Every drop of whisky that is silently maturing within Scotland’s cool, dusky warehouses is an exercise in patience and foresight. On average, it will be at least a decade before the whisky will be bottled and enjoyed, but sometimes the whisky makers allow the liquid to age for decades longer than that. This can be a bit of a gamble, as the angel’s share evaporates over the years reducing the amount of liquid in the barrel, and the proof gradually falls to the 40 percent mark (below this, the spirit legally is not whisky anymore). But these extra mature whiskies, often aged for four decades or longer, command a high price point once released.
The Macallan is no stranger to the luxury market of ultra-aged whisky. The distillery, founded in 1824, ages nearly all of its whisky in sherry-seasoned casks made from American and European oak, a defining characteristic of its flavor profile. Last fall a 60-year-old Macallan distilled in 1926 broke records by selling for over one million dollars at auction and a 40-year-old expression was released in 2018. This month, a new 52-year-old single cask whisky is launching with a price of $53,500 per bottle—250 bottles total, just 42 available in the U.S.
The new Macallan 72 Years Old in Lalique—The Genesis Decanter, now available globally, is the oldest release from the distillery to date. Only 600 bottles are available worldwide, priced at a staggering $65,000 each. Why is it so expensive? Well, besides its extremely limited availability and ancient age statement, the whisky comes in a Lalique decanter designed with the modern architecture of the brand-new distillery in mind. The bottle is enclosed in a presentation case designed by Burgess Studio that was inspired by the distillery’s interior and the layout of the “curiously small stills” within.
Other distilleries are releasing expensive, aged whiskies as well. Bowmore 1965, a 52-year-old whisky that is the fourth in the distillery’s 50 Year Old Vaults Series, was released this fall. There were just over 200 bottles available priced at $30,000 each. In America, Rhetoric 25 ($140), a quarter-century old bourbon from the old Bernheim Distillery, is out now. And 44 bottles of Last Drop Distillers 1982 Bourbon ($4,000) launched recently, an 18-year-old single barrel release distilled at Buffalo Trace when it was known as the George T. Stagg distillery.
As any whisky drinker knows, age doesn’t necessarily equal quality. In fact, there are some very old, very expensive whiskies that become overly tannic after many decades spent in wood. This is not the case with The Macallan 72, which is remarkably light and delicate for a whisky that has spent just shy of three-quarters of a century in sherry-seasoned oak casks. It was distilled in the 1940s at a time when peat was being used more commonly as a fuel source, even in Speyside. Thus, a whisper of smoke curls into your nose as you inhale the liquid, which dissolves into subtle banana and tropical fruit flavors, along with macerated cherry and dry spice on the palate. In short, this makes for a lovely wee dram of very rare and very expensive whisky.
Master distiller Nick Savage describes The Macallan 72 as both a tribute to the future of the new distillery and homage to its rich history. “The reason it’s so special is that it’s a minor miracle it’s still there,” he said during a special tasting at the distillery on an appropriately chilly and rainy winter day. The fact that the three barrels from which this whisky came survived for almost 75 years without evaporating, falling below 80 proof, or being used in some other capacity is hard to fathom. As Savage aptly puts it, tasting this rare whisky today is “almost like a handshake with the past.”