More so than any other spirit, whiskey inspires the type of cultish reverence that sends price tags soaring. That brown-spirit fever is especially evident with legendary brands like Pappy Van Winkle, whose 23-year-old Family Reserve has long been a white whale for obsessive collectors. Groups like The Bourbon Mafia and Bourbon Exchange, which track black-market sales and fluctuating prices like traders at the NYSE, have only added fuel to the fire.
A free market, as we know, can be volatile. While some Irish whiskey and bourbon can cost a small fortune, it’s the peaty taste of Scotch that inspires the craziest splurges. A special bottling of Macallan sold at a Hong Kong auction earlier this year for $628,000, shattering the world record for most expensive bottle ever.
From diamond-encrusted bottles in Scotland, to 50-year old Japanese spirits, here are a handful of premium whiskeys made for the one-percenters.
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 Year
Price: ~$2,200 per bottle
From: Kentucky, USA
Why is it so expensive?: Over the past decade, Pappy Van Winkle gained cult status among bourbon fiends, and drinkers clamor to get their hands on a bottle like hypebeasts lining up at the Supreme store. (How many other liquors are coveted enough to inspire a complicated heist?) The 23-year-old version—a 96.5 proof spirit pulled from barrels in the center of the warehouse—is the grandaddy of them all. Cop one and you’ll be sure to make your bourbon-worshiping pals supremely jealous. (Photo: Dewinespot.co)
Price: ~$2,500 per bottle
Why is it so expensive?: Japanese whiskey’s popularity exploded in recent years as consumers realized that Japanese distilleries are churning out juice that’s every bit as complex as the great Scotches. The Hibiki is oaky with notes of honey, and it continues to grab top prizes at international competitions year after year—it was awarded the trophy at the International Spirits Challenge in 2004, 2006, and 2008, as well as the coveted title “World’s Best Blended Whisky” at the World Whiskey Awards in 2007 and 2008. (Photo: Drinksupermarket.com)
Price: $6.2 Million
Why is it so expensive?: If you don’t necessarily care as much about what your liquor tastes like as what the bottle looks like, this is the over-the-top Scotch for you. Created in 2010, the white-gold bottle is covered with 8,500 diamonds and 300 rubies. Bonus: You can personalize the bottle with your name! (Photo: Isabella’s Islay)
Dalmore 64 Trinitas
Why is it so expensive?: Rare stocks from 1868, 1878, 1926, and 1939 were combined to make this bottle, of which there are only (you guessed it) three in the entire world. The bottle’s decorations are sterling silver to reflect the drink’s “inner strength and outer sparkle.” (Photo: Dalmore)
Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash Whiskey
From: Kentucky, USA
Why is it so expensive?: Michter’s released 273 bottles of this limited-edition whiskey, with full bottles going for upwards of $4,000 and shots hovering around the $200 mark. Just for good measure, the label is made out of 18-karat gold. (Photo: Michter’s)
Macallan 64 Year in Lalique
Why is it so expensive?: Until recently, this bottle, auctioned off at Sotheby’s for $460,000, was the most expensive to ever hit the market. According to The Examiner, the Scotch was “…vatted together from three casks, all built from sherry seasoned Spanish oak. The first was filled in 1942, the second in 1945 and the third in January 1946, from which the age of [the] Macallan was taken.”
The Dalmore 50 Crystal Decanter
Why is it so expensive?: A favorite of well-heeled imbibers around the world, this Scotch comes bottled in a crystal decanter, and there are only 60 of them floating around in the universe. It’s widely considered to be among the best 50-year Scotches available, and it’s one of the few Scotches bottled at cask strength. The drink is so revered it inspired an entire YouTube series that focuses on sipping the liquor for the first time. (Photo: Gearculture)
Yamazaki 50 Year Single Malt
Why is it so expensive?: Suntory released this 50-year-old single malt cask from the location where the company first started its distillery back in 1924. With a limited run of 150 bottles, the 2013 release has a striking burnt amber color and a full, fruity bloom. It’s the ultimate long-game whiskey. (Photo: The Whiskey Exchange)
Boundary Oak Distillery, First Bottle
From: Kentucky, USA
Why is it so expensive?: Perhaps the most exclusive of all the whiskeys on the list, the first bottle (literally: batch #1, bottle #1) of bourbon produced in Hardin County, Kentucky in more than 100 years fetched a whopping sum in an online auction in 2014. Distiller and owner Brent Goodwin told The Spirits Business, “Kentucky Distillers’ Association informed him their records suggest the highest price paid for a bottle of American whiskey at auction was $25,000,” making Boundary Oak the most expensive American whiskey sale of all time.
Nun’s Island Distillery Pure Pot Still Whiskey
From: Galway, Ireland
Why is it so expensive?: In 2002, a liquor store in Wiltshire, England was given a bottle of Pure Pot Still Whiskey dating back to the 1800s from Nun’s Island Distillery, an Irish outfit that shuttered more than 100 years ago. It was placed on the market for well over a hundred thousand dollars, stirring up a media frenzy and ensuring that a few other bottles of the stuff were pulled down from shelves and attics. The bottle has not been sold, so it’s still fair game if you have the cash to spend. (Photo: Luxpresso.com)