12 most expensive whiskies ever sold at auction

12 Most Expensive Whiskies Ever Sold at Auction

Ever wondered what $2 million worth of booze will get you? While your first thoughts might have gone to flowing rivers of ale and champagne waterfalls, the reality is a little more on the quality side, rather than quantity. In fact, when it comes to the most expensive whisky in the world, seven-figure sums are pretty much the standard, and it’s a universal fact. Whether it be Scotch releases from The Macallan or rare and aged drams from Japanese whisky icons such as Yamazaki, the high-end whisky market is growing in value seemingly by the day, which is great news for investors, but not ideal for drinkers. Call it a hunch but we have a feeling that the overwhelming majority of these ultra-rare bottles aren’t being bought to be consumed, instead, remaining stowed away in some billionaire’s vault or cellar. To break the seal is to compromise the spirit’s value and therein lies the paradox, to drink or not to drink?

RELATED: Best Scotch Whisky Brands

Most Expensive Whiskies Ever Sold

For those of us who enjoy whisky with a passion, this all might come as something of a relief. After all, you can’t be tempted to drink the stuff if you can’t afford it. Perhaps all these expensive whiskies are best left in the hands of those lucky few, who can drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single bottle and then treat it like a rare painting as opposed to a consumable spirit.

On the other hand, Yamazaki’s 55-Year-Old Single Malt—which ranks among the most expensive whiskies in the world–was recently made available to the tune of 200 bottles. Those who’ve tasted the limited edition spirit report a surprisingly smooth taste that’s not overpowered by oak, an impressive feat given how much time it spent in the cask. We imagine that other record-breaking whiskies are similarly nuanced and delicious in spite of their prolonged maturations, though we’ll probably never know for sure. So what is the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at auction? Pour yourself a dram of something special and read on to find out.

1 the macallan 1926 60 year old fine and rare

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare | Image: Sotheby’s

1. The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare

Long-running distillery The Macallan is the prevailing champion when it comes to record-breaking bottles of expensive whisky. This coveted 60-year-old statement was actually distiled over 90 years ago and it’s amongst the precious few to receive the Fine and Rare label. It was expected to fetch somewhere between £350,000 and £450,000 at auction in 2019, but secured a whopping £1,452,000 instead (which roughly equated to about US$1.9 million at the time).

“This is the most iconic of all bottles of Scotch whisky,” Sotheby’s wrote about the release. “The essential centrepiece of any great collection and, for whomever opens the bottle and enjoys it with their friends, perhaps savouring it over time, with the potential to have over forty-five 15ml pours, this bottle provides the ultimate opportunity to taste the “holy grail” of all whiskies – a once in a lifetime experience.”

To give you an idea of just how insane collecting has become in recent years, a previous 60-year-old Macallan became the world’s most expensive whisky back in 1987, when it sold for….wait for it…£5,000. The value of this ultra-rare spirit has clearly and steadily increased in the time since, which can only make one wonder what it will sell for 10 or 20 years from now. It’s something to sip on, for sure.

Brand: The Macallan
Bottling:
1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare
Age:
60-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Scotland
Region:
Speyside
Auction House
: Sotheby’s
Hammer Price: £1,452,000
Date Sold: 24 October 2019

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2 the macallan 1926 60 year old michael dillon

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Michael Dillon | Image: Christie’s

2. The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Michael Dillon

A year before its brethren broke auction records in 2019, this 60-year-old Macallan did the very same thing. It was likewise bottled from cask 263 after spending six decades in ex-sherry casks. Providing further distinction is the bottle’s label design, courtesy of Irish artist Michael Dillon. Best known for his historical decorations, Dillon hand-painted the Easter Elchies House of The Macallan and the Scottish Highlands on the label in immaculate detail. Perhaps most remarkable of all, despite featuring a depiction of Easter Elchies House, Macallan’s spiritual home, the bottle is so rare that even the distillery itself was unaware of its existence until it was offered at auction.

