A Boat, A Scot, and the Most Expensive Whisky in the World

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GlenfiddichMoored to the pier on the south end of New York's Battery Park, the white yacht pitched up and down on oily waves. But even a queasy ride across the harbor couldn't deter the host of whisky lovers, journalists, PR professionals and assorted party people from streaming aboard, eager to begin their trip to the Statue of Liberty. It was going to be a historic night.

In honor of its 125th birthday, Glenfiddich -- the world's top-selling single malt scotch -- has released what is, arguably, the most expensive whisky in the world. The Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve, a 55-year-old scotch, is being auctioned off in an extremely limited edition of only eleven bottles. The first two have already broken records: Bottle No. 1 sold for $72,630 and No. 2 went for $69,656. Thursday's auction, the third, wasn't expected to fetch as much -- generally, the first and last bottles of a limited edition whisky run sell for top dollar, while the others go for a fair bit less. Still, it promised to be an interesting evening.

On the boat, spirits were high as a pair of smiling bartenders poured glass after glass of the evening's first signature cocktail from a large plastic tank. As the boat swayed across the harbor, party-goers washed down their queasiness with the fruity, scotch-laced potion and made jokes about the Titanic.

The evening's venue made a certain kind of sense: Like Glenfiddich, the Statue of Liberty is celebrating its 125th birthday. In fact, the evening commemorated a series of anniversaries. The 55-year-old scotch, for example, was named after the last living granddaughter of Glenfiddich's founder, who celebrated her 110th birthday last August. This isn't the first extremely limited edition whisky to be named after Roberts: William Grant's sole remaining granddaughter had whisky lines bottled in honor of her 100th, 105th and 107th birthdays. The 110th, however, has proven the most valuable by far.

At the base of the Statue of Liberty, a few hundred feet behind her majestic backside, representatives from William Grant & Sons, the company that owns Glenfiddich, erected a capacious tent. Inside, the third golden bottle of the Janet Sheed Roberts reserve perched on a narrow wooden table, illuminated by a single spotlight that cast a pale halo around the precious spirit. Behind, a stern Eastern European guard stood sentinel, prepared to step in should any inquisitive party-goers venture too close to the hallowed whisky. Nearby, Glenfiddich brand ambassadors poured shots of the company's 12, 15, 18, and 21-year-old whiskies as a live band played at the other end of the tent.

GlenfiddichA Slow Maturation That Led to a
'Richer, Deeper Flavor'

Brian Kinsman is one of the few people who know what Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve tastes like. The Master Mixer for William Grant and Sons, he's the man who determines when a scotch is ready to go to market. As he explains it, "When a spirit is first put in a cask, it has two basic flavors: a grassy taste and a fruity, almost pear-like flavor." Over time, the grass dissipates, while the fruit taste grows more strong and vibrant. Generally, whisky doesn't take 55 years to mature, but, for some reason, the Roberts Reserve aged very slowly. In the process, its "fruitiness became more concentrated," Kinsman stated, ultimately yielding a "richer, deeper flavor that is not unlike dried fruit."

As the evening wore on, the bidders fought furiously to join Kinsman in the small cadre of people who have tasted the Roberts Reserve. Host Adrian Grenier joined the crowd in its cheers as the price rose higher and higher, first surpassing the second bottle, then the first, before finally finishing at $94,000. The winner was real estate developer Mahesh Patel. Proceeds from the auction will go to SHFT Initiatives, a green-lifestyle group that promotes sustainable living.

While news reports were quick to tout the record-breaking sale, $94,000 doesn't quite qualify the Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve as the most expensive single malt in history -- that honor goes to a bottle of 64-year-old Macallan scotch that sold for $460,000 in 2010. And even the Macallan doesn't count as the most expensive scotch in history -- that honor goes to Dalmore Trinitas, a blended whiskey that was produced in an extremely limited edition of just three bottles, which sold for £100,000 apiece.

