Best expensive whiskies worth the price tag: Macallan, Glengoyne, Tobermory, Glenfiddich

Expensive whiskies have been hitting the headlines more and more recently, but which ones are worth the splurge? Rosalind Erskine finds out.

Published 26th Aug 2022
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

The last few years have thrown up some seriously expensive whiskies. As stock matures, certain distilleries have been able to bottle and release whiskies that are 70 or over 80 year old. While these are out of most people’s price range, older whiskies don’t always have to break the bank.

Are older whiskies better?

For years this was considered to be the case, although many experts and commentators now say this isn’t necessarily the case. It really depends on taste. An older whisky will have spent much longer in the cask, and will generally be smoother, and in some cases, sweeter.

There’s rarely the burn you get from strong alcohol. But as whisky maturation techniques have evolved, younger whiskies and non age statements are often excellent, and of excellent value. Buyers should also be aware that some very old whiskies may no longer benefit from such long exposure to the wood from the cask, and be dry or without depth of flavour.

Why are single malt whiskies so expensive?

A single malt whisky takes years to mature and the older it is, the rarer it becomes due to evaporation (the angel’s share). A lot of whiskies that are being sold for record amounts just now are from the 60s. Distilleries such as Macallan, Bowmore and Glenglassaugh have gone through huge changes since then, meaning these whiskies are a snapshot of a period in time at the distillery, never to be replicated. It’s the rarity and scarcity that drive up the price tag.

Is it worth buying expensive whisky? 

As with all whiskies, it depends on your taste and budget, but if you can afford to treat yourself then yes. Most older whiskies are extremely enjoyable and a reflection of the skill of the master blender, who has made certain decisions along the years (cask selection and marrying being two of the biggest) to create well balanced whiskies that still have distillery character, but also influence of years of the wood from the cask.

What’s the price increase in rare whisky?

Rare whisky has become increasingly sought-after by investors in recent years. Andrew Shirley, editor of the Knight Frank Wealth Report, said: “Over the last 10 years rare whisky has been the top performing asset class in our Luxury Investment Index. Our index, which tracks a basket of rare bottles sold at auction, has increased in value 428% over the last decade, and 9% in the past year.”

What’s the oldest Scotch whisky released?

Earlier this year, The Macallan released an 81 year old single malt, with just 288 decanters available. Although this is officially this distillery’s oldest, they’ve already launched a couple of limited-edition 70 year old drams in the last year.

The most recent was Tales of The Macallan Volume I, released in August last year, which features a single malt that dates back to 1950. Also in 2021, Gordon & MacPhail released an 80-year-old whisky which was produced at the Glenlivet Distillery.

What’s the highest paid for a Scotch whisky?

Ardbeg Distillery on Islay recently hit the headlines when it sold a single cask for £16m, that’s £36,000 per bottle although these won’t be coming on the market. The most expensive whisky in the world, so far, is a Macallan 1926 60-year-old, which sold for a whopping $2.3million US (£1,950,538).

Christie’s of London sold the bottle at the Finest & Rarest Wines & Spirits auction. The ultra-rare bottle was distilled in 1926, then aged in ex-sherry casks in Scotland for 60 years, until 1986, when it was bottled. It is one of a 24 bottle limited edition series. The bottle was hand-painted by renowned Irish artist Michael Dillon - the only one of the 24 to be painted - hence the price tag!

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If you’re able to treat yourself, we take a look at some of the best whiskies available that are worth the hefty price tag.

Glengoyne 50 year old

Glengoyne 50 year old
Glengoyne 50 year old

Price: £22,500

Best for: newbies to older whisky

In 2020 Glengoyne announced the launch of its oldest ever expression - a 50 Year Old Highland Single Malt. Glengoyne 50 Year Old comes in a special crystal decanter, which features an engraved goose emblem representing the geese who migrate to the Glen each winter.

Tasting notes: on the nose you may get apples and cloves, while on the palate there’s treacle, liquorice and black pepper.

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Score: 5/5 

Buy it here: Glengoyne 50 year old

Macallan 21 year old fine oak

Macallan 21 year old fine oak
Macallan 21 year old fine oak

Price: £2000

Best for: collectors

Macallan has become so sought after, and there’s a good reason why. Not only do the record breaking prices paid for it make its worth go up, it's also a very good dram. The 21 year old fine oak has been matured in a mix of sherry or bourbon casks giving it a balanced profile.

