S cotch whisky is an incredibly diverse category with well over one hundred distilleries located across 5 different regions of Scotland. Each has its own production methods, its signature house style and a range of bottlings, old and new, within its canon. With more whisky produced this year than in any previous year, how do you choose which bottles to collect?
To celebrate The Timeless Whisky Collection, which is characterized by its extensive range of aged whiskies, Sotheby’s have put together our ultimate guide to the whiskies over 50 years old that every collector must own.
1. The Macallan 72 Year Old Genesis Decanter in Lalique 42.0 abv
The Macallan 72 Year Old Genesis Decanter was released to celebrating the reopening of the new distillery in 2018 and at the time of its release this was the oldest whisky ever bottled. This has now been exceeded, with The Macallan’s newest release, “Reach”, clocking in at 81 Years Old.
The new distillery at Macallan marked a new age in whisky, one that shed the small facility, for which the producer was well known, and introduced a new age of modernity, with a significantly increased the production capacity. Most notable, however, was the design of the new distillery centre, which is built into the grassland and resembles something that one might expect to find imaged by Peter Jackson. The build of the distillery created undulations in the landscape akin to smooth sine-wave oscillations, which are represented in the shape of this Lalique crystal decanter.
2. Bowmore Black 50 Year Old Last Cask 41.0 abv 1964
There are few serious whisky collectors missing a Black Bowmore from their collection, an expression from Islay’s oldest distillery. These expressions beautifully match Bowmore’s signature mid-‘60s style of tropical fruit distillate and gentle smoke with the richness of heavy Oloroso cask maturation more commonly associated with unctuous Speyside drams. Black Bowmore is the result of a parcel of Oliver and Humbert sherry casks that had been maturing in the No1 Vaults for 3 decades and more.
Black Bowmore was originally released in the mid-1990s at under £100 at UK retailers. The quality was so high that the bottles were swiftly consumed, meaning that now there are very few still in circulation. Suntory initially released 3 expressions from the Black Bowmore stable (First, Second and Final Releases at 29, 30 and 32 years old respectively. The Final release saw a reprisal in 2020 as the highly limited Bowmore DB5), before introducing a 42 Year Old as part of the Bowmore Trilogy (alongside a “White” and a “Gold” expression). The 50 Year Old is the final and oldest iteration of Black Bowmore, known as the “Last Cask.”
3. Highland Park 50 Year Old 44.8 abv
The first 50 Year Old from Highland Park, this bottle is one of the most arresting of any in this auction. Characterized by the solid silver decoration encasing the bottle, Highland Park celebrate both the Celtic and Norse history of the distillery in this whisky.
As a limited release of just 275 designed by jewellery-maker Maeve Gillies, this bottle is enveloped in handcrafted sterling silver depicting the rough waters that surround Orkney. With meticulous attention to detail, this bottle contains a silver replica of the Rose Window from Orkney’s historic St Magnus Cathedral and the distillery’s logo is carved from Orcadian sandstone.
4. The Macallan Millennium Decanter 43.0 abv 1949
Released in 1999 to celebrate the new Millennium, The Macallan Millennium Decanter is instantly recognizable to collectors due to its unique shape. Having spent half a century in Sherry oak before being bottled just prior to the millennium in 1999, this whisky encapsulates the history of post-war floor malting at The Macallan distillery as well as the heavily sherried character for which it is famous.
5. Glenlivet Gordon & MacPhail Generations 70 Year Old 1940
G&M’s Generations range celebrates their family legacy, showcasing the oldest whiskies in their possession which have been lovingly stored by their family members for decades. The Generations series has broken the record for the oldest whisky ever bottled on 3 separate occasions, beginning with their 70 year old releases of Mortlach and Glenlivet, followed by 75 and 80 year old expressions from the save distilleries respectively. This cask was selected by John Urquhart and bottled by his grandsons Michael and David Urquhart as one of only 100 beautiful crystal and sterling silver decanters.
6. Glen Grant 50 Year Old 54.4 abv 1963 (1 BT70)
As the first release directly from the distillery to achieve 50 years of age, this expression was bottled in a decanter that imitates the stills at Glen Grant distillery and is decorated with 18 carat gold detailing and boxed in a Scottish oak presentation case. This expressions celebrates the career of Dennis Malcolm, Glen Grant’s long serving master distiller who filled this cask (sherry butt #5171) himself in 1963 and was the man to select it for bottling in 2013.
7. Glenfarclas 60 Year Old 40.9 abv 1959
Glenfarclas Distillery shares a similar approach to The Macallan, identifying as a Highland Whisky while being situated in the heart of Speyside. Similarly, both distilleries are best known for their dark sherried whiskies and their ability to age in oak for decades. Glenfarclas, however, adds to this its constancy with use of direct-fired stills (meaning that the heat which drives its distillation is generated by an open flame rather than the more common and more modern steam coil system).
Glenfarclas is a family owned distiller and has been since XXXXX when it was bought for XXXX. The Family Collector series celebrates particular members of the Grant Family, with the 50 Year Old being the oldest expression in this range.
8. Probably Speyside's Finest Hunter Laing Old & Rare Platinum 50 Year Old 51.3 abv 1966
This 50 year old expression is from a single cask sourced from an undisclosed distillery. It is common for distilleries to protect their brand name by introducing casks into the independent market without allowing the bottler to reveal its source. There are rumours that this whisky is from Glenfarclas, others say The Macallan. Whatever the source, this is a classic example of sherried Speyside whisky and with only 96 bottles in existence this is a true rarity.
9. The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars 65 Year Old 46.3 abv
As the final release from The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection, the 65 Year Old is the oldest whisky in this set, and was the oldest whisky ever released from The Macallan on its release. This decanter contains the lightest color of liquid from the collection, showing that it is the intensity of cask interaction rather than the length of time in the barrel that determines the tint of a whisky. The resulting liquid, while displaying plenty of richly sherried notes, balances the elegance of The Macallan’s distillate with the complexity of 65 years of cask maturation. This bottle is sold as part of the full Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection.
10. Tamdhu 50 Year Old 55.6 abv 1963
Matured in a first fill European oak sherry butt for five decades, just 100 bottles of Tamdhu 50 Year Old were made available globally. This rare whisky is presented in an exquisitely-designed decanter, created by a team of traditional British craftsmen and women including glass designer Katy Holford, crystal experts Royal Brierley, and the silversmiths at renowned luxury jewellery house Hamilton & Inches.