Reasons Why Some Whiskies Are So Expensive

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Grain, yeast, heat, wood, and time are some ingredients used to make whiskies. Then why do some bottles cost you the whole world?

The obvious response is that it's mostly marketing and hype to an extent, but certain peculiarities to the production process make some whiskies more expensive than others. Knowing what goes into a bottle of whisky is attractive but buying that from a shop's shelf at a specific price is more appealing. Within the following few paragraphs, we will briefly cover all the primary factors that influence the value of a bottle of whisky.

The older, the better?

When it comes to cost, unequivocally YES! The older the bottle, the higher will be the price. As a universal rule, whiskies bottled before 1990 will carry a higher price tag than the new ones.
But, why?

In 2019 a 60-year-old single bottle - The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 set a new world record after summoning 1.9 million USD at auction.

Angel's Share: One of the primary reasons whisky bottles are sometimes rather expensive is something known as Angel's Share. The best whisky in the world might be barred in some old wood barrels for various amounts of time. As a result of natural evaporation, between 1% and 2% of the alcohol disappears from the cask every year. It is known as Angel's Share. Thirty percent to forty percent of the alcohol evaporates from a bottle of whisky that has aged for 30 years.

Consequently, older whiskies have a smaller amount of liquid left in the barrel than the new ones. Less whisky is left in the bottle, making the liquor more scarce thus, pushing up the price. This is the main reason that the most expensive whisky in the world is in high demand.

What’s the main trick?

  • Old = Expensive.
  • Old + rare = Really expensive
  • Old + rare + collectible? Yes, that’s the ultimate destination.

Auctions and Awards: Some brands are more desired than others. Auctions and Awards play a significant role in this, driving the price of certain brands. Some collectible brands include Macallan, Highland Park, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Balvenie, Laphroaig, the Dalmore, etc.

  • Highland distillery Nc’Nean, in 2020, caught a world record when a bottle of Ainnir single malt sold for US$ 54,180 during an online auction.
  • Suntory’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 accomplished rapid growth after winning the Best Whisky Award in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015. Since then, prices have skyrocketed.

Silent distilleries: Basically, a silent distillery is a distillery that is no longer in use. It could have been mothballed. The question is, can you still get bottles from these distilleries? Your answer is yes, but they are infrequent and very pricey.

A release from Port Ellen or Brora will take you somewhere in the range of £2000 in just one go. In fact, Diageo-owned Brora holds the title of the most expensive and most delicate bottle of Whisky ever sold. It was a bottle of 40-Year-Old sold at £6995 in 2014.

Some collectibles are Braeval, Glenglassaugh, Rosebank, St. Magdalene (Linlithgow), Kinclaith, Glenlochy, and Glenugie, amongst others.

Proper Cut - Neither ‘Head’ nor ‘Tail’

Generally, copper pot stills used in producing Single Malt must be taken out and scrubbed thoroughly after production batches, and the distillation method lasts longer. This, by definition, adds cost.

Filtration and Other Finishing Process

A premium Scotch may include other measures, including worm tubs and high-quality filters, to further hone the taste and exclude impurities and sulfurous residues. These add cost to the process.

Better Quality Barrels

  • There are many varieties of barrels, including the nature of wood (e.g., American vs. European Oak)
  • Age of barrels (new or used barrels or older barrels)
  • The use of the first fill barrels (e.g., for Scotch, it could be bourbon, sherry, port or other types of barrels).

The “life” remaining in the wood after toasting and charring are critical to the ultimate taste. Higher quality barrels and elongated aging produces unique tastes and flavors. People pay more for these.

In a Nutshell

In addition, cheap whiskies are usually mass-produced and heavily diluted, and 40% dilution means more whisky is available to sell.

People will often discern a better taste on a more consistent basis over time. There may be underlying causes for a higher cost. Still, ultimately, the mouthfeel, flavor, taste and how the brand is marketed define the price level in the long run.