Is age just a number? The short answer is no, when it comes to drinking whiskey, age matters a heck of a lot!
By law—an American whiskey (Kentucky Bourbons, Tennessee whiskeys) must be aged for at least two years, but is generally aged anywhere from two to five. Scotch whiskeys, on the other hand, must be aged for a minimum of three years. So, by the very definition, all whiskey is ‘aged’ to some point—and that’s to our benefit.
The aging process refers specifically to the amount of time the whiskey spends in its cask. The wooden oak barrels help provide the whiskey with its signature color and flavor. The beneficial aging process ends the instant the whiskey is bottled (unlike wines, that continue to age while in the bottle).
Why so expensive?
As you may imagine, keeping barrels of whiskey around in a temperature controlled environment for years at a time can become quite expensive. More importantly than production cost—the older the whiskey, the more rare. Blended whiskey may contain a small percentage of product ranging from two to twenty years old, from many different barrels, and numerous distilleries. This process ensures one sip of a mass produced whiskey tastes nearly identical to the next. A single barrel aged whiskey, on the other hand, came from one individual cask that was selected specifically for aging. Each standard cask yields on average about 250 bottles of a unique whiskey unlike any other whiskey in the world. As the popularity of collecting boutique whiskeys rises, the price will inevitably increase with demand.
So, how much are we talking here? Below is a short list of all variety of the most expensive whiskeys available today.
1. Macallan Cire Perdue – $460,000 – Named by Guinness as the most expensive bottle of whiskey ever sold at auction. A 64 year-old single malt, bottled in a hand crafted, one-of-a-kind crystal decanter designed by Lalique. Macallan may be the most well known and finest tasting of the premium Scotch Whisky’s— providing a very large range of products to select from of varying age and characteristics. While you may not be able to get your hands on the Cire Perdue—Macallan does offer a limited number of 50+ year-old Scotches in their own unique Lalique decanters that would look just as nice displayed on your top shelf.
2. Glenfiddich 50 Year Old – $16,000 – Drawn from one of two casks that have been maturing for the last 50 years in a warehouse and is claimed to represent the pinnacle of that brand’s long history of skill and dedication. This 50 year-old, which contains exotic ingredients like rose petals and violets, promises to have a smooth sweet flavor and leave you with very little buyers remorse. This is not the most expensive Scotch of all time, but it is surely the most expensive available regularly on the market.
3. Crown Royal XR Heritage Blend – $10,000 – Using the remaining barrels of their original blend from 1939, Crown Royal offered this one of a kind product to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the 2007 Kentucky Derby. While this one of a kind whiskey is not available to the public, a more affordable XR product is available for around $150 a bottle. Just like the more affordable Canadian whiskey lines from Crown, the XR comes nestled comfortably in an embroidered velvet drawstring sack.
4. A.H. Hirsch Reserve – $300 – Distilled in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania in 1974, this Bourbon was matured for sixteen years until it was bottled in 1990. Distilled using the traditional Kentucky pot-still method, A.H Hirsch Reserve is a fine example of a smooth sipping American bourbon, and proves that once in a while, age isn’t everything.
5. Johnnie Walker Blue Label – $200 – The brands premium blend—while it doesn’t contain an age label, you can be sure this is from the private reserve stock and will be plenty old for your liking (think fifteen to twenty years)—each is individually numbered, and packaged with a certificate of authenticity.
While it is true that many whiskeys do get better with age, many experts would agree that 15-18 years is the optimum age range for the most developed flavors and complexity. But, as with most vices — it all comes down to personal taste and preference. So start from the bottom and work your way up!