There are some advantages to being a connoisseur of spirits instead of wines. You don't have to worry about your collection turning to vinegar. You don't need to keep the bottles in specialized refrigerators or musty cellars. You don't have to drink the whole bottle in one shot -- have a snifter of your favorite bourbon or rum once a month, and the last drink will taste as good as the first.
And then there's the price. You can blow a couple grand on a new bottle of Petrus, but even the most exclusive single malt Scotches won't run you more than a hundred or two, tops. Or so I thought.
As the market for super-premium spirits exploded over the last decade and change, so did the super-super-premium spirits market. Certain bourbons are now being sold for $200-300 a bottle. Jose Cuervo unleashed a $2,250 tequila last month. And those prices seem like pocket change next to the sum fetched by Macallan's vintage 1926 Scotch from its "Fine And Rare Collection." The entire (extremely limited) run, offered up to the booze-buying public in 2006, sold out -- at a mere $38,000 a bottle. But if you've simply got to try some, fear not! It's still available by the dram, last I heard, at the Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City for $3,300 a pop. And in case you're wondering, a dram is one eighth of an ounce, so be sure not to spill any.
As with most luxury goods, the super-premium spirits market took a hit from the global recession. Sales of ridiculously expensive single-malt Scotches went from double-digit year-over-year growth to flat. Which made the timing less than ideal for the debut of Glenfiddich's new 50-year-old single malt. But hey, who was to know, back in 1959 when the unaged whiskey was poured into two sherry oak casks, that the economy would be in the crapper come 2009? Nobody at Glenfiddich, that's for sure.
And besides, it's not like Glenfiddich 50 Year Old is a mass market item, anyway. A mere 50 bottles will be made available for worldwide consumption each year for the next ten years. Of this year's debut batch, exactly four bottles have been designated for the American market. Three of them will be going to hotels (the Mandarin Oriental in New York, the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, and the Peninsula in Los Angeles), where ordinary Joes can ponder the eternal question: Should I spend a month's rent on a mouthful of Eisenhower-era Scotch? The fourth bottle, which sports a suggested retail price of $16,000, will be auctioned off this Monday. The proceeds will be donated to the Friends Of Scotland charitable organization, so your conspicuous consumption can be (somewhat) guilt-free, not to mention (partially) tax deductible.
You may be wondering, what makes a 50-year-old Scotch so much better than, say, an 18-year-old (Glenfiddich sells theirs for about $50-60 a bottle)? Well, it's a lot more rare, for one thing. It's difficult to find a Scotch whisky in your local liquor store that's more than 30 years old. It's not only more expensive for the producer, but the aging process of the whisky also becomes trickier as the years go by. At some point, if the process is not managed very carefully, by people who know what the heck they're doing, you'll stop having a Scotch with delicious oaky notes, and what you'll wind up with is, essentially, a glass of wood.
So what does this stuff taste like, anyway? According to the tasting notes at Glenfiddich's website (I haven't been able to score a sample yet, so I have to go on their word), the 50 Year Old has a nose that's "beautifully harmonious with an uplifting, vibrant and harmonious aroma." The taste is "initially very sweet" but then "cascades through a wonderful series of layers," including "aromatic herbs, floral and soft fruits, silky oak tannin and hints of gentle smoke [sic]." As for the finish, it's "exceptionally long, with a touch of dry oak and the merest hint of peat." Well, they didn't cut corners on the florid prose, that's for sure.
The historic hootch is housed in a hand-numbered bottle decorated with Scottish silver, inside a "beautiful hand-stitched, leather-bound box lined with a bespoke silk [sic], with its own book outlining the whisky's history." It even comes with a lock and key, so your teenage kids won't be able to mix it with Diet Coke the next time they have a party when you're on vacation in Belize.
But no matter how sublime it tastes, and no matter how beautiful and elaborate the bottle, the main selling point of Glenfiddich 50 Year Old is this: There's only one bottle available. If you're the high bidder at next week's auction, you'll have something that Bill Gates, A-Rod and Barack Obama don't. The power! The prestige! The exclusivity! For a certain breed of big spender, the "nyah nyah nyah" factor alone is reason enough to open up the wallet. I just hope the high bidder truly enjoys Scotch, and has a generous heart (I can be reached through HuffPost if you'd like to share a snifter).