Brand: The Macallan
Bottling:
1926 60-Year-Old Michael Dillon
Age:
60-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Scotland
Region:
Speyside
Auction House
: Christie’s
Hammer Price: £1,200,000
Date Sold: 28 November-29 November 2018

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3 the macallan 1926 60 year old fine and rare

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare | Image: Whisky Auctioneer

3. The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare

They don’t call The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old the “holy grail of whiskies” for nothing. Continuing a trend, this single malt came out of the same cask as its record-breaking peers and fetched a cool £1,000,000 at auction (overcoming a cyberattack in the process). Behold the rich, dark colour of the ancient liquid inside and then wipe that bit of drool off the side of your mouth.

Brand: The Macallan
Bottling:
1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare
Age:
60-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Scotland
Region:
Speyside
Auction House:
Whisky Auctioneer
Hammer Price: £1,000,000
Date Sold: April 2020

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4 the macallan 1926 60 year old valerio adami

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Valerio Adami | Image: Bonham’s

4. The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Valerio Adami

The fourth most expensive whisky in the world should come as no surprise if you’ve been reading this list in order. This particular bottle of The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old was 1 of 12 to feature an incredible label design by Italian painter Valerio Adami. It was sold by the distillery through auction house Bonhams.

Brand: The Macallan
Bottling:
1926 60-Year-Old Valerio Adami
Age:
60-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Scotland
Region:
Speyside
Auction House
: Bonhams
Hammer Price: £848,750
Date Sold: 3 Oct 2018

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5 the macallan 1926 60 year old valerio adami

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Valerio Adami | Image: Bonham’s

5. The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Valerio Adami

Months before selling the fourth most expensive whisky in the world, Bonhams auctioned off the fifth most expensive whisky. As you might have guessed, it’s another “holy grail” bottle of The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old, with Valerio Adami’s unmistakable artwork on the label. The sale went down in Hong Kong and fetched the equivalent of US$1,100,175.

Brand: The Macallan
Bottling:
1926 60-Year-Old Valerio Adami
Age:
60-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Scotland
Region:
Speyside
Auction House:
Bonhams
Hammer Price: HK$8,636,250
Date Sold: 18 May 2018

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The macallan 1926 60 year old peter blake

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Peter Blake | Image: Sotheby’s

6. The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Peter Blake

Bonhams’ 2018 Fine & Rare Wine and Whisky Auction saw the sale of not one, but two record-breaking bottles of expensive whisky. The second was this 60-Year-Old Macallan with limited edition artwork from Sir Peter Blake. A true living legend, Blake once famously designed the cover of The Beatles’ 1967 masterpiece “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it? His label design takes a similar approach by mashing up all sorts of characters and details.

Brand: The Macallan
Bottling:
1926 60-Year-Old Peter Blake
Age:
60-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Scotland
Region:
Speyside
Auction House
: Bonhams
Hammer Price: HK$7,962,500
Date Sold: 18 May 2018

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7 the yamazaki 55 year old

The Yamazaki 55-Year-Old | Image: Bonhams

7. The Yamazaki 55-Year-Old

At long last, we get to an outrageously expensive whisky not named The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old. Matured in a combination of oak casks and distiled to 46% ABV, the mighty Yamazaki 55-Year-Old is as legendary as a Japanese single malt can get. Perched beyond its gold-dusted bottle is an exquisite spirit of deep amber colour and brilliant taste. Some folks have actually tried this rare beast and they describe a powerful nose of sandalwood and fruit, a smooth but complex flavour profile, and a sweet aftertaste.

Brand: Yamazaki
Age:
55-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Japan
Region:
Osaka Prefecture
Auction House
: Bonhams
Hammer Price: HK$6,200,000
Date Sold: 21 Aug 2020

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8 the macallan 1926 60 year old peter blake

The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Peter Blake | Image: Bonhams

8. The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Peter Blake

The Macallan’s predominance continues with this uber-expensive single malt, which was bottle number 7 out of 12 to feature label artwork from Sir Peter Blake. It was described by the auction house as being “almost inconceivably smooth with a luscious hint of dry-sweetness in the malt.”

