The whisky arrives at the table in a velvet pouch with a woven ribbon. Inside is a small vial with half an ounce of the precious amber liquid, the most that can be spared to non-paying spirits mavens. Poured into a tulip glass, the bouquet of sweet sandalwood merely hints at what’s to come. On the lips, the flower blooms into a parade of fruit, comprising apple, cherry and sloe plums and mangos. Then comes cinnamon, tangerine, maple candy, toasted wood and marzipan.
A half an hour later you are still sensing its vestiges and wondering if what you just drank could have been extremely old Cognac, or perhaps an ancient Armagnac? No, it was a single malt that managed all of that flavor. Namely, Yamazaki 55, a Japanese whisky that is 55 years old, a melding of spirits from a single distillery, aged in a range of woods. If you can find it, you can cherish a bottle for $60,000.
We are living in an age of super-age whisky. In October, an 80-year-old bottle of Glenlivet sold at auction for $193,000. Macallan, famed for long aging, released a 78-year-old last year. The Balvenie a 73-year-old in 2018, and Mortlach a 75 in 2015. If you’re willing to forfeit a few years you’ll have a better chance at buying a 50-year-old Highland Park or a 45-year-old Dalmore. (Both are resplendent, and you’ll still be able to afford Junior’s tuition.) Just remember that spirits only age when they are in wood, not in glass. The four-year-old your uncle bought but left in the bottle for decades remains a toddler.
Being so exquisite and high priced, these spirits prompt a few questions: why aren’t there more? The obvious answer: economics. Each year of storage brings costs. Taxes are due, yet no profits are reaped. And who knows if the wiliness to lavish on old whisky will last or is just an anomaly? The other is answer: it’s hard. The spirits that are destined for greatness in the golden years have to be selected and then carefully managed. The question to the buyer is “are they worth it?” If you have to ask, no. But people pay more for space shuttle rides. Stop obsessing and cash in your Bitcoin for a sip of ecstasy.