There is something remarkable about sipping a dram of vintage whisky. Imbued in even that very first taste are all the tradition and effort that went into distilling it and how much the world has changed in the years it spent aging in a barrel. It can be a small sip of history—a boozy time machine.
In recent years, the demand for 30-, 40-, and 50-year-old scotches has increased dramatically, and thankfully for whisky lovers, many distilleries are responding with more frequent releases of exceptional vintages. Unfortunately, along with that trend come collectors, nerds, and connoisseurs, and in-turn, unprecedentedly high price tags and limited availability. For those with an affinity for the old stuff, there is a way to secure a bottle (or a dram) for yourself. Here is a selection of some of the latest and greatest old-age-statement whiskies that have been recently released—a range of blends, single malts, and a few of the rarest unicorns to hit the market.
The Balvenie 50
The most recent Balvenie Fifty was distilled in 1963 and matured in a European oak sherry hogshead cask before its release last year. The exquisite whisky inside the bottle has a sweet gingery nose with a velvety palate of dark fruits, honey, ginger, baking spices, subtle smoke with hints of fresh fruit and the distillery's signature mandarin orange. One hundred and 28 bottles were available worldwide, and only 20 were released to the United States. Today there are a few available for sale for the prices ranging from $28,000 to $40,000, although those who do not want to commit to a whole bottle can drop into the Bull & Bear Bar at New York's Waldorf Astoria for a $2,500 dram of liquid history.
The Glenlivet "The Winchester Collection" 1966
The sophomore release of the Glenlivet's Winchester Collection dates from 1966, and was released two years after the 1964 vintage. The eponymous collection is rumored to have five vintages in total, all hand-selected by Master Distiller Alan Winchester. The 1966 is dramatically different from the first release–the 1964 embodied the signature tropical flavors of the Glenlivet such as pineapple and pear, and in contrast the 1966 comes from an ex-sherry cask and has moody flavors of molasses, coffee, blackened orange peel, fruit cake, candied anise, with a minty finish. The 1966 is a truly unique and unusual release to come from the Glenlivet, a beautiful addition to a growing collection of incredibly collectable single malts.
Royal Salute 32-Year-Old Union of the Crowns
The youngest release in the Royal Salute portfolio is a blend of 21-year-old single malts, the first benchmark of quality for a uniquely wonderful blended scotch. And yet, Royal Salute continues to release older blends of even more rare and difficult to find single malts, including this year's 32-year-old expression that celebrates the creation of the British monarchy in 1603. The Union of the Crowns is a blend of whiskies aged for a minimum of 32 years, coming from the distilleries of Longmorn, Glen Keith, Tormore, Braeval, in addition to Lochside and Caperdonich, two distilleries that have been closed for years (and thereby increasingly rare and expensive). The result is a sophisticated blended scotch with rich and velvety flavors of caramel, dark chocolate, oranges, ripe pears, licorice, and ginger cake. If you want to get your hands on a bottle of this limited-edition release you will need to book an international flight because the Union of the Crowns is only available in travel retail locations.
$380 (available only at travel retail outlets)
Each year Brian Kingsman, the Master Distiller of Glenfiddich, walks through the dark and musty Speyside warehouses, selects a few exceptional barrels, and meticulously blends them with the vattings of the previous year's Glenfiddich 40 release. Although the bottle says 40 years old, there are significantly older whiskies blended with the youngest 40-year-old cask, making this bottle a wonderful value for those looking for exceptionally old scotches. Only 600 bottles of this award-winning whisky are released annually, and each new release is highly anticipated by whisky lovers worldwide. The Glenfiddich 40 has flavors of dried fruit, baked apples, clove, dark roasted coffee, dark chocolate, with a touch of peaty smoke and tanned leather.
