The 10 Most Expensive Whiskies Ever Sold at Auction

Jun 30, 2022

Category: Vices

More than any other spirit, whisky has a certain enigma. There’s a reason why the most expensive bottles of alcohol ever sold are of the single malt variety. We’ve searched high and low researching the most expensive whiskies ever sold at auction, and we’ve discovered a few glaring trends. For one, of the 10 bottles, only three distilleries are represented in total, which tells you how certain labels have cornered the market on covetable liquors, be it prestige or rarity or just downright quality.

As you make your way through the list, you’ll also notice that these 10 bottles — note we said “bottles” and not “decanters” or “casks” — have all been sold in the last 5 years or less. Not only has Japanese whisky gotten its well-deserved recognition this past half a decade, but Scotch sales have been hitting record numbers worldwide as well. Because it’s so delicious, whisky is not a good that lasts forever. At the end of the day, spirits are made to drink. And as the decades roll by, more and more of these bottles get consumed, broken, or lost. So let’s break out our checkbooks and try to preserve these expensive whiskies any way we can.

Karuizawa 1960 52-Year-Old: The Dragon

Since it became defunct in 2001 and didn’t achieve international recognition until some years later when an independent bottler began bottling single casks of its whisky, Karuizawa has become increasingly rare simply because its stock is drying up. This particular 52-year-old single malt whisky, which sold back in 2018 for HK$2,450,000 (~$312,212), is the oldest from the Japanese distillery and one of only 41 ever bottled. From the third-generation papermaker who made the label by hand to the cabinetmaker who modeled the wenge wood case — also by hand — to look like traditional Japanese puzzle boxes, every piece of the presentation of this Karuizawa 1960 has been expertly crafted. Each bottle from the set is named after the netsuke around its neck.

Year Sold: 2018
Price: $312,212

Yamazaki 50-Year-Old

Japan’s oldest distillery is also its highest esteemed. Prior to 2005, Yamazaki’s most prolific whisky was its 25-year single malt. However, the debut of the 50-year-old version broke not only records but whisky lovers’ palates. Aged in the coveted mizunara oak barrels, the spirit, which is just one of 50 bottles produced, is said to display an even-more-refined flavor than its progenitors, and with hints of peat. At the time of its sale in 2018, it was the most expensive Japanese whisky ever sold at HK$2,695,000 (~$343,383) and an indication of the continuous rise and recognition of what was once enthusiasts’ best-kept secret.

Year Sold: 2018
Price: $343,383

Yamazaki 55-Year-Old

If 50-year-old Japanese whisky is too young for you, then luckily you can try to go for Yamazaki’s 55-Year-Old bottles. That is, if you can put up around half a million bucks. Selling for HK$4,375,000 (~$557,428), this spirit was aged in mizunara oak for around 4 years until it was placed in white oak in 1964, where it remained until bottling. It’s said to have a bouquet of agarwood and sandalwood, with fruity notes and a sweet finish. 100 of these bottles were made, this one accompanied by a 50mL miniature version and housed in a black box made from mizunara oak.

Year Sold: 2022
Price: $557,428

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Peter Blake

A work of art is truly magical when both the subject and its composition can go hand in hand. The cover of the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band isn’t just iconic because of its collage-like assemblage of various personages of historical significance, but because of who in fact is represented in the image. Artist Peter Blake, along with Jann Haworth, did something quite similar two decades later when making the art for the Macallan’s 1986 release of its 60-year-old single malt. Blake amalgamates people and scenes circa 1926 when this whisky began its aging process. Numbered 7 of 12, this bottle sold for £615,062 (~$749,515) at auction in 2019.

Year Sold: 2019
Price: $749,515

Yamazaki 55-Year-Old

When Torii Shinjirō first launched Yamazaki back in 1923, he would never have imagined his whiskies would someday be this legendary. Although he traveled to Scotland to learn the art of the spirit, his lack of contemporaries back home posed somewhat of a challenge. However, the lack of established regulations did allow for some leeway when it came to casks and technique. The result is arguably one of the best Japanese whiskies ever, perfected with this 55-year-old iteration, sold this time for HK$6,200,000 (~$789,596) back in 2020, the year it was released.

Year Sold: 2020
Price: $789,596

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Peter Blake

Numbered 8 of 12 in this series, this 60-year-old bottle of the Macallan’s 1926 Scotch whisky was sold on a very special day in May of 2018. This particular example, whose label was designed and signed by British artist Peter Blake, sold for HK$7,962,500 (~$1,014,523), shattering the previous whisky auction record, but only for a short while. Later that day, another bottle of 1926 sold for slightly more. The reason for all the hubbub? A representation of this expression from the Macallan hadn’t been seen in over 30 years.

Year Sold: 2018
Price: $1,014,523

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Valerio Adami

Back in 1986, Scottish distillery The Macallan had 24 bottles of its 60-year-old whisky that it gave away as gifts to its most loyal customers. 12 of them had labels designed and signed by artist Peter Blake, while the other 12 were designed and signed by Italian post-impressionist painter Valerio Adami. While this example, numbered 2 of 12, held the record much longer than the Peter Blake edition that sold just hours prior, the HK$8,636,250 (~$1,100,377) sale was eventually broken again six months later by — you guessed it — another 60-year-old Macallan from 1926.

Year Sold: 2018
Price: $​​1,100,377

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Valerio Adami

A few months after the Valerio Adami bottle broke the record in Hong Kong in May of 2018, another one, also designed by the Italian artist, nearly matched the selling price, though ultimately couldn’t confidently surpass it as time went on, as per exchange rate fluctuations. Numbered 5 of 12, this 60-year-old Scotch from the Macallan went for £848,750 (~$1,034,465) at an Edinburgh sale. As with each of these expressions that have sold at auction, this bottle comes enclosed in a glass-walled Tantalus cabinet modeled after the “brass and glass” safes used by the distillery.

Year Sold: 2018
Price: $1,034,465

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Michael Dillon

By this point, you’ve recognized the rarity and collectibility of the Macallan’s 1926 Scotch. Aged for 60 years in an ex-sherry cask that was numbered 263, this batch produced only 40 bottles in total, with a mere 14 accounted for today. Of those 40, two of them went unlabeled, with only one getting hand-painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon, known for his historical decorations. Depicting the Easter Elchies House of The Macallan distillery, this bottle was accompanied by a wooden case and a certificate of authenticity, ultimately selling for £1,200,000 (~$1,461,876) in November 2018, shattering the record from back in May.

Year Sold: 2018
Price: $1,461,876

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare

For those who’ve been counting, of the 40 coveted 60-year-old bottles from The Macallan’s 1926 cask, 24 of them were given labels by either Peter Blake or Valerio Adami and 2 were given no label at all (with one eventually getting painted by Michael Dillon), leaving just 14. One is said to have been lost in an earthquake some time ago while another was confirmed to have been consumed (those animals). This leaves a maximum of 12 possible bottles that were given the straightforward “Fine and Rare” labels. When this particular example went up for sale in 2019, it had been the first one seen at auction since 2007. Housed in a wooden box, the bottle still holds the record for any wine or spirit sold at auction, going for £1,452,000 (~$1,769,156).

Year Sold: 2019
Price: $1,769,156

The Ultimate Guide to the Classic Scotch Whisky Regions

Given the prevalence of Scotch in this roundup, you may be curious about what makes this spirit so prized. So to get a better idea, head on over to our guide to the classic Scotch whisky regions.

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