Spending up to $500 for a single bottle of Scotch whisky deserves a spit take. On paper, it sounds absurd, crazy, maybe even a little dumb. You can buy all 10 of the bottles on this list for the same price. But we’re not here to compare price tags. We’re here to talk about Scotch whisky that actually deserves your attention at this (very high) price point.
Before I dive in, let’s explain a little about what these whiskies are. These aren’t really the collectible bottles (or unicorns) yet. We’re talking about the rare-to-very-rare bottles that are still worth drinking (as opposed to holding onto, like appreciative assets). Every bottle on this list has its own panache that makes it special. They’re also all pretty well-aged whiskies, with only three out 10 clocking in south of 20 years old. The point being, these are special bottles for special occasions. Sure, you might make some cash holding onto one or two of these for a decade, but that’s not at all the point of this list. These are meant to be drunk and enjoyed with the people you care about.
Having said all of that, I get it, $500 for a single bottle of booze is still a little absurd. If you are going to spend it, at the very least, know that you’ll be getting some of the best of the best out there at this price point. Which does make trying to rank these damn near impossible. I like to think about it this way: the top four on this list are open on my shelf right now, and I actually drink these when I need to break out a great bottle. The rest of the list are all bangers that I don’t get to quite as often and end up collecting a lot of dust on my shelf. Cool? Let’s get into it!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Scotch Whisky Posts of The Last Six Months
10. The Glenlivet XXV
Average Price: $456
This masterpiece from Glenlivet is their iconic whisky that’s left to mature for 25 years. That whisky is then finished in an Olorosso sherry cask for that final chef’s kiss before going in the bottle at an incredibly accessible 86 proof.
Imagine the best, most bespoke dark chocolate-covered raisins from an expensive chocolate shop and you’ll be on the right track. Those sweets are the foundation for burnt orange peels, Almond Roca candies, and sweet caramel malts with zero edges. The finish is so long that you might still be thinking about it on your death bed, thanks to an orange/spice/nutty matrix of silky whisky smoothness.
The Glenlivet XXV is a wonderful whisky. The only reason it ranks so low on this list is those low ABVs. This is nuanced but lacks the depth of some of the other whiskies on this list.
9. BenRiach The Twenty One Four Cask Matured
Average Price: $300
This newly-released whisky from BenRiach is a combination of peated and unpeated malts. The whiskies are then aged for 21 years in ex-bourbon barrels, ex-sherry casks, virgin oak casks, and former Bordeaux red wine casks. Those are then blended after their two-decade rest and proofed with that soft Speyside water.
Smoked apricot opens this one up on the nose with a sweetness that leads toward salted plums with a hint of spice and malt on the nose. The taste delves into a honeyed sweetness spiked with spicy stewed apples, old and wet oak, roasted almonds, and a big tobacco chew while a touch of burnt moss and dark soil adds a peaty yet earthy depth. That all tapers off, leaving you with a rich apple candy finish that tempers a singed cedar and dry pear tobacco finish with a hint more that burnt dirt.
This isn’t my favorite peated whisky but it is certainly interesting and tasty. If you’re looking for a more earthy peated malt with a nice balance of sweet fruit, then this is the play. If you’re looking for a briny peated malt or a big medicinal peated malt, you’ll be disappointed.
8. Glenfiddich Grand Cru 23
Average Price: $360
It’s all in the name of this yearly special release from Glenfiddich. The whisky matures for over 23 years in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before it’s vatted and then filled into French Cuvée casks that held Champagne. That whisky is then cut down to proof and bottled just in time for the holiday season.
This burst forth with an apple orchard in full bloom, day-old brioche, and a sweet yet tart lemon curd on the nose. The palate is all vanilla cookies with pear candy, white grapes, and singed potpourri leading toward a mid-palate of honey. That honey circles back towards the pear with a slight core and stem feel as the finish slowly fades back through all that honey and orchard fruit for the softest landing possible.
Again, this is pretty stellar. Again, this falters ever-so-slightly thanks to those very low ABVs. This is a great sipper if you’re looking for something super easy and refined. If you’re looking for a genre-defining single malt, you might be a little let down.
7. The GlenAllachie 21 Cask Strength
Average Price: $265
Glenallachie’s Master Distiller Billy Walker hand-selected just five casks for this release. The barrels were ex-Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry puncheons (a large barrel that’s around 100 gallons, give or take). Those whiskies were vatted and bottled as-is.
There’s a note of grapefruit pith when you nose this dram that leads towards honeyed chocolate truffles with a touch of cinnamon and orange. The palate goes full Christmas cake with plenty of dried nuts, candied and dried fruits, rich wintry spice, and a touch of chocolate maltiness next to candied ginger, more orange, and a note of golden corn syrup. That sweetness attaches to the fruit and spice to create a stewed plum vibe on the finish that luxuriates in mild spice, sweet and meaty stone fruit, and a touch more of that chocolate.
The Bottom Line:
This is so damn good. The higher ABVs help this one really stand out. Still, this feels very “classic” and Christmas-y, which keeps it more of a holiday sipper than a year-round one. That said, just save it for the holidays and you’ll be set.
6. Benrinnes 21
Average Price: $480
Benrinnes is that other distillery in Aberlour up in Speyside. The distillery is also one of the only malts that are triple distilled (like Irish whiskey). The juice in this bottle goes back to that era of distillation with a focus on sherry cask maturation over two decades before bottling as-is.
The nose is full of peanut brittle touched with finishing salts, match flints, brewer’s yeast, Milk Duds, and sticky toffee pudding. The palate leans into the date cake and adds bold eggnog spices next to a bowl full of dried fruits soaking in brandy next to a savory fruit that’s halfway between a cucumber and winter squash. The finish lingers for a while and leaves you with an almost burnt chocolate maltiness, salt flakes, and more of those dates.
