Thank you, Guinness. Not the beer—the Guinness Book of World Records folks, who have finally confirmed that yes, indeed, the 6-liter, Lalique-decanter-enclosed bottle of Macallan that sold last year for $628,000 is, without any hint of a doubt, the most expensive bottle of whiskey ever sold. (The largest bottle of whiskey, also confirmed by the Guinness folks, was a 5-foot-7-inches-tall, 228-liter bottle of Famous Grouse; how the heck you pour that, as opposed to be crushed by it when it falls over on you, I have no idea).
But I am here to tell you that, yes, indeed, without any hint of a doubt, there are some really good whiskeys out there that do not cost anywhere close to that much money. Which, for those of us who are not Bill Gates or Warren Buffett (who doesn’t drink anyway), is good news. Here are five excellent recent releases.
Aberfeldy 12 Year Old ($50)
A smoky heather scent, creamy texture and spicy finish make this recently repackaged 12-year-old (the bottle has a cool retro feel to it now) hard to argue with at this price.
Oban Little Bay ($75)
Part of a trend toward non-age statement single-malt Scotches, this small-cask-aged whiskey (using smaller casks increases the wood influence to some degree) from the tiny Highlands distillery Oban has a toasty malt and orange oil scent and flavors on the richer, sweeter side of the single-malt spectrum.
Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Year Old ($120)
From Diageo’s annual release of their “special” single-malts (basically, limited edition expressions ranging from $100 up to more than $3,000 a bottle), this graceful Caol Ila is a winner on the more affordable side. Floral, lemon zest and vanilla notes; a crisp character. Snaps you awake, and interesting in that it’s an unusual, unpeated Islay whiskey.
AnCnoc 18 Year Old ($125)
Though AnCnoc is the name (pronounced a-nock), this fragrant whiskey comes from the Highlands distillery Knockdhu (right on the border of Speyside). A mix of sherry and American oak casks gives it a full-bodied, vanilla character, with warm pepper and oak spice notes.
Macallan Rare Cask ($300)
Released this past November, Macallan’s non-age-statement Rare Cask isn’t exactly inexpensive, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than $628,000. Red-brown in hue, it has Macallan’s classic sherry-cask intensity, with raisin-caramel notes on the aroma and a luscious mouthfeel full of chocolate and fig notes. A terrific release from Macallan.