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November 20, 2023updated Dec 01, 2023

The Most Expensive Whisky Ever Sold at Auction

From Glenfiddich to The Macallan, we take a look at the most expensive whisky sold under the hammer.

By Elite Traveler

The world of whisky collecting took another significant step into the stratosphere on November 18, 2023, when a single bottle sold for $2.7m at a Sotheby’s auction. A bottle of The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 smashed its pre-auction estimate by over $1m to become by far the most expensive bottle of Scotch whisky ever sold at auction, eclipsing the previous record by $800,000.

Consider that just over 10 years ago, the record for the most expensive whisky was under $100,000, and you realize how far whisky collecting has come. The reason? Put simply, a 60 Year Old whisky takes 60 years to make. There are no shortcuts, and the exceptional increase in demand from HNWIs is yet to be met by supply. This genuine scarcity has captured the imagination of investors, who pride themselves on owning something genuinely unrepeatable.

In this list of the 10 most expensive whiskies ever sold at auction, we’ve not only looked at single bottles but novel collections as well. But when it comes to single bottles, it is 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 Kirsteen Campbell having bottled an 81 Year Old Scotch (aka the oldest ever) in 2021.

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: The World’s Rarest Whiskies Head to Auction]

1. The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60 Year Old – $2.7m

The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60 Year Old
The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60 Year Old / ©Sotheby’s

This prized bottle of The Macallan is one of just 40 from what is widely considered to be the holy grail of whisky collecting. The 1926 Fine & Rare 60 Year Old was drawn from Cask 263 in 1986 but was never actually offered for sale. Instead, The Macallan reserved bottles for its most prized clients and customers.

Of the 40 bottles, 12 were given labels designed by iconic pop artist Sir Peter Blake. Another 12 were designed by the Italian pop artist Valerio Adami. Two were released without labels (one was later handpainted by Michael Dillon and the other is unaccounted for) while the remaining 14 were released with original distillery labels.

This bottle (No 12 of 12) is thought to be one of just 10 remaining from the original dozen. One of the bottles is said to have been smashed during an earthquake in Tokyo and another is believed to have been opened and enjoyed.

Before going to auction, The Macallan took the bottle in for testing to ensure it was the original liquid. They also reconditioned the bottle, including replacing the capsule and the cork with exact replicas. In order to validate the liquid, The Macallan had to draw 1ml of the liquid from the bottle, testing against its own 1926 sample. That 1ml will now be the bedrock of future tests, making this one bottle the foundation of the series.

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Perhaps because of The Macallan’s seal of approval, bidding for this bottle far exceeded expectations. Sotheby’s originally gave this bottle a high estimate of $1.5m, but fevered bidding from the world’s foremost collectors sent the sale price soaring far above that.

The 1926 has been responsible for breaking the whisky auction record several times, first of all when one sold for $5,000 in 1987. It also became the first $1m bottle (see further down for more details) and broke the record again in 2019.

2. Craft Irish Whiskey Co.’s The Emerald Isle Collection – $2m

The Emereld Isle set by The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.
The Emerald Isle set by The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. / ©Craft Irish Whiskey Co.

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 whiskey 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 don’t 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 one unsold.

3. The Macallan Fine and Rare 1926 – $1.9m

Macallan 60 year old - most expensive whisky ever sold at auction
All 14 bottles of The Macallan Fine and Rare 60 year old are thought to be housed in private collections / ©Macallan

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. This bottle, with the original distillery label, is considered the founding father of The Macallan Fine and Rare series – a collection of 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]

4. The Macallan Michael Dillon 1926 60 Year Old – $1.53m

The Macallan Michael Dillon in Presentation Box - Most expensive whisky
The one and only bottle to be commissioned to be hand-painted by the Irish artist Michael Dillon / ©Maccallan

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.

5. Glenfiddich, The 1950s Collection – $1.4m

Glenfiddich whisky collection
A set of four whiskies from the 1950s sold for $1.4m / ©Sotheby’s

Glenfiddich is no stranger to high auction prices. It was once the proud owner of the most expensive bottle sold at auction when a bottle of Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve sold for $94,000 in 2012. Whisky collecting has come on quite a bit since then, to the point where this exceptional collection of four single malts doesn’t even break into the top three.

Still, the distillery broke its own record with the sale of four exceptionally-aged whiskies sold for just shy of $1.4m at the Distillers’ One of One auction in 2021. With an original low estimate of $290,000, the price for the four bottles was pushed to record levels by two determined bidders over 30 tense minutes.

The winner received four expressions from 1955, 1957, 1958 and 1959, representing the last casks from Glenfiddich’s 1950 stocks. The decanters have been handblown by Baccarat with a 24-carat gold neck and are encased in a high-tech cabinet designed and made by NEJ Stevenson. The cabinet is fitted with a high-precision thermometer and hygrometer offering careful control of the environmental conditions. Innovative mechanisms will keep the cork from drying out, allowing for the owner to preserve the whisky for generations.

[See also: Diageo Releases Fourth Iteration of Prima & Ultima]

6. The Macallan The Intrepid – $1.38m

The world’s largest whisky bottle sold for $1.4m at auction / ©The Intrepid

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.

7. The Dalmore Decades No.6 Collection – $1.24m

The Dalmore Decades No 6 Whisky
The Dalmore’s Scottish Highland distillery is located north of Inverness on the shores of the Cromarty Firth / ©The Dalmore

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]

8. The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60 Year Old – $1.07m

The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60 Year Old whisky
The Macallan Valerio Adami has broken the $1m mark at auction twice / ©Macallan

The second release of 12 bottles of The Macallan Fine and Rare 1926 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.

9. The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60 Year Old – $1.04m

The Macallan Peter Blake Bottle - One of the most expensive whiskies ever sold auction
There were 12 bottles of The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60 Year Old released / ©Maccallan

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]

10. The Macallan Lalique Six Pillars Collection – $993,000 

Lalique Macallan collection - one of the most expensive whisky collections sold at auction
The Macallan Lalique Legacy Collection contains some of the rarest of the brand’s single malts / ©Lalique

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.

[See also: The Most Expensive Wine Ever Sold at Auction]

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