Table of contents
In the exclusive world of Scotch whisky, there are two not-so-secret ongoing battles: one for age, and another for cost. Smashed records and eyewatering bids continue to rock the industry, with seven-figure digits having become the norm. One thing that is yet to change in this increasingly lucrative industry, however, is the small nation of Scotland occupying the majority of our shortlist of the most expensive whisky ever sold.
It comes as no surprise that The Macallan reigns supreme. The Speyside distillery has long dominated not only price tags but also age statements, with master whisky maker Kristeen Campell having bottled an 81 Year Old Scotch (aka the oldest ever) earlier this year. Not only does The Macallan take nearly every space on our list, but four of the six lots featured are from the same cask: the legendary #263, which auction house Sotheby’s has described as the “holy grail” of whisky.
However, while Scotland has typically dominated the record books, its Celtic neighbor over the sea has seen an impressive resurgence in recent years, thanks in no small part to the team at Craft Irish Whiskey Co. Purists may debate the Emerald Isle Collection‘s place on this list, given that its record-breaking price tag was heavily influenced by the fact it came with a Fabergé watch and egg. However, golden eggs and bejeweled timepieces aside, there’s no denying that Irish whisky back on the world stage.
Of course, special mention must also go to the whisky makers of Japan. Again, there may be some debate given that the only Japanese whisky featured is a set of 54 bottles, however, given the record-shattering $1.52m price tag and the caliber of the liquid, we felt it would be remiss not to include it. We take a look at these and a handful of other bottles that have made our list of the most expensive whisky ever sold at auction.
[See also from our sister site World of Fine Wine: World’s Most Expensive Red Wines]
1. Craft Irish Whiskey Co.’s The Emerald Isle Collection – $2m
Craft Irish Whiskey Co. smashed all records on St.Patrick’s Day 2021 when its Emerald Isle Collection in partnership with Fabergé, sold for $2m. However, though technically the Emerald Isle Collection is the most expensive whisky lot ever sold at auction, it can’t quite claim full ownership of the title as a large chunk of the value is down to the exquisitely-crafted 18k gold and emerald Fabergé Celtic Egg and 22k gold Fabergé timepiece encased in rose gold with sapphire crystals, that also comes as part of the set.
Inspired by the seven wonders of Ireland, only seven of the ultra-exclusive seven-piece sets exist, making it highly covetable. But let’s not forget the whiskey itself. The set contains not one, but two bottles of Craft Irish Whiskey Co.’s Emerald Isle. The rare 30-year-old whiskey is the oldest triple-distilled Irish single malt in existence. Following the record-smashing initial launch, four more of the sought-after sets were released around the following year, with just two remaining.
2. The Macallan Fine and Rare 1926 – $1.9m
The Macallan Fine and Rare 1926 was bequeathed the status of the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at auction when in 2019 it sold for a record-breaking $1.9m at Sotheby’s in London. It’s considered the founding father of The Macallan Fine and Rare series – a collection of 57 vintage single-malt whiskies produced by the distillery over eight decades – which remains the most coveted whisky collection to this day.
Now, all 14 bottles of The Macallan Fine and Rare 1926 are thought to be housed in private collections, but another of the coveted bottles did go under the virtual hammer in February 2021. It didn’t quite manage to reach the dizzying heights of its 2019 record, selling for $1.38m, surprising many rare whisky fans.
[See also: Finn Thomson is Telling Whisky’s Untold Story]
3. The Macallan Michael Dillon 1926 60 Year Old – $1.53m
As one of the few remaining bottles from cask #263, The Macallan distillery decided this bottle of the prized 60 Year Old was to be commissioned to be hand-painted by the Irish artist Michael Dillon. The one-of-a-kind bottle was released in 1999 and depicts The Macallan Speyside estate’s cherished Easter Elchies House in beautiful detail.
The bottle hadn’t been seen since it was originally purchased 19 years previously at the prestigious London department store Fortnum & Mason. That is, until it went under the hammer at Christie’s in London in November 2018 and became the first whisky to surpass the £1m mark at auction, selling for £1.2m (approximately $1.53m). It is now the second most expensive singular bottle of whisky ever sold at auction.
4. Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series – $1.52m
In 2020, this set of ultrarare Japanese whiskies shattered its previous 2019 record by $600,000 to sell for $1.52m, reaffirming its place as the most expensive set of Japanese whisky ever sold. The highly sought-after Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series comprises 54 bottles, each representing a playing card in a deck.
Adding to the desirability of the collection is the story of how it came to life. The renowned Hanyu distillery was established in 1941 by Isouji Akuto, who came from a long line of sake brewers. Before it ceased in 2000, Akuto’s grandson conserved 400 casks of fine whisky from the distillery. From these casks, he hand-selected each whisky (or card), which was then released between 2005 and 2014 to create the Full Card Series.
