A nip from Loch Ness: The top 10 rarest Scotch whiskies (part 1)
In the rarified atmosphere that is limited edition Scotch, sometimes one might find themselves in the echelons beyond the metaphysical, encountering a bottle so enigmatic that it makes Loch Ness and Stonehenge look commonplace. Few will ever encounter these beasts, and fewer will ever have the chance to purchase them, but should you - they are destined to become more than just whiskies in your prized collection. They represent the finest craftsmanship in Scotland, true pieces of cultural and spiritual engineering that resonate with whiskyphiles - enchanting and ensnaring the soul. Read below to learn about some of the rarest Scotch whiskies in circulation, and stay tuned for part 2 where we explore some even rarer, once-in-a-lifetime Scotch whiskies.
An annual limited edition release that typifies the class and charisma of Scotland's finest whisky producer, The Macallan Editions are a stunning collection of collaborative and uniquely inspired Scotch whiskies that have captured the hearts of collectors across the world. From the Edition No. 1, a luxuriously appointed Scotch whisky, made in collaboration with master whiskey maker Bob Dalgarno, aged in 8 different styles of European and American oak casks, to the Edition No. 5, an inspired collaboration with the Pantone Color Institute that accentuates and illustrates the natural colors and flavors of the Speyside distillery, the Editions showcase the best of the Macallan distillery and have become the height of collectible Scotch since the first release in 2015.
The Macallan x Sir Peter Blake "An Estate, A Community and A Distillery" 750ml combines one of the finest single malt Scotch whiskies in the world with artwork from one of the most iconic pop artists in history. Magnificently crafted and highly collectible, this 95.4 proof single malt Scotch is one of the most coveted bottles ever released by The Macallan, and comes beautifully presented with an artwork by Blake printed on a scroll and included with the bottle. Complex, balanced, and with a bouquet of flavors that spans from rich dried fruits and spice to subtle black pepper, vanilla and treacle, don't miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure one of the rarest single malt Scotch whiskies ever produced by Macallan.
An elegant and decadent Scotch that’s testament to the Balvenie’s remarkable reputation for crafting quality whisky, the Balvenie 50 year old is a masterful statement piece that blends a marriage of four different fifty-year-old casks. Produced by Balavenie’s Master Whisky Maker David Stewart, there are only 110 bottles of this remarkable Scotch whisky in circulation globally, making it one of the most revered, celebrated and coveted bottles on the face of the earth. The historical bottling is carefully crafted and presented with a bespoke wooden tube, adding to the allure and illustrious nature of this iconic piece. A deep and mature Scotch that resounds with oaky, syrupy flavor which is complemented by nuanced hints of orange, toffee and brown sugar, for collectors and connoisseurs, there is no finer Scotch.
Cask number 843, a whisky nurtured by generations of Glenfiddich’s Malt Masters - it was considered to be one of the finest and oldest whiskies that the world would ever see. After 64 years, this nectar was distilled in one of the smallest releases of all time - just 61 bottles. While many speculated that the quality and strength of the whisky would have depleted over 6 decades of maturation, the 1937 Rare Collection Single Malt would retain an incredible potency that boasted a huge aroma and one of the most intricately complex palate experiences - one that Glenfiddich could only dream of. Coming around once every few years, if you’re able to find one of these occasions, don’t hesitate as the bottle will be gone in the blink of an eye.
A record-breaking Scotch whisky, the Dalmore 62 is considered to be the world’s most expensive whisky - and is undoubtedly one of the world’s rarest ever. A historical release, reduced to only 12 bottles globally, this collector’s item is one of the Scotch world’s most elusive and coveted bottles. For connoisseur’s and whisky buffs, this bottle is the Holy Grail, and a bottle that will only continue to become more and more elusive given the state of the market. In 2002, a bottle sold at auction for £22,000, in 2011 a bottle sold for £125,000, and today, it would fetch an eye-watering amount. Perhaps the most elegant, sophisticated and luxurious expression of Scotch in history, the Dalmore 62 is an enigma that few will be lucky to encounter in their lifetime.