That having been said, the Roberts Reserve certainly ranks high. And, as a company spokesperson noted, the Macallan's price was partly attributable to the one-of-a-kind Lalique decanter in which it was packaged, which means that the Roberts Reserve only qualifies as the highest-priced single malt ever sold solely based on the liquor itself. To add insult to injury, even this modest record may soon be broken: as the remaining seven bottles of Roberts Reserve go up for auction over the next few months, there's a good chance that the $94,000 price tag will be surpassed.

In the meantime, Glenfiddich has also done something for whisky lovers who can't afford to drop almost six figures on a fifth of booze. The company is slowly expanding its product line in order to offer fresh tastes, offering -- among other products -- a new whisky, Solera, that uses a two-cask aging method, finishing its 15-year-old whisky in virgin oak casks. While seemingly minor, this is a big move for the distillery, which has historically used only old bourbon casks for aging. The two-stage method gives the tipple a flavor that Kinsman describes as "big, lush, and full of caramel and vanilla."

As for the future, Kinsman is tight-lipped: "Some of our long-term experiments are just hitting the market now, but we've got other things in the distilling stage that won't come to fruition for 12, 15, 18 years or more. It's not an instant gratification business," he laughs, admitting that "The thing I like most is laying things down for the next generation. We're filling the pipeline for the future."


Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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30 Comments

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mcclearys

The general bitterness of the less fortunate (I guess that’s what they’d call themselves) is sad and further evidence of what is wrong with the world. While they muster hostility for something as mundane as a Whisky auction, they COULDN’T BE OUT SAVING THE WORLD? But instead they took a break to run down that which they can’t do? Guess what….. I can’t buy a 500 dollar bottle of Whisky, let alone one for 94K but I don’t begrudge those who can…the truth is those with that kind of wealth, if for no other reason than a tax write off, give more money to those in need than you and your entire family will in a life time…so before you write a scathing expose on those who have what you don’t, get a mirror and then get outside and practice what you preach..

Chad

March 20 2012 at 10:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Vince

So..... you often wondered how the filthy stinking rotten rich spend their fortunes, huh??

March 20 2012 at 10:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Vince's comment
cpo1514

Vince.... you earn the $$$$, you spend what you earn... the difference is the Libs want to spend the money you make... WRONG!!!! The poor and 'victims' will always be with us, the Libs will always spend others money if you let them.

March 20 2012 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gwnichol

The poor can't afford bread? Let them drink Scotch, ha,ha,ha,ha,ha.....

March 20 2012 at 10:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
amosbyrd

These blended Scotch Whiskey's are a travesty to real drink. They are just a mesh mash of blended drinks and Kool-aid flavors. There is really no such thing as a single malt whiskey. Which is supposed to be from a single batch, uncut and unflavored. This is all just hype and BS.

The only real drink is pure Kentucky Bourbon. That is by law, uncut, unadulterated, and never flavored. You can't even use the barrels again. These Scotch Whiskeys are made using throw away US Bourbon barrels from Kentucky.

Whiskey in general, and especially Scotch Whiskey is nothing more than a blend of stuff: some good, mostly bad. No better than a good Canadian Club Whiskey. That's why they make watered down mixed drinks out of it, and even put water in the whiskey before they sell it.

Storing a blended Whiskey for 25, 30, or more years or longer; does not turn it into a good Bourbon. Just an expensive farce.

Any bottle of Seagram's Single Malt (they invented the term and it is defined by law) BOOKER'S Bourbon served in a cool glass, straight up, no ice, neat, would taste 10 times better than any half baked over priced blended Kool-Aid Scotch Whiskey on the planet.

At $75/bottle of Booker's vs $50,000+/bottle for an inferior old Scotch, I think I'll continue to sip the good stuff "Southern Style," and just sit back in the rocking chair and watch all the suckers waste their money drinking that blended Scotch swill in mixed drinks that cover up what little taste they really have in them. Or, water them down to a level that real men would consider a kiddy drink.

March 20 2012 at 10:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to amosbyrd's comment
jwsexton9

where in the world do you get your facts????or info that believe,,,,lol

March 20 2012 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mcclearys

Bourbon is fine, but no its not better than a very fine single Malt. The rest of your rant is just a silly territorial bias.

