well-heeled Pennsylvania residents, and the outrageously high price of some whiskey today reflects not the quality of the drink, but the value of the bottle (or vessel) that holds it!
The 17 Most Expensive Whiskeys in the World
Here are 17 of the most expensive whiskeys in the world. Some are still available for purchase, so if you have the desire and the funds, you might be able to stock up and enjoy it!
1. Isabella’s Islay
It’s the decanter of white gold encrusted with diamonds and rubies that commands the price tag, but the Whiskey is special too. A whiskey from the noted Isle of Islay in Scotland, this is legendary liquid gold. It’s meant to be savored, but it’s really only meant to look at for this price!
Price: A cool $6.2 million in US Dollars might buy a single bottle
This makes Isabella’s Islay the single most expensive Whiskey in the world
2. The Macallan M
Contained in a clear faceted crystal decanter with a distinctive stopper, this single malt Scotch is cask-aged in Spanish Oak for a minimum of 25, and up to 75 years! That’s a long time to wait for a sip.
Price: The last bottle sold at auction in Hong Kong for $628,205
3. Macallan 64 in Lalique Cire Perdue
The noted French crystal house designed a triple blend of Whiskey from Spanish Oak casks dated 1942, 1945, and 1946, in this extremely rare and beautiful decanter. None has been on the market since 2010.
Price in 2010: It sold at auction for $464,000
4. Dalmore 62
More than a Century-old and held in a unique bottle of crystal and platinum. It is said that the wooden mold used to form the bottle required more than 100 hours to create — that’s special.
5. Macallan Lalique — Other Vintages
It should be noted that other Macallan Scotch Whisky vintages in unique Lalique decanters are also available for sale on the open market at hefty prices. Whether they are purchased by collectors for the value of the crystal or by connoisseurs of spirits because of the value of the Whiskey is truly unknown. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. But some of the expensive vintages are Macallan Scotch that ranges from 55 to 72 years in age, the “seniors” of the Scotch world.
Price: $160.971 for a bottle of Macallan Lalique 55 and $83,448 for a bottle of Macallan Lalique 65
The Macallan Lalique 72, priced at $129,075, is currently listed as 161st in popularity on the Wine Searcher’s List
A Macallan 72 is currently listed at $149,999.99 HERE
6. Dalmore 64 Trinitas
If rarity appeals to you, this blend of rare vintages, some of them dating back to the late 1800s, is just the ticket. Only three bottles were known to be made, and one currently exists.
Price: Offered for $160,000
7. Yamazaki 35-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky
A Japanese whiskey, single malt variety, tops the list of that country’s most expensive Whiskey and is said to be a stellar example of this country’s rising status in the production and sale of Whiskey.
8. Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve 1955
Perhaps one of the most distinctive bottles of Whiskey to be sold, this one boasts the flavors of pear and heather along with barley. A total of 11 bottles were known to be produced, and one sold in 2012 at a New York Auction. If you’re wondering what it tastes like, so are we!
9. Springbank 1919
Distilled in December 1919, according to the label, a few bottles of this legendary Scotch are currently available online. In a familiar whiskey bottle, it was at one time listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive Whiskey in the world. It still commands a high price, and that’s all because of its rarity.
Price: $ 78,000
10. The Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare
As a modern example of what might be termed “price-fixing,” the current sales price remains extremely high for this Scotch because only a few bottles are released for sale each year. At some point, they may all be gone, but until then, it remains a truly great vintage Scotch Whisky, the oldest of the company’s Fine and Rare series.
11. Glenfiddich 1937
Single malt Scotch with a difference — this rare vintage, from a cask originally filled in 1937, is described as having “rich notes of molasses, chocolate, cedar, burnt heather, and oak,” by Lux Habitat. With fewer than 60 bottles available, it was last sold at an auction in 2012.
12. Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt
Produced to honor the founder of Dalmore Distillery, this Scotch Whisky was released in 1942, with a batch of only 12 bottles. It is a product of the Scottish Highlands, just as much other fine Scotch Whisky.
Price: At least $58,000 through a private collector’s auction
13. 1964 Black Bowmore 50-Year-Old / The Last Cask
Representing one of the new expensive Scotches produced on the island of Islay, also known as the “Queen of the Hebrides.” The island is home to peat moss bogs, which add a distinctive flavor to the Whiskey.
Price: $57,054 for a 700 ml bottle; $81,506 for 1000 ml
14. Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Chapter One
Thought to be the world’s most expensive Irish Whiskey, 48 bottles of this rare product became available in February of 2020. The Whiskey is contained in a hand-blown, etched crystal bottle designed by Waterford, and nestled into a unique wooden presentation cabinet crafted from 200-year-old whiskey vats. Each bottle is signed and numbered. Like so many special whiskeys, this one is valued certainly because of its presentation as much as its flavor.
15. Micter’s Celebration Sour Mash Whiskey
Limited edition bottles of this blended Whiskey contain a blend of whiskeys that had aged in their casks for up to 30 years. It was bottled first in 2013 and introduced at a price of $2,000, but the price has more than doubled since then. The distillery has the distinction of being the first to begin operating in the United States in the 1700s, but it was closed during Prohibition in 1919.
To mark the rebirth of the distillery, and to commemorate the story, a special bottle was designed with a label of 24-karat gold letters. Each bottle was hand-filled, and the bottled Whiskey is listed as 116.8 proof!
Price: $4,000 to $7,776.99 a bottle
16. Old Rip Van Winkle Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve
A 23-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey produced in the United States, this particular Old Rip Van Winkle is priced like a gemstone. Perhaps one would have to taste it to know why. Typically, American bourbon, though the first choice of many whiskey-drinkers, is not nearly this expensive!
17. Crown Royal’s Extra Rare Heritage Blend
A presentation bottle of this special blend Canadian Whisky was presented to Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in 2007 when she was an attendee at the Kentucky Derby. The bottling was supervised by the company’s master blender and contained in a special bottle by Glassworks in Louisville. Gold lettering enhances the design, marking the special occasion and the company’s gift to the reigning sovereign.
Price: This special bottle of Canadian Rye Whisky is valued at $10,000, although it might be termed priceless, and is likely never to be sold
While American bourbon and Canadian brands are not normally included on any lists of the world’s most expensive whiskeys, they are undeniably among the most popular. So, whether you wish to drop a couple of grand on a bottle of bourbon, a “century note” on Canadian Whisky, or only spend a couple of “Hamilton’s” for a bottle, you’ll probably find something smooth to “wet your whistle.”