Top-shelf Treasures: The whiskeys you must have in your collection (part 1)
For most new collectors, 'hype' whiskeys represent the best bourbons in 2021 and are the top priority when it comes to filling out the top shelf. Everyone wants the latest and greatest bottle from Buffalo Trace, or that bottle that was just featured on the front page of your favorite bourbon blog. But are these hype trains really the best bourbons of 2021, and what happens if you can't seem to successfully hunt down that elusive Pappy 23 or a BTAC unicorn? Where do you turn to next? If this sounds like you or someone you know, then it's time to take a look at some of bourbon's better-hidden gems. Here are some classic bourbon and rye whiskeys that you simply have to consider when building out your collection. These are the bourbon and rye whiskeys that are truly top-shelf, bottles that do more than just "talk".
Kentucky's most iconic bottled-in-bond bourbon, Heaven Hill's Old Fitzgerald has one of the most revered, rollercoaster histories in the bourbon state. Building a reputation in the late 19th century for its exceptional distilling pedigree and peerless manufacturing standards, Old Fitz was purchased by Pappy Van Winkle himself during the prohibition era - a perfect storm, that would combine Old Fitz's character and charisma with the hunger and zeal of an inspired innovative whiskey maker. Resurrected in 2018 by Heaven Hill Distillery, the Old Fitzgerald bi-annual release is one of the most anticipated and widely acclaimed in bourbon whiskey circles, and securing a Decanter should be on the list of every keen collector and connoisseur.
With 9 releases hitting shelves since the renaissance of this powerhouse bourbon, Old Fitzgerald's Bottled in Bond Decanter series has become one of the finest expressions of Kentucky whiskey available to the public. The Spring 2021 Release, aged for 8 years (the youngest bottling in the entire series thus far) and bottled at the requisite 100 proof, is the latest in this storied lineage and brings forth a vibrant and robust flavor profile with the familiar silky smooth mouthfeel and quintessential Old Fitz character. Dark auburn, full of subtle oak and sweet brown sugar which give way to toasted cereal notes, oatmeal and pecan with subtle hints of clove and delicate spice on the palate, beautifully accentuated by a long, warming finish - Old Fitzgerald's Bottled in Bond is a must-have for anyone looking to add a bottle that does more than just carry hype to their collection.
Personifying Sazerac's seemingly faultless ability to produce exceptional whiskeys, 1792's Full Proof is proof that sometimes venturing outside of the typical Buffalo Trace prototype can pay dividends. A distillery with a significant amount of history, surprisingly, it only produces two major bourbons, those being 1792 and Very Old Barton, both of which are shaped by the distillery's traditional distilling processes - outside fermenters, coal-heated boilers, and column stills to name but a few.
There are numerous iterations of 1792 that have garnered widespread critical acclaim, with the 1792 Single Barrel winning 2021's Best Single Barrel Bourbon at this year's 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. You may ask why then, have we selected the Full Proof variety as our must-have bourbon whiskey on this list? The answer is simple enough, the 1792 Full Proof was awarded World Whisky of the Year in Murray's 2020 Whisky Bible, and has received two Gold Medals (2021, 2020) and one Double Gold Medal (2019) at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which make it one of the best, most-consistent barrel proof whiskeys in the world. Bottled at 125 proof, balancing sweet vanilla, caramel, alongside subtle smoke, and imbued with a depth of character that is unsurpassed at its price range, the 1792 Full Proof is an essential addition for whiskyphiles across the globe.
We previously wrote a short piece called 'Beyond Kentucky', which explored a handful of the best and brightest distilleries outside of the bourbon state. WhistePig Distillery was one of those listed, a dedicated rye distiller from Vermont that produces some of the finest and fiercest rye whiskeys in America, and the world. Though WhistlePig may not have the history that many Kentucky based distillers possess, it has experienced a rapid rise to fame since its inception in 2015, it makes up for this with the sheer inspiration and audacity of its products, along with the experience of Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, previously of Maker's Mark.