Brand: The Macallan
Bottling:
1926 60-Year-Old Peter Blake
Age:
60-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Scotland
Region:
Speyside
Auction House:
 Bonhams
Hammer Price: £615,062
Date Sold: 21 Aug 2020

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9 the yamazaki 55 year old

The Yamazaki 55-Year-Old | Image: Sotheby’s

9. The Yamazaki 55-Year-Old

Yamazaki’s ultra-luxurious whisky was priced around AU$90,000 and limited to just 200 bottles when it hit the marketplace back in 2020. On the auction block, bottles such as this one have fetched far greater numbers. Someone out there may very well be smacking themselves over the decision to crack theirs open!

Brand: Yamazaki
Age:
55-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Japan
Region:
Osaka Prefecture
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Hammer Price: US$600,000
Date Sold: 17 June 2022

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10 karuizawa 52 year old zodiac rat cask 5627

Karuizawa 52-Year-Old Zodiac Rat Cask #5627 | Image: Sotheby’s

10. Karuizawa 52-Year-Old Zodiac Rat Cask #5627

Japan’s Karuizawa Distillery closed in 2001 and its whisky has since become a cult legend. One of just 41 bottles, this 52-year-old statement was matured in a single ex-sherry cask. If it’s like anything else from the brand, one should expect a truly intense flavour profile with notes of concentrated fruit, dark chocolate, and brown sugar.

Brand: Karuizawa
Bottling:
Zodiac Rat Cask #5627
Age:
52-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Japan
Region:
Miyota
Auction House
: Sotheby’s
Hammer Price: £363,000
Date Sold: 18 March 2020

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11 the yamazaki 50 year old

The Yamazaki 50-Year-Old | Image: Bonhams

11. The Yamazaki 50-Year-Old

Yamazaki returns with the 11th-most expensive whisky in the world, which spent 50 long years maturing in Japanese Mizunara oak. It takes the distillery’s signature profile up a few notches by way of its velvety mouthfeel and rich flavour with hints of smoke. Yum.

Brand: Yamazaki
Age:
50-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Japan
Region:
Osaka Prefecture
Auction House
: Bonhams
Hammer Price: HK$2,695,000
Date Sold: 17 Aug 2018

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12 karuizawa 1960 52 year old the dragon

Karuizawa 1960 52-Year-Old: The Dragon | Image: Sotheby’s

12. Karuizawa 1960 52-Year-Old: The Dragon

The now-defunct and near-mythological Karuizawa Distillery closes out our list with the oldest whisky they ever produced, a 52-year-old single malt known as The Dragon. It rides in on dense fruit flavour and builds toward notes of succulent smoke, which carry through to an impeccable finish.

Brand: Karuizawa
Bottling:
The Dragon
Age:
52-Year-Old
Country of Origin:
Japan
Region:
Miyota
Auction House:
Sotheby’s
Hammer Price: £363,000
Date Sold: 18 March 2020

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Yamazaki 55y scene bottle amber

Yamazaki 55-Year-Old | Image: House of Suntory

Why is Whisky So Expensive?

As one of the most universally loved creations in the world, whisky has amassed the kind of following that few other man-made inventions could rival. A statement of staus, along with an ode to cultural heritage, whisky, particularly from Scotland can fetch a pretty penny, and looking at the amount of time and effort involved in creating it, it’s not hard to see why. As a general rule, the reason that most whisky is expensive is down to a few key elements:

  • Brand – In the whisky world, brand heritage goes a long way. For a number of fans, the label on the bottle is as important as the elixir that lies within, as it marks a significant step in the iconic industry’s next chapter. As this list shows, brands such as The Macallan and Yamazaki have managed to create a unique and dedicated fanbase, eager to pick up any bottle.
  • Age – Somewhat unsurprisingly, the majority of the release on this list of the world’s most expensive whiskies are well over 50 years of age. This plays a significant role in a bottle’s valuation, as it the number of releases still available on the market reduces as things get older. Similarly, any bottle that has sat in the maturation cask for over 50 years has likely seen a few different distillers pass through the ranks, so it’s quite unusual that it would be left so long without being bottled and released.
  • Rarity – Finally a whisky’s rarity also factors into its price. Like anything in business, supply and demand dictates that when a product is well-loved and hard to get, prices must increase. Therefore, it’s safe to safe rare bottlings, with significant age and released by an icon like The Macallan are likely to fetch an enormous figure if and when they finally go to auction.
6 house of suntory yamazaki 55

