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The Secret Behind the World's Most Expensive Whisky

The Macallan’s “curiously small stills” are the key to its reserves of aged whisky, including the new "M Black" and "72 Year Old."


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At a recent Macallan tasting at the New York City headquarters of Edrington, the Scottish company that owns the brand, tens of thousands of dollars of whisky was laid out for a select group to sample in small one-ounce pours. The reason for the hefty price tag was the fact that this aged whisky is available only in extremely limited supplies–Macallan 50 Years Old ($35,000), Macallan 25 Years Old ($2,000), and the newest, Macallan M Black 2017 Release ($7,000). M Black comes in a black Lalique crystal decanter and is limited to 725 bottles, 40 of which will be available in the U.S. The whisky comes from just six casks total: three sherry hogsheads and three sherry butts. There is no age statement, but the liquid includes a small amount of peated whisky, an unusual but tasty element to find in The Macallan. M Black is rich, syrupy, and delicious, with hints of chocolate, marzipan, and cherry and just a whisper of smoke drifting underneath.

Macallan 50 is a spectacular dram as well. Ultra-aged whisky doesn’t always taste good; it can become over-oaked as it absorbs in too much tannin and almost loses its delicate defining flavor. But that’s not the case here. Only 200 bottles came from a single cask that was barreled in 1968, with a palate that is redolent of honey, spice, citrus, and mint. And the 25 was perhaps the star of the evening, a classic sherry oak-matured whisky with a nose and palate full of chocolate, cigar, and dried fruit. These high-end expressions are nothing new for The Macallan, however, as the brand seems to release an exclusive, expensive, and elusive whisky at least once a year, and sometimes more frequently than that. The next up is The Macallan 72 Years Old, the oldest whisky ever released by the distillery. It will come in a Genesis Decanter made by Lalique in a run of 600, 156 of which are allocated to the U.S. at a cool $65,000 per bottle.

So what’s the secret to a distillery having such stores of fine, aged whisky at the ready? According to Charlie Whitfield, Macallan manager of prestige whiskys and brand education, it all begins with the distillery’s “curiously small stills.” “Having small stills means you can’t make as much new make spirit,” he says. “The copper acts as a catalyst to enhance and concentrate the sweet, fruity flavors.” Taller stills mean that the heavier notes in the spirit condense and fall back into the still instead of being collected. But, Whitfield says, The Macallan’s smaller stills assist in capturing those notes and help the spirit stand up to decades of aging in sherry-seasoned oak casks. “Which is why we have one of the largest reserves of very old vintage [whisky]. Hence, we’re lucky we can do different releases of the high end, very old Macallan; we have a big reserve to choose from.”

If you’re in Mexico City this August, The Macallan/Masters of Photography exhibit will be on display at Casa Basalta (8/9 – 8/26), along with a virtual reality experience featuring panoramic views of the new distillery (8/9-8/10). This year marks the tenth year of this photo series, with photos focusing on the construction of the brand-new distillery and visitor center.


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