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6 Things You Didn’t Know About The Most Expensive Whisky In The World

The Most Expensive Whisky In The World remains The Macallan 1926 60 year old, for the latest sale Macallan officially replaced the capsule and verified the contents via a tiny (1ml) sample. Photo: Sotheby’s

A bottle of Macallan 1926 60 Year Old, with a label designed by the Italian artist Valerio Adami, became the most expensive whisky in the world in 2023. It sold at Sotheby’s for $2,714,250 (£2,187,500), breaking the previous record of $1.9 million (£1.45 million). The previous record was also a bottle of Macallan 1926 60 Year Old, but with the Fine and Rare label. So the world’s most expensive whisky is still a Macallan, but here are six things you might not know about the £2.2 million bottle that just broke its own world record.

Cask 263 Has Held The Record More Times Than Any Other Whisky

Records for the most expensive bottle of whisky in the world began in 1983. In the 41 years since the record was first set it has been broken just 15 times. Macallan have been almost uniformly dominant over the history of the record and this is the tenth time a bottle of Macallan whisky has been the most expensive in the world. In fact Macallan bottles have held the top spot for 25 of the last 41 years.

Macallan cask 263 was filled in 1926 and 60 years later was decanted into just 40 bottles. These vintage bottles have become the figurehead of luxury whisky and the demand for them has surely helped Macallan become a true luxury item. The five variations of bottles from cask #263 have been responsible for all but one of Macallan’s ten record setting sales.

Record Setting Prices Need Two Bidders

At least two passionate collectors are always needed to generate record setting prices. Although the exact number of interested parties before the auction is unknown, at the auction itself the intense bidding for this bottle ultimately came down to just two competitors: one present in the room and the other bidding over the phone. 

The two collectors drove the price to more than double its low estimate (£750,000 – £1.2 million), and smashed the previous world record for a single bottle of whisky by over £600,000.  The bidding process lasted for more than five minutes, with Jonny Fowle, the Global Head of Spirits at Sotheby’s, overseeing it from the rostrum.  

The Only Bottle Reconditioned By Macallan

Macallan are known for being cagey about verifying vintage releases. It’s not surprising as many of their bottles were released before fakes were really an issue and it’s a challenge to verify old releases without an original to compare them to. For this sale they made an exception.

While Macallan may not have been selling the bottle themselves, the fame of the 1926 releases means that sales of these bottles are very high profile. This bottle had been sold at another auction previously, but the capsule was damaged and so the seller and Sotheby’s worked with Macallan before the sale. Macallan officially replaced the capsule and verified the contents via a tiny (1ml) sample.

This gives this particular bottle unprecedented provenance for a vintage release. It also makes it unique within the 40 bottles in the 1926 series. It will be interesting to see whether this verification becomes standard for bottles of this series given the heightened level of confidence it offers to potential buyers.

Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s Global Head of Spirits, presents The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 as part of the sale where the bottle became the most expensive whisky in the world. Photo: Sotheby’s

The Valerio Adami Version Had Never Exceeded £1Million

The sale marked the fourth time the Valerio Adami version of the Macallan 1926 has been the most expensive whisky in the world. However it was the first time that version had broken the million pound mark.

A Valerio Adami bottle first held the record from 1996 to 2001, then in 2018 it broke the record twice, but until 2023 it had never sold for more than £925,000. The two bottles that previously surpassed the million pound threshold were the Fine and Rare edition, which sold for £1.45 million in 2019, and a bottle featuring a unique hand-painted label by Michael Dillon, fetching £1.2 million in 2018.

This Bottle Was Sold In 2020

As alluded to earlier, this was not the first time we had seen this particular bottle at auction. Each of the 12 bottles released with the Valerio Adami label were hand numbered, so we can get a good idea of the price history of each edition.

The £2.2million record is held by bottle number 12, which was last seen at auction in 2020. Back then it sold at an online specialist auction for £825,000 (not including buyer’s premium). While the jump in price is impressive, it is important to remember that this bottle has had some special treatment in the intervening four years.

The images from the sale in 2020 clearly show the capsule with significant wear and splitting around the seal. That’s likely why the buyer chose to work with Macallan to get the bottle back into top condition. And of course, we don’t know how much Macallan charged for their services!

The Macallan 1926 Isn’t The World’s Oldest Whisky

Macallan also holds the record for the oldest whisky in the world and it’s 20 years older than the 1926. The Reach is an 81-year-old expression distilled in 1940, but despite having 20 years on the bottles from cask 263, a recent sale price for The Reach was £126,500 (plus buyers premium and VAT).

The record auction price for The Reach was set in 2022 at £312,000. A fraction of the world record setting price for its earlier vintage cousin. The huge price difference between their current and vintage offerings may explain why Macallan were willing to work with the seller of the most recent sale for the 1926. And goes to show that it is more than simply age that generates value with whisky.

The 1926 is not even the earliest whisky in the world. There are some pretty incredible vintage releases that pre-date it, from the Springbank 1919 to various bottles from the 19th century.

The latest record is a really interesting result, especially in the light of a secondary market that has been largely flat or negative in the months preceding and following the sale. The price is a testament to the work of Sothebys’ team in both marketing and the coordination of the reconditioning with Macallan. And shows how important it is to work with the right team when you’re looking to buy or sell.

The bottles in this series have dominated the records for most expensive bottle of whisky in the world since 1996. The successive record breaking sales have undoubtedly helped set Macallan apart from their competitors. The fact that these bottles not only continue to break the million pound mark, but keep surpassing their own records, are testament to why Macallan is perhaps the only true “luxury” whisky brand in the world.

Mark Littler

Mark Littler is the owner and editor in chief of the Whiskey Wash. He is also the owner of Mark Littler LTD, a prominent whisky and antiques brokerage service in the United Kingdom. Mark is a well known voice in the whisky industry and has a regular column at Forbes.com and has a popular YouTube channel devoted to everything whisky.

Mark completed the purchase of The Whiskey Wash in late 2023.

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