[See also: Sotheby’s Breaks Wine and Spirits Auctions Record]
5. The Macallan The Intrepid – $1.38m
Earlier this year, The Macallan found its way into yet another record book, this time for creating the largest bottle of whisky ever released: The Intrepid. Standing at 5’11, the bottle dwarfs regular containers and holds approximately 311 liters of whisky (in other words, the equivalent of 444 regular-sized bottles).
Hitting the hammer for £1.1 million ($1.375m) at Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh, the bottle contains whisky from two American oak hogshead casks that have been maturing for 32 years each. The bottle itself pays tribute to 11 of the world’s most famous explorers, with each of their faces immortalized on its label.
6. The Dalmore Decades No.6 Collection – $1.24m
On October 8, 2021, The Dalmore Decades No.6 Collection became the most valuable whisky auction lot ever sold by Sotheby’s in Asia when it was bought by a private collector. Having sold for $1.24m, it is the only Scotch on our list of the most expensive whisky sold at auction that wasn’t bottled by the fabled Macallan.
The Decades No.6 Collection brings together a one-of-a-kind selection of six milestone releases —from 1951, 1967, 1979, 1980, 1995, and 2000 — chosen by The Dalmore’s legendary master distiller, Richard Paterson. This includes notable bottlings that mark key moments in the 180-year-old Scottish distillery’s history such as the first whisky distilled in the new millennium as well as the coveted Dalmore 60 Year Old, distilled from the two final casks remaining from the fabled Mackenzie era (the Mackenzie’s owned The Dalmore distillery from 1867 to 1960.)
The Dalmore will donate 15% of the proceeds (£100,000) to the V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum.
[See also: Bowmore and Frank Quitely Reveal The Changeling]
7. The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60 Year Old – $1.07m
The second release of 12 bottles of the Macallan 60 Year Old from that elusive cask came in 1993. This time, it was the turn of another famous pop artist to design the label: Italian painter Valerio Adami. Adami’s label depicts a nude figure seemingly admiring the same bottle of The Macallan 1926.
Out of the 12 bottles produced, it is rumored that one was destroyed in a Japanese earthquake, making it even rarer and ultimately more sought-after. When a bottle came up for online auction in February 2020, it attracted 1,642 bidders from 56 countries across the globe, including Australia, Singapore and the UK. The winning bidder is said to be a European who paid £825,000 (approximately $1.07m) making it one of the most expensive bottles of whisky ever sold at auction.
8. The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60 Year Old – $1.04m
This is the first whisky on the list from The Macallan’s famous cask #263, and it’s worth giving you a bit of background. After the sherry-seasoned cask was filled in 1926, it lay untouched in the Speyside distillery for six decades until 1986, when its golden elixir was divided into just 40 bottles. Twenty-four were dressed in labels by famous artists, one bottle was commissioned to be painted, while two were auctioned in blank bottles. The remaining 14 were to be offered as part of Macallan’s vintage release program – but more on that later.
The first release of 12 bottles was in 1993, and to reflect the exclusivity of the single malt, The Macallan teamed up with pop artist Sir Peter Blake (best known for his design of the album cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) to design the label. This would be the first of three artistic partnerships that would help see the Macallan 1926 60 Year Old achieve skyrocketing auction bids.
In May 2018, one of the 12 The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60 Year Old came up for auction at Bonhams in Hong Kong and sold for £751,703 (approximately $1.04m).
[See also: The Difference Between Irish Whiskey and Scotch Explained]
9. The Macallan Lalique Six Pillars Collection – $993,000
The Macallan Lalique Legacy Collection is a set of six crystal decanters from revered French glassmaker and jeweler Lalique, containing some of the rarest of The Macallan’s single malts aged from 50 to 65 years old. Each of the six sought-after limited-edition decanters had originally been single releases and are the product of a decade-long collaboration between The Macallan and the iconic French brand.
Each bottle is highly prized, but when the whole collection – housed in a bespoke natural ebony cabinet that also holds six miniatures and six pairs of Lalique Macallan glasses – came up for auction in April 2017, it also surpassed expectations. The spring auction at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong saw the incredibly rare set sell for $993,000.
10. The Macallan Red Collection – $975,756
When The Macallan Red Collection went up for auction at Sotheby’s in London in November 2020, the rare set of six whiskies had, what in hindsight seems to be, an extremely modest presale estimate of £200,000 ($259,000). Bids soon started arriving from all corners of the globe as collectors competed to own the only set of its kind to be made available for sale. The result was a winning bid nearly four times higher at £756,400 ($975,756), with the proceeds going to the food charity City Harvest London.
The collection features six highly aged Macallan whiskies, including two of the oldest ever released by the distillery – a 74 Year Old and a 78 Year Old. Despite The Macallan Red Collection being made available to purchase in extremely limited numbers, this particular series differs from the standard release thanks to its exclusive labels, illustrated and signed by Spanish artist Javi Anarez, with only two sets in existence.