The most acclaimed and celebrated series from WhistlePig's extensively popular catalog is none other than the Boss Hog Collection, a (so far) 7 part series that explores the distillery's pursuit of the most interesting, innovative and inspired rye whiskey in the world. The latest installment, the Magellan Atlantic 7th Edition, is a testament to this ethos - paying homage to the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe by mirroring the native wood finishes of Magellan's journey. A single barrel, full-proof rye, the Boss Hog VII is aged for 17 years in American Oak, and then finished, first in Spanish stave casks and then in South American teakwood. Producing a rare balance of spice, smoothness and sophistication, expect potent power, creamy vanilla and caramel which intertwine with charred oak, baking spice and woody warmth - a must-have for collectors and connoisseurs of fine rye.
So there you have it, a few of the finer whiskeys available today that you simply must have in your collection. This list is by no means exhaustive and only scrapes the surface of the essential additions to any connoisseur's collection. Join us next week for part 2 of this list where we take a look at a few of the less talked about, non-hype whiskeys that should feature on your top-shelf. Cheers
Hunting Unicorns: The top 10 rarest American whiskeys in the world (part 1)
Exclusive, elusive, evasive, enigmatic. There are some bottles that, no matter how far and wide your search, you just cannot seem to find. They may be hyper-limited edition, circulated in unbelievably short supply, and almost impossible to spot in the wild, which is what makes them the rarest and most coveted bottles in the world.
So what are the rarest bourbon whiskeys in the world? Whatever your penchant, taste, or preference, here is our unofficial list of the rarest American bourbons and whiskeys in the world, and potentially, where you might find them.
Needing no introduction, Pappy 23 is without doubt the most coveted and popular bourbon in contemporary collector circles. The community possesses an insurmountable appetite for this particular drop, and its exceptional age and limited production numbers make it one of the hardest bottles to come by - even sighting this golden elixir is uncommon.
As with all Pappy iterations, the allure and enigmatic nature of the bottle is a huge reason why its popularity has soared so dramatically in recent years, with a true ‘unicorn’ status and eye-watering cult following making it near impossible to find. While it exists as a folk tale for many, for those that have tried it or been lucky enough to secure a bottle for their collection, Pappy van Winkle bourbon is generally accepted as one of the finest and most remarkable sipping digestif bourbons in circulation, with its character and charisma adds to the incredible stature of the brand as a historical tour de force in Kentucky.
It’s rumored that a mere 84,000 bottles of the acclaimed wheated bourbon are produced and allocated annually, many of which are locked to State ballots in the USA and distributed via a lottery. For many, finding a bottle would be as good as winning the lottery, such is its scarcity amidst a mind-boggling level of demand.
Originally made using Stitzel-Weller barrels, today Pappy is produced using Buffalo Trace’s ‘wheated’ mashbill, and produces a silky, velvet-like mouthfeel and a sumptuously smooth flavor profile. Aged for 23 years and possessing a striking, deep amber color, Pappy van Winkle 23 year old bourbon is a scintillating and complex sipping whiskey that combines aromatic undertones (syrup, stone fruits), sweet subtlety (vanilla, toffee, creamy textures) and mellow hints of oak and spice.
Where to find?
A bourbon that by all rights shouldn’t even exist, Colonel E. H. Taylor’s Tornado Surviving Barrel is the extremely fortunate result of an ‘act of god’, a miraculous bourbon whiskey shaped by mother nature’s harshest elements amidst Kentucky’s 2006 tornado outbreak.
Between the 1st and 2nd of January 2006, 20 tornadoes wreaked havoc across the Central and Southern states of America, with Kentucky the epicenter of the damage. Two of Buffalo Traces warehouses were damaged, including the revered Warehouse C, built by Taylor in 1881. With Warehouse C’s infrastructure compromised, a small group of barrels aging in the canopy near the roof were exposed to harsh winds and a large amount of sunlight.
The result was truly remarkable, a breathtakingly sumptuous, decadent bourbon whiskey unlike anything else the distillery had produced before, and only discovered years later upon tasting. While it dealt enormous damage to the building, the tornado imparted a small gift unto the BT distillery in the form of a unique and decadent bourbon whiskey - swimming with aromatic fig and clove, beautifully balancing oaky dryness and spice with lashings of jam, fruit and vanilla and underlying smoke and tobacco.