This feels both unique and nostalgic, thanks to all that boxed chocolate candy flavor. I like this, but it is a little outside the box and might be off putting to some (matchsticks and cucumber are a lot even for advanced palates). If you’re looking for something truly one-of-a-kind, this is the bottle to buy.
5. Royal Lochnagar 16 The Spring Stallion
Average Price: $287
This eastern Highland whisky is another cask strength drop from Diageo’s Special Release lineup. The juice was aged in refill bourbon barrels and left alone for 16 long years. There was no finishing cask. The whisky was simply vatted and bottled as-is.
Soft, soft, and soft. Those could be the full notes on the nose, palate, and finish and we could move on. More deeply, the nose is full of mild notes of dates next to tart apples and orange peels that turn into an apple cobbler of sorts as this very mellow, almost damp, mossy earthiness peek in. That tart apple and orange zest drive the palate towards a soft malted cookie frosted with light powdered sugar and vanilla frosting. The end warms up with a slight pepper tobacco vibe next to a distant idea of a dry woodpile next to that tart fruit.
This is where this list gets interesting (for my palate). This feels like stopping by your grandma’s house right after she baked an apple pie, and she’s waiting for you on the front porch smoking a Pall-Mall and sipping whisky. It transports you while being so distinct, deeply hewn, and easy to drink.
4. Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Year
Average Price: $320
This is Ardbeg’s yearly release of special batches of 19-year-old peaty malt. The whisky is Ardbeg’s signature, heavily peated whisky that’s bottled during a “haar.” That’s a thick and briny foggy morning on Islay, which imparts that x-factor into the whisky before it goes into the bottle.
You’re drawn in with a super subtle waft of soft smoke with hints of sour cream, fennel, and cold-smoked salmon on a pine cutting board that’s been washed in the sea. The palate holds onto that briny seaside vibe as it veers towards sea salt-laden dark bricks of fudge bespeckled with dried orange zest and lavender. The end circles back around to a sooty smoke that feels like a warm granite rock that’s been dipped in the sea and then rolled around in the dying embers of a fire.
This stuff is bold but it really all makes sense if you give it a shot with an open mind and palate. A single rock can really open this up and help it be a little more accessible. Still, we’re talking about a special peated malt that’s worth at least giving a shot at a high-end whisky bar before committing to a whole bottle.
3. The Dalmore King Alexander III
Average Price: $300
The Dalmore sort of did the impossible with this expression. The blend is a marrying of six barrels: French wine, Madeira, sherry, Marsala, port, and Kentucky bourbon casks are all in play. This is one of the more creative and extreme examples of barreling in the single malt game, and results in an award-winning whisky.
There’s a deep sense of fruit on the nose which really leans into raspberry, red currant, and a touch of blueberry with chocolate maltiness and creamy bourbon vanilla. The palate embraces the vanilla to the point of creating a pudding texture while dark chocolate-covered almonds lead towards cherry brandy, hints of boozy oranges, and salted caramel ice cream. The end is long and full of Christmas spices that bring everything together like a brandy-fueled, marzipan-heavy, and fruity dessert-laden holiday meal in a Glencairn glass.
This pulls off a great magic trick of being lower ABV and unpeated while still having a huge flavor profile that grabs your attention and holds it for a while. Even with the “holiday” vibes of this sip, it still feels like a great sipper year-round. This pour just rules.
2. Talisker 25
Average Price: $398
This whisky is a marriage of American bourbon barrels, Spanish sherry casks, and Talisker’s seaside location. The whiskies in this single malt spend a minimum of 25 years resting in old bourbon and sherry barrels a few short steps from the sea in the Isle of Skye. Talisker’s tiny warehouse feels a bit like an old pirate ship that’s seen too many sea battles and that aura is imbued into every barrel as it matures.
The nose opens with fresh beeswax candles next to unfiltered apple cider, dried roses, and a wisp of campfire smoke from a mile or so down a rocky and rainy beach. Sea salt combines with old cellars full of cobwebs as wet moss, wisteria in full bloom, and orange tobacco mingles on the palate. The mid-palate dries out with some cedar bark as singed rose pedals lead towards singed orange peels with this tiny echo of dark red cherry on the very back end of the finish.
This is one of my all-time favorite whiskies from any category. It’s the perfect balance of seaside, mild peat, woody spice, and sweet Scottish fruit and herbs that works wonders in a glass. If you pair this with some good caviar, rich smoked salmon chowder, or raw oysters, you’ll be in for one of the best whisky pairings that exists.
1. Springbank 21
Average Price: $473
This 21-year-old whisky, released in 2021, was crafted with help from old Port, sherry, and bourbon barrels. The peated whisky from the tiny Campbeltown region is built to highlight the unique and very fruity notes of the style while having its own vibe.
The nose is all about the malt that’s a mix of oatmeal cookie and a Graham cracker with rich vanilla pudding notes, a touch of buttery toffee, and a final burst of deep red strawberries. The fruitiness takes on a savory note that’s kind of like smoked watermelon before heading back towards those cookies with plenty of cinnamon warmth and nutty depth on the palate. The finish arrives slowly with a nod towards peat as a passing fancy that’s buried beneath a vanilla cream laced with cinnamon, oats, raisins, and bitter over-roasted coffee beans.
The Bottom Line:
This beats out my beloved Talisker by having slightly more unique notes (smoked watermelon!) alongside a rich and creamy texture that sings on the palate. This is just phenomenal whisky from top to bottom and, believe it or not, worth every single penny of that price tag.