Yamazaki 55-Year-Old | Image: House of Suntory

Whisky as an Investment

More recently, the whisky market has seen a rapid changing of the guard. Where expensive bottlings were previously seen as special occasion offerings, bought by wealthy elites to be opened when a milestone achievement rolled around, increasingly, bottlings are being snapped up by savvy market analysts looking for an investment opportunity. Put simply, collectible whiskies are those with a value that is expected to rise over time, and have become more lucrative to interested parties over the past decade or so.

According to ReserveBar, selling spirits through e-commerce in wine and spirits was expected to reach USD$25 billion in sales by 2025, however, the global pandemic accelerated this trend. With more people drinking at home, the number of sales going through online channels grew significantly. Still, the overwhelming majority of rare bottlings have made their off the platform and into the hands of traditional auction houses such as Bonhams and Sotheby’s.

In an interview with Forbes, Worldwide Head at Sotheby’s Wine, Jamie Ritchie revealed that rare spirits had grown from just one per cent of the auction house’s sales in 2016 to 19 per cent in 2020, spurred by the ongoing pandemic-related economic concerns. As the world struggled with financial stability, some investors looked to digital currencies such as Bitcoin to manage their wealth, while more traditional investors moved back toward tangible assets as a means of protecting their financial status.

“At Sotheby’s, we showcase the world’s greatest collections of wines and spirits in unique and innovative ways to maximize price,” Ritchie told the publication. “In 2019, we took individual bottles valued at $4-6 million and sold it as a collection for $10 million. We also achieved the highest price for any wine or spirit, which was $1.9 million for the Macallan 60-year-old Fine and Rare.”

It’s a trend that is quickly gathering pace, with whisky investment becoming a more common practice, particularly as a spate of Asian investors recognise the strength of the market. Recently, an ultra-rare set of Black Bowmore whiskies sold through Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s Wine & Spirit Sale Series netted a whopping USD$563,00 (AUD$750,000), while a whisky collector in Asia dropped a staggering £18 million (AUD$28 million) on a 1975 cask of rare Ardberg Scotch. Here in Australia, a Perth-based whisky fan sold off a history-making 9,070 bottles from his private collection, generating a whopping AUD$6.4 million.

Alternatives to Most Expensive Whiskies Ever Sold

If you’re not quite enough zeroes in the bank account to afford one of The Macallan’s 1926 cask releases? The simple fact is that not all Scotch, bourbon or Australian whisky needs to be expensive to be quality. Check out some of our other (more budget-friendly) stories on the golden elixir below and get your collection brewing. Who knows? You might end u with a treasure trove of your own in a few decades.

General FAQ

What is the most expensive whisky ever sold at auction?

The most expensive whisky sold at auction to date was a bottle of The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare, which fetched £1,452,000 in 2019.

What is the most expensive Scotch ever sold at auction?

In 2019, The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Fine and Rare became the most expensive whisky ever sold at auction when it fetched £1,452,000.

What is the most expensive Japanese Whisky ever sold at auction?

The most expensive Japanese whisky ever sold at auction is the The Yamazaki 55-Year-Old, which went for HK$6,200,000 in 2020.

STAFF WRITER

Jacob Osborn

Jacob Osborn is an accomplished author and journalist with over 10 years of experience in the media industry. Jacob holds a Bachelor's degree in English and Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin--Madison and has previously written for Stacker alongside co-authoring a Young Adult novel through Simon & Schuster. Now based in Portland, Oregon, Jacob specialises in entertainment, technology and alcohol reporting. You might find him crate-digging at the nearest record store or sampling whisky at the nearest bar. He daydreams of travelling around the world, but for now, the world will have to come to him by way of lifestyle products, gear, gadgetry, and entertainment. Let's call it a happy compromise while he saves up for the next big trip.