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Tasting notes: On the nose there’s vanilla, while on the palate there’s passion fruit and orange.

Score: 4/5 

Buy it here from Amazon: Macallan 21 year old fine oak

Or here from The Whisky Exchange: Macallan 21 year old fine oak

Glenfiddich Grand Cru

Glenfiddich Grand Cru
Glenfiddich Grand Cru

Price: £205.99

Best for: a celebration

Glenfiddich Grand Cru is a 23 year old single malt, which has been aged in American and European oak casks before being finished in French oak cuvée wine casks for up to six months. It’s an excellent whisky for the money.

Tasting notes: On the nose there is apple blossom, freshly baked bread and candied lemon, whereas the taste has layers of rich vanilla oak, sweet brioche, sandalwood, pear sorbet and white grape. The finish is long, sweet and smooth.

Score: 5/5

Buy it here: Glenfiddich Grand Cru

Tobermory 23 Year Old Oroloso Cask

Tobermory 23 Year Old Oroloso Cask
Tobermory 23 Year Old Oroloso Cask

Price: £240

Best for: Sherry fans

Tobermory Distillery released the Tobermory 23 Year Old Oroloso Cask Finish in late 2020. This sherried single malt then joined the distillery’s core malt range.

Tasting notes: The team at Tobermory said: "The deep rose-gold sherried single malt has unique notes of vanilla, ripe oranges, toasted barley and fruitcake on the nose.

Score: 4/5 

Buy it here: Tobermory 23 Year Old Oroloso Cask

The Glenturret 30 Year Old

The Glenturret 30 Year Old
The Glenturret 30 Year Old

Price: £1,650

Best for: sipping

This whisky has spent three decades maturing and has been drawn from eight selected American and European first fill casks. It has a sweet yet complex flavour.

Tasting notes: there are hints of toffee, chocolate, cinnamon and bananas on the palate.

Score: 4/5 

Buy it here: The Glenturret 30 Year Old

Fettercairn 46 year old

Fettercairn 46 year old
Fettercairn 46 year old

Price: £8,300

Best for: a very special occasion 

Fettercairn Distillery released a rare 46 years old expression in 2020. The spirit has been maturing in casks under the watchful eye of distillery manager John Livie initially in 1973, to Stewart Walker today.

Shaped by the American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels, this single malt went onto spend four years in 40-years-old Tawny Port Pipes.

Tasting notes: The team say that this creative maturation: "gave the classic tropical character a greater depth of sweetness, marrying perfectly with the distinctive flavours created from the unique cooling ring, which defines Fettercairn’s pure spirit.”

Score: 4/5 

Buy it here: Fettercairn 46 year old

The Balvenie The Tale of the Dog

The Balvenie The Tale of the Dog
The Balvenie The Tale of the Dog

Price: £9,000

Best for: fans of The Balvenie

The Balvenie released The Tale of the Dog, the latest addition to the coveted Balvenie Stories range, in late 2021. Inspired by one of The Balvenie’s longest serving characters, The Tale of the Dog tells the story of one of Coppersmith, Dennis McBain’s clearest memories working at the distillery over 50 years ago.

Aged for 42 years, The Tale of the Dog is a smooth and honeyed expression of The Balvenie.

Tasting notes: this is a very balanced whisky which has hints of toffee, nuts, honey and spice with a lingering oak finish.

Score: 5/5 

Buy it here: The Balvenie The Tale of the Dog

Springbank 24 Year Old 1966

Springbank 24 Year Old 1966
Springbank 24 Year Old 1966

Price: £12,000

Best for: Campbeltown enthusiasts 

Springbank has become extremely sought after in recent years, and this rare bottling will be a dream buy for fans of this Campbeltown distillery. This 24 year old was distilled in 1966 and aged until 1990 - and was released as part of the Local Barley series.

Tasting notes:on the nose there’s rich oak while on the palate you may find toffee, pepper, liquorice, chocolate, stone fruits such as plums and vanilla. The finish is long and sweet yet oaky.

Score: 5/5 

Buy it here: Springbank 24 Year Old 1966

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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