Whenever you look at a list of the oldest whisky ever released, you’ll notice it is dominated by Scotch. You may think that is because Scotch whisky has been around for longer, but that is not strictly true. When it comes to aging spirit, there are a few factors that give Scotch an advantage over competing countries. First is the climate. Scotland’s typically cool climate slows the maturation process down. Then there are the rules around casks. Scotch can be aged in pretty much any cask the distillers can get their hands on. An old cask that has previously had sherry in it has less of an impact on the whisky, allowing distillers to keep it in there for longer.
As the three other leading producers go, Japan comes the closest with the coveted Yamazaki 55 Year old. the US is at the bottom with the 45 Year Old Final Reserve Kentucky Straight bourbon. Ireland, the disputed birthplace of whisk(e)y, however, is only just ahead with the Midleton 47 Year Old.
This is somewhat surprising considering Ireland’s whiskey-producing heritage. However, while Scotch boomed in the 20th century, the Irish whiskey industry was all but decimated by prohibition, the Irish war of independence and sanctions. Irish whiskey has again found its feet in recent years, and with age and scarcity prized amongst all other characteristics, Ireland, Japan and the US will certainly be aiming to give Scotland a run for its money in the coming years.
Back within Scotland’s borders, there are thought to be a number of distilleries harboring long-aged casks in the depths of their warehouses waiting for just the right moment to release their prized golden elixir. This unsurprisingly has given rise to something of a battle amongst a handful of Scotch whisky brands, all playing a never-ending game of one-upmanship to take the title of the world’s oldest whisky.
We take a closer look at the distillers (one name appears more than others) and the bottles dominating this highly-prized world in our shortlist of the oldest whisky ever released.
The Macallan 72 Year Old in Lalique
It’s safe to say that The Macallan is amongst Scotland’s most collectible distilleries. Add a name like Lalique into the mix and combine that with an accolade of the oldest whisky ever distilled by The Macallan (which it was when it was released in 2018) and you’re on to something truly special.
Crafted to mark the opening of The Macallan’s new $186m distillery and visitor experience, only 600 of The Macallan 72 Year Old in Lalique were released. The striking ‘Genesis’ decanter took design inspiration from the new building’s architecture while the bespoke case by Burgess Studio drew from the space’s interior. All 600 were snapped up at around $60,000 each but you can now expect to pay a much heftier sum.
Gordon & MacPhail, Glen Grant 74 Year Old
A new entry for 2023, the Glen Grant 74 year Old was released to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III. The Glen Grant 1948 was, symbolically, distilled and placed in oak casks in the same year King Charles III was born. The new king is the oldest British monarch ever to ascend the throne, and similarly, this whisky is one of the oldest ever released.
Limited to 281 bottles, the King Charles III Coronation Edition was released at a price of £25,000 (approx $31,000) and is sure to become a sought-after collectors’ item in years to come. The whisky was bottled at a cask strength of 50.4% and carries all the hallmarks of an ultra-aged expression. You can expect lots of wooded spice from this whisky with a whiff of smoke and fresh peppermint.
The Macallan 74 Year Old
When The Macallan unveiled its Red Collection in 2020 — a series of six highly aged bottles ranging from 40 to 78 Years Old — it caused quite the stir. The coveted series is a celebration of the rich range of reds present naturally in its whisky.
Each expression was matured in oak casks under the watchful eye of several generations of whisky makers and at the heart of the collection were the younger 40, 50 and 60 Year Old offerings. The older generations were saved as special highly aged guest releases. The Macallan 74 Year Old is the second oldest in the series. Distilled in the 1940s, it was originally priced at £61,500 (approx. $79,500) and is amongst The Macallan’s most sought-after bottles.
Gordon & MacPhail, Mortlach 75 Year Old
When the Mortlach 75 Year Old was released in 2015, it boasted the title of the oldest whisky ever bottled. The prized release is part of independent bottler Gordon and MacPhail’s ‘Generations’ Series, a collection of the planet’s longest-matured single malts (which has grown to include The Glenlivet 80 Year Old below).
Distilled in the tumultuous year of 1939 in a single first-fill sherry butt, 100 exquisite cut glass decanters were crafted featuring 75 multilevel cuts —one for each year of maturation. Snapped up at £20,000 ($27,100 approx) a piece when it was first released, this sought-after expression now commands a much higher price.
The Macallan 77 Year Old
The Macallan 77 Year Old became the first guest inclusion in the Red Collection when it debuted in November 2022. Whereas the lesser-aged expressions within the Red Collection are available on an ongoing basis (the 60 Year Old is the oldest ongoing whisky expression in the world), bottlings like the 77 Year Old will be exceedingly rare one-offs. This particular bottling dates back to 1945 and was bottled at 43.2% ABV.
Kirsteen Campbell, The Macallan’s master whisky maker, said: “The Macallan 77 Years Old is an incredible new high-aged guest expression for The Red Collection, which has been crafted from some of the world’s oldest and rarest casks.”
The Macallan 77 Year Old was released at a price of $87,000 per bottle.
The Macallan 78 Year Old
The oldest expression in The Macallan’s Red Collection, the first bottle of the 78 Year Old was released by the distillery in 2020 and sold for over $125,000 at auction. Incredibly rare, very few bottles of the deep amber-hued liquid have been offered for sale by the distillery since.
Despite this, The Macallan 78 Year Old has not managed to achieve the heady heights of its first sale, with whisky auctioneer Whisky Hammer listing the last auction sale value at £61,500 (approx. $83,600) in January 2022.
Gordon & MacPhail, The Glenlivet 80 Year Old
Gordon and MacPhail were able to hold on to the top spot of the oldest whisky in the world with The Glenlivet 80 Year Old for less than a full year before The Macallan bumped them into second position. A member of the ‘Generations’ series, 250 decanters of the historic liquid were yielded from cask 340, ahead of the 2021 release.
Acclaimed architect Sir David Adjaye was commissioned to create its striking decanter and oak case. Decanter No 1 of 250 was auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2021 fetching $192,475, with all proceeds (minus costs) donated to Scottish charity Trees for Life.
The Macallan 81 Year Old
In early February 2022, The Macallan unveiled the oldest whisky ever released: The Macallan Reach. Distilled in 1940 during the Second World War, it spent 81 years building character in a single sherry seasoned cask before just 288 artisanal decanters were filled.
Costing $125,000 each, every decanter is cradled in a bronze sculpture of three hands. The artwork, created by sculptor Saskia Robinson, is intended to represent the characters in The Macallan’s history that had a hand in producing this prized liquid.
Anyone who was lucky to get the whisky at its SRP certainly invested their money well. The first bottle of The Macallan Reach to go up for auction sold for £300,000 ($340,000) at Sotheby’s in October 2022. Bottle No 3 of 288 was listed by The Macallan in an effort to raise funds for The Macallan Artisan Apprenticeship Fund.