Chad

March 20 2012 at 10:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rkeeeballs

Prices paid were/are stupid !..but you go ahead ! Always amazes what fooli$h people spend $ on !

March 20 2012 at 10:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rkeeeballs's comment
cpo1514

Prices reflect market value... just like the sports icons..... they are worth what you pay....

March 20 2012 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anonymous

A boat, a Scot, and spellcheck...........W-H-I-S-K-E-Y

March 20 2012 at 9:55 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Anonymous's comment
Bruce Watson

Scotch whisky is spelled without the e.

March 20 2012 at 10:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jwsexton9

I cant satnd spell check post experts ,,,so glad some one spell checked your post,,,,lol

March 20 2012 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
forrestly7

I bet that tastes like heaven!

March 20 2012 at 9:53 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Mila Dagreat

http://www.hotelscombined.com/City/New_York_City.htm?a_aid=48087

March 20 2012 at 8:34 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
wesnwendy

The article reports:
"While news reports were quick to tout the record-breaking sale, $94,000 doesn't quite qualify the Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve as the most expensive single malt in history -- that honor goes to a bottle of 64-year-old Macallan scotch that sold for $460,000 in 2010. And even the Macallan doesn't count as the most expensive scotch in history -- that honor goes to Dalmore Trinitas, a blended whiskey that was produced in an extremely limited edition of just three bottles, which sold for £100,000 apiece."
Why is the last price given in british pounds while the rest of the prices are in US dollars? At current exchange rates £100,000 = $154,000. Which is much less than $460,000. Maybe they left off some zero's. Or the 'journalist' could be consistent and NOT mix currencies. Either way, pretty shoddy reporting.
All those who fought, in part for freedom of the press and the constitutional protections the press enjoys, must be rolling over in their graves to see that THIS is what they fought and died for. Meanwhile, our constitution is being trashed, our country being invaded, the populace is being robbed blind and freedom has been rescinded. But it does my heart good to see that the producers of booze can STILL bamboozle morons into spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on getting drunk while people die of hunger and abuse. The morons buying this stuff wouldn't have the money to spend if they weren't taking it from the very people who are hungry and abused. Unless you have provided ALL of you employees with this level of income you do not deserve it. Were it not for the labor of others YOUR ego would hunger. Proud vain ******** wasting robbed money on garbage to bolster their egos and stroke their vanities. And reporters that can't add or proof read their work. And how much does this idiot get paid for writing this tripe?

March 20 2012 at 7:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wesnwendy's comment
wlh1923

Whatever. Oh BTW, take your meds.

March 20 2012 at 10:13 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Dave

The article reports:
"While news reports were quick to tout the record-breaking sale, $94,000 doesn't quite qualify the Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve as the most expensive single malt in history -- that honor goes to a bottle of 64-year-old Macallan scotch that sold for $460,000 in 2010. And even the Macallan doesn't count as the most expensive scotch in history -- that honor goes to Dalmore Trinitas, a blended whiskey that was produced in an extremely limited edition of just three bottles, which sold for £100,000 apiece."
Why is the last price given in british pounds while the rest of the prices are in US dollars? At current exchange rates £100,000 = $154,000. Which is much less than $460,000. Maybe they left off some zero's. Or the 'journalist' could be consistent and NOT mix currencies. Either way, pretty shoddy reporting.
All those who fought, in part for freedom of the press and the constitutional protections the press enjoys, must be rolling over in their graves to see that THIS is what they fought and died for. Meanwhile, our constitution is being trashed, our country being invaded, the populace is being robbed blind and freedom has been rescinded. But it does my heart good to see that the producers of booze can STILL bamboozle morons into spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on getting drunk while people die of hunger and abuse. The morons buying this stuff wouldn't have the money to spend if they weren't taking it from the very people who are hungry and abused. Unless you have provided ALL of you employees with this level of income you do not deserve it. Were it not for the labor of others YOUR ego would hunger. Proud vain ******** wasting robbed money on garbage to bolster their egos and stroke their vanities. And reporters that can't add or proof read their work. And how much does this idiot get paid for writing this tripe?

March 20 2012 at 7:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply