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The 50 Year Old Macallan Whisky That Isn’t 50

The Macallan Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old was released in 1983 and became the most expensive whisky in the world in the same year.

In 1983 The Macallan Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old became the first whisky to hold the title of most expensive bottle of whisky in the world. The record is now held by another bottle of Macallan—the 1926 60 Year Old Valerio Adami from cask #263—but three years before cask #263 was bottled, Macallan looked to the Anniversary Malt series as they began the process of premiumisation.

Here we take a look at the iconic Macallan Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old, and share some of the quirks and interesting facts you might not know.

How Much Was The Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old?

Hugh Mitcalf was appointed Marketing Director of The Macallan in 1978 and he was part of the team that decided to leverage Macallan’s enviable stock of aged scotch to put the distillery at the forefront of single malt. At the time the single malt market was almost entirely confined to Scotland and blended whisky was the spirit of choice in general. But Mitcalf and his team had plans outside of Scotland.

Repositioning the perception of single malt was a significant task, and even more so on a budget. The budget presented to David Holmes and Nick Salaman to create the infamous Times adverts, was reportedly £25,000, which at the time was just about enough for a single page in the Times color supplement.

“We chose otherwise,” recalled David Holmes in his memoirs. Of course, sometimes the best things do not have to cost the world, and the adverts created by Holmes and Salaman have become some of the most well known whisky adverts of all time. Many of which have been immortalized in the Archival Folio series. 

The advertorial was not the only thing on a budget. In 1983 the Macallan 50 Year Old Anniversary Malt was released for the princely sum of £50. Yes, you read that right. In the 1980s you could get 50 year old single malt whisky for less than you’d pay for a nice bottle of blended scotch today.

The Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old, Isn’t 50-Years-Old

Both the Anniversary Malt series were the brainchild of Hugh Mitcalfe and William Phillips; Marketing and Managing Directors of Macallan at the time. The Anniversary Malt series was designed to be marketed for special occasions, with a 25 year old release that became an ongoing series, and the one off 50 year old.

Today distilleries are planning decades into the future with the casks they lay down. In the 1980s the team had to work with existing stock, which gave rise to a few interesting quirks.

Diligent whisky fans will notice that the label of the Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old states the whisky was distilled in 1928 and bottled in 1983. The bottling is widely known to contain 54-year-old whisky, but we can only assume that didn’t fit with the anniversary theme.

“Under Strength” Whisky

Another quirk of this bottle is the strength. The 50 Year Old Anniversary Malt was bottled at cask strength, but that was just 38.6% or 70 Proof—just to complicate things further, UK Proof is different to USA Proof.

Today the legal definition for scotch whisky means it must be over 40% ABV to be bottled as single malt scotch. In 1983 the rules were more flexible so the Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old could still be bottled as a single malt scotch. Although the label also comes with a choice of disclaimers; either “under strength” or “diluted” depending on the market they were bottled for. Although it’s worth noting this whisky was not diluted.

The variations we see across these releases are really good examples of the flexibility of vintage bottlings. This is just one of the many reasons why it is so difficult to give a cut and dry opinion on the validity of many vintage releases.

Today the legal definition for scotch whisky means it must be over 40% ABV to be bottled as single malt scotch. In 1983 the rules were more flexible so the Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old could still be bottled at 38.6%.

Before It’s Era Returns

One bottle of The Macallan 50 year old Anniversary malts sold in its release year for £1,100. While it might not sound like much, remember that the release price was £50, which equates to a 2,100% return on investment in under 12 months! This was a significant milestone, not just for The Macallan, but for the secondary whisky market as a whole.

In 1983 there was no secondary market for single malt whisky as we know it today. In fact in the 1980s there was barely a primary market for single malt scotch whisky outside of Scotland. Whisky was still seen as an old man’s drink, and what little scotch was available was mostly blended.

The market for whisky was also saturated. The 80s is often referred to as the whisky loch. Production had boomed in the postwar period as distilleries struggled to meet growing demand. By the late 1970s and into the 1980s economic and social effects meant that production far outstripped demand. The result was warehouses packed full of whisky that there wasn’t a market for.

Scores of distilleries closed or temporarily ceased production in the 1980s period. The likes of Ardbeg, Springbank, and Bruichladdich all ceased production for periods at this time. Others closed permanently; the original Brora, Port Ellen and Rosebank distilleries were all closed as surplus to requirements.

Releasing a £50 bottle of whisky in that economy was risky. Not only was it expensive but 50-year-old whisky was bordering on unique at a time when unique wasn’t the best selling point.

Macallan did it anyway; certain that the single malt route was the best option for their future. The bottles sold. Not only that but a bottle of Macallan Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old sold at auction in 1983 for a record breaking £1,100.

To put the increase in value in context, the jump from £50 to £1,100 within 12 months is a bigger proportional jump in value than the 2018 jump from £100,000 to £1,000,000. 

The First Of Many Records

The Macallan Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old was the first bottle to hold the record for most expensive whisky. The bottle sold in the same year as the first release for the princely sum of £1,100.

The record for the most expensive bottle of whisky in the world has been broken just 15 times over the last 40 years. Out of 15 records, ten were set by bottles from the Macallan distillery. The dominance of Macallan at the very pinnacle of the market really demonstrates what they have done with their brand over the last 40 years.

While the Anniversary Malt 50 Year Old bottle may have held the record only once, it held the world record price for a bottle of whisky for eight years, which is the longest the title has been held by any single bottle of whisky. It wasn’t until 1991 that it would pass the mantle to its older sibling; the 60-year-old Macallan 1926. (And if you ever feel like you’ve made a bad decision—imagine being the person who sold a bottle now worth over £2.2million, for £6,375!)

In fact, all the other nine records set by Macallan are bottles from the 1926 60 year old series. The Macallan 1926 60 Year Old Valerio Adami from cask #263 holds the current record—an astonishing £2.2 million ($2,714,25). However, The Anniversary Malt 50 year old is still an intrinsic part of the foundations that enabled Macallan to become the powerhouse it is today.

Despite just 15 appearances at auction since 2012, the current record for the 50 year old Anniversary Malt peaked in 2020 at just £92,000 (not including buyers’ premium). There has only been one at auction in 2023 and you could have taken it home for £50,000. Frankly, I think that’s a bargain.

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 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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