The Dalmore Constellation Collection
Richard Paterson has been at the helm of the Dalmore for more than 40 years, and during his tenure as master blender he has been experimenting with different types of wood casks, with his work showcased most prominently in the distillery's Constellation Collection (above top). It's an impressive range of vintages ranging in dates from 1964 to 1992, and each bottle is wildly different from the next. The 1964 spent 43 years in American oak followed by 3 years in a Matusalem Oloroso sherry cask, a finish that gives it the flavors of coffee, dark berries, peaches, and blood oranges. Although the Dalmore is known for its sherry cask finishes, the most surprising and exciting releases from the distillery use non-traditional casks; take, for instance, the 1973 Constellation Collection, which spent 32 years in American oak, three years in cabernet sauvignon French oak, and a final three years in an American oak "small batch" barrel. The influence of the cabernet sauvignon is powerful, adding layers of fruity flavors such as cranberry, black cherry, plum, and vanilla. The complete set of 21 releases can be purchased for roughly $300,000.
Japanese whisky has been giving scotch a run for its money in recent years, and has quickly become the whisky world's latest obsession. The result? Limited stock, higher price points, and the demand for more vintage releases. Hibiki is one of the world's best blended whiskies, a meticulous and artful blend of grain and malt whisky made in Suntory's Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries. Although most believe that the oldest Hibiki is the 21-year-old, there are occasional releases of older blends. Notably, the release of the 35-year-old Arita Kutani 2017 became available for pre-order in November of this year and has already caused a craze amongst Japanese whisky fans. This year's rare release is a blend of sherry, bourbon,and mizunara cask aged whiskies ranging from 35 to 54 years old. The Hibiki 35-year-old release, part of a limited-edition supply of 150 bottles available only in Japan, comes in a handmade Arita ceramic decanter.
This month the Islay distillery Bowmore has released the last 50 bottles of its 1961 50-Year-Old, a scotch aged in ex-bourbon casks just a few feet from the shore of Loch Indaal in the No. 1 Vaults, located a stone's throw from the ocean that gives the liquid its signature salty brine. The 1961 release is the first of six 50-year-old single malts that the distillery will release annually in what is sure to be a highly coveted collection of vintages from the legendary distillery. The 1961 vintage is fruit-forward due to the influence of the American oak, with flavors of ripe tropical fruit, pineapple, papaya, and the unique flavor of black truffles and salty peat.
Black Bowmore 1964
There are many whiskies considered to have achieved "cult" status, but perhaps none more so than Black Bowmore, a unicorn of the whisky world known to humble the snobbiest of whisky nerds. Black Bowmore is a first-fill sherry cask single malt that was filled on November 5, 1964 and spent its life aging in the infamous No. 1 Vaults, the oldest holding area for aging casks on the island. In 1993 Bowmore released the first batch of Black Bowmore 1964, which is credited as kicking off not only the vintage scotch trend, but also the cult-like obsession for both peat and sherry-cask single malts. The 1993 release spent 29 years aging in oak and sold for between £80 and £100. This year's release, which has been aged 50 years, is priced at £16,000 and maintains its deep range of flavors thanks to the quality of cask and distillation. Some say it is a religious experience–a "deep, black pearl of darkness" with flavors of toffee, roasted nuts, dark chocolate, wild game, espresso beans, tobacco, black cherries, jammy fruit, and the peaty essence of a seaside bonfire that is signature to a Bowmore single malt. The allotment for the United States is scheduled to be released in the Spring 2017 at a suggested retail price of $25,000. Plan accordingly.
In 2015, the Macallan was ranked as the most valuable whisky brand at auction, and impressively the distillery's whiskies were more than 25 percent of the total value traded. Macallan whiskies are more than just a beverage—they are an investment. Unsurprisingly, the distillery has created limited-edition vintage releases that perform exceptionally well at auction including the Speyside distillery's Lalique Six Pillars Collection. This summer, Macallan unveiled the sixth and final whisky in the Six Pillars Collection, the oldest and rarest whisky to be released by the distillery to date.
The liquid inside the art deco-inspired handblown Lalique crystal decanter is sherry-cask whisky aged for 65 years (65 years!) with an impressive range of flavors including dates, toffee, bruleed orange, dark chocolate, subtle peat, honey, and vanilla bean.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.