Do you know if you are drinking whisky, bourbon or scotch whisky? What are you ready to pay for your favorite malt?
Sotheby’s recently announced having sold a bottle of 64-year-old Macallan for $631,850 in Hong Kong. The fact that scotch whisky could sell for such an expensive price is astonishing in itself, so one most wonder; what else is out there when it comes to this luxurious liquor? When a bottle of regular whisky can be bought for less than $50 at the nearest liquor store, what amount of money are wealthy people willing to spend on a special bottle of scotch whisky? Before prices start getting put out on the table, why not breakdown what scotch whisky really is and where it comes from.
It all began in Scotland where the creators made sure to brand their famous beverage as “Scotch whisky”. However, with scotch as it's own beverage and whisky in it's own as well, where does the combination of scotch whisky come into play? What characteristics are needed for whisky to be aligned so closely with scotch?
The name “Scotch” is regulated and defined by a document named The Scotch Whisky Regulation 2009. This document was created on November 23, 2009. This regulation adds on to the previous regulation documents by adding facts that concern not only the process of making scotch whisky but also about the labeling, packaging and advertising side of this excellent alcohol. The regulations have defined that real scotch whiskey must follow these guidelines:
- The whole process of making the alcohol has to be done in Scotland from water and malted barley.
- The process of maturation needs to be done only in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters for a period of no less than 3 years.
- Adding other substances other than water, and/or plain caramel coloring is forbidden.
- The minimum alcohol strength by volume needs to be 40%.
Scotch whisky is an ancient beverage. It was first mentioned in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland back in 1495. The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland was a book in which all royal income and expenses were written back during this time period. In this document, we can read the address of “To Friar John Cor, by order of the King, to make aqua vitae VIII bolls of malt”. The story is that in 1494, Sir Cor was given eight bolls of malt and was requested by king order to make aquae vitae.
In deduction of this writing, it is understood that whisky was already in production in 1494 in Scotland, which makes this drink at least 600 years old. On the other hand, whisky comes from a local drink called uisge beatha (meaning “water of life”). As you can imagine, the government did not wait long to start taxing this alcohol because it was already being consumed in such large portions. At the time, the government was not very successful in following through, so the taxes were held off for a period of time.
In 1780, the country counted eight legal distilleries and no less than 400 bootleg operations. The unhappiness of those legal distilleries and the desire of the government to make those distilleries competitive against the illegal market lead the government to write a series of laws. The first law is the Wash Act in 178;, this English law aimed to lower the taxes on spirit production. The principle was that taxes were based on the quantity of wash (term referring to fermentation process of alcohol) really produced. Previously, the tax was based on the size of the stills. The idea of the Wash Act was to simplify the tax calculation, and its effect was a growth of legal spirit production in those areas.
In 1823, the English government approved of the Excise Act. This act “authorized production of malt whisky against the payment of a license of 10 pounds, and a tax by gallon of pure spirit. This law is due to the Duke of Gordon, and it was the end of moonshine distillation. It was good for excellent revenues for the government as well as for the distillers”.
Scotch whiskey is not a one style drink that is liked by all. There are various different types of scotch whiskey that some people prefer more than others.
1. Single Malt: This scotch whisky is made and matured by a single distillery. It is composed of malted barley and water only, no other cereal. It has to be distilled, produced and bottle in Scotland. It is the most common and popular in North America
2. Single Grain: The process of distillation starts the same way as the single malt scotch whisky, but then additional whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals are added to the process. In order to be called "scotch" whisky, it is as well bottled in Scotland.
3. Blended Whisky: One of more whiskies that are blended, as the name suggests, together with one or more single grain whiskies.
4. Blended Malt Scotch: Two or more single malt scotch whiskies from different distilleries blended together.
5. Blended Grain Scotch: The same process as the previous (#4), except that the blend of single grain scotch whisky if from different distilleries.
Be careful though, for a double malt scotch whisky doesn't exist! People often refer to a scotch whisky as double or triple malt, but this only means that the scotch whisky has been aged in two or three different types of casts. In fact, it should be called double wood or triple wood scotch whisky.
There could be various reasons as to why time for maturation (if the whisky has been in an oak cast for a long time, the price will rise with it), the number of liters produced (remember than the maximum quantity in one oak is 700 liters) and so the place to keep it has a cost too, the minimum time a scotch whisky has to stay in an oak cast is 3 years.
The process is long and a good part of the price is due to aging the scotch whisky in the right condition. If you're wonder what are some of the most expensive bottles of scotch whisky ever sold, here are a few that are vying for your attention. However, keep in mind that the most expensive scotch whisky has yet to be sold.
5. Royal Salute 45 Year Old Stone of Destiny: $200,000
The "Tribute To Honor" 45 years old scotch whisky is the pinnacle of the Royal Salute range; the high-end brand of Scotland's Chivas Brothers distillery. The distillery produced only 21 bottles of this elite scotch whisky at 200,000$ each. This blended scotch whisky is contained in a hand-made cast of black porcelain that contains 413 white and black diamonds, 22 carats of gemstones and gold detailing that includes golden lions sitting on either side of a diamond-encrusted sword. Each flagon is evaluated around $50,000.
4. Dalmore, 62 years old: $250,000
The Dalmore's distillery was the first one to break the record of selling a bottle of scotch whisky for more than six figures. They sold one of their 12 bottles of 62-year-old whisky for $250,000, however, all of them were not release at the same time. This old single malt is recognized by experts as one of the best and rarest scotch whisky's in the world. In 2002, one of the same bottles was bought for 40,000$ and. three years later. another one was bought for 58,000$.
3. Macallan 64 years old: $460,000
The price of this bottle not only represents the quality of the drink inside the decanter, but also the decanter itself. The bottle, which was created with Lalique crystal, was made utilizing the “lost wax” technique. The carafe was also fabricated with the intent to replicate a 19th century decanter. The bottle has been sold for $460,000 at auction.
2. The Macallan 6-litre "M" Decanter by Lalique: $631,850
Sotheby’s announced having sold a bottle of 64-year-old Macallan for $631,850 in Hong Kong at an auction. The 6 liter bottles are made of crystal by Lalique and it required more than 50 hours to complete with 17 craftsmen that worked on the bottles. The 6 liter "M" decanter is the largest ever made by Lalique and weighs 24.9lbs empty and 37.03lbs when it has been filled. It is the most expensive bottle of single malt ever to be sold at auction to date.
1. The Scotch Whisky Isabella's Islay: $6.2 Million
This Scotch whisky is a very old single malt but the price is not only due to the liquid itself. The crystal decanter is covered in 8,500 diamonds, 300 rubies and white gold at a price of 6.2 million dollars. For this price, one would be happy just to keep the carafe! Luckily, there is a special edition that is less expensive in white gold and crystal for $740,000. Thi whisky can come in various custom casks as well where people can chose to change the rubies for emeralds or any other gem of their choice, and customers can buy whisky refills that come in crystal flutes.