Today, Taylor’s Warehouse C Tornado Surviving possesses nothing short of cult status, and while there were purportedly 24,000 barrels in Warehouse C at the time of the tornado, today there are extremely few available for purchase.
Where to find it?
Based on a recipe that has since been taken to the grave following the late passing of Master Distiller Booker Noe, Booker’s Rye may never be produced again, and certainly not to the meticulous standards with which it was crafted under the vision of the whiskey’s namesake.
Having been met with hesitation prior to its release, in large part due to Booker’s never venturing into the world of rye previously, Booker’s Straight Rye was named Whisky of the Year by Whisky Bible in 2016, and the limited edition release has been incredibly hard to come by ever since.
Bottled at over 130 proof and imbued with the classic rye grain smell of pepper, oak and leather, Booker’s Rye is a rich and remarkably deep whiskey that delivers nuanced complexity and exceptional balance for such a punchy, heavy hitter. Bold spice and citrus are prominent, while cinnamon and heat are discernible but not overpowering. The finish is symptomatic of all great rye whiskeys, spicy and lingering with an almost chewy oakiness - the quintessential rye finish. It is all of these things and more that make it such a popular, aspirational bottle.
With fewer than 10,000 bottles released and the highly collectible nature of the bottle given its cult-status and the late passing of Booker Noe, the 2016 LE Straight Rye holds a status beyond that of your typical collector's item - it is legend, and for any connoisseur with a penchant for smoke and spice, this rye represents nothing short of a holy grail.
Where to find it?
While Blanton’s is a household name for many bourbon whiskey enthusiasts, those who have started collecting more recently may be unaware of the Buffalo Trace Distillery brand’s most enigmatic and elusive bourbon, the Silver Edition.
Once a prominent ornamental feature in airport Duty-Free liquor departments, today the Silver Edition is discontinued and will, in all probability, never be produced again. Unlike many of Blanton’s most exclusive, limited-edition releases - such as Paris’ La Maison du Whisky Single Barrel, the M&P Festival Editions created specifically for Poland and the Black, Red and Gold Japanese Takara exclusives, the Silver Edition was never limited to a single, specific market - it was widely accessible as a travel retail release - however, most collectors and connoisseurs will never lay eyes on it, that’s how rare it is.
With the wider availability and popularity of the SFTB and Gold Editions, largely due to their higher proof and more robust, full-bodied nature, you may be excused for questioning why anyone would even consider hunting the Silver Edition. A valid point in theory, however, the Silver Edition possesses another degree of complexity, bottled at 98 proof and delicately balancing both bouquet and flavor in a symphonic manner.
Where to find it?
Fans of the BTAC Collection will no doubt be familiar with William Larue Weller, and anyone who has followed ‘hype’ whiskey in the last couple of years will be familiar with the acclaimed W. L. Weller silo from Buffalo Trace Distillery. What they mightn’t know is that the current crop of Weller 12 is actually a different beast to the one that was discontinued following a rebranding in 2017.
The older style bottling may be antiquated, however, collectors and connoisseurs will appreciate these pre-2017 vintages for the history and heritage, as well as for the more unique qualities they possess - less ubiquity across Buffalo Trace’s mash bills being one of the primary differences of this discontinued iteration.
Crafted with Weller’s original wheated bourbon recipe, which was conceived in 1849 and stood the test of time, the older style Weller 12 is heavy on rich caramel and vanilla with an almost thick, molasses-like mouthfeel that oozes luxurious sophistication and quality. Though the current Weller 12 retains most of these fantastic attributes, and to some extent is a more ‘modern’ new age whiskey, for those that appreciate the icons of Kentucky bourbon, the vintage 12-year-old Weller is unable to be surpassed.
Frequently cropping up on auction sites when a lone bottle is uncovered, this is one of the rarest and most hard-to-find bourbon whiskeys in the world, and will certainly cost you a pretty penny given its ‘antique’ collector's item status.
Where to find?