The new trend for really, really old whisky

A wave of new single malt Scotch releases has seen record-breaking ageing, with 40+ years in cask an increasingly regular benchmark. Joel Harrison introduces some of the whisky world's newest OAPs

Words by Joel Harrison

Macallan – old whisky
The Macallan has a history of long-aged Scotch whiskies, including Tales of The Macallan Volume 1, aged for 70 years

I was recently looking back at some old notebooks of mine when I came across an entry from October 2010. I was the guest at Harrods for the launch of a 50-year-old Highland Park priced at £10,000 a bottle. The notes also referenced two tastings I’d taken part in the week prior: the launch of Bowmore 40 Year Old, and a release from The Dalmore aged for 45 years. All three of these releases were, at the time, exceptionally rare, exceptionally old single malt whiskies.

Yet today, more than a decade later, the world of whisky finds itself in a place where releases of single malt aged for more than 40 years have become increasingly regular. This year has already seen the launch of a 50-year-old from Glenglassaugh, a 40-year-old from Benromach, a Littlemill from 1976, and a Ladyburn from the 1960s. Just last week, the Speyside single malt the Glen Grant released a 60-year-old expression.

Glen Grant warehouse
The Glen Grant warehouses in Speyside which were the resting place for a 60-year-old single malt recently released by the distillery

Alongside these individual bottle releases, there have also been a number of multi-bottle collections to hit the market, such as Diageo’s Prima & Ultima – where three out of eight bottles of single malt are more than 40 years old. The Macallan, a stalwart of long ageing, also unveiled Tales of The Macallan Volume 1, which has been aged for 70 years – and that’s alongside an entire series of ongoing releases from the distillery of 40-, 50-, and 60-year-olds, plus a limited-edition trio of 71-, 74-, and 78-year-old single malts.

‘Over the past six to eight years we’ve seen more and more distilleries understand the very top end of the market, and working to release whisky of exceptional age,’ says Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101, a company providing insights to whisky collectors. ‘It’s great to see. Why should a distillery’s range just go from, say, 10 years old to 30 years old?’

glenlivet decanter
Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80 Year Old – distilled at Glenlivet in 1940 – is the oldest whisky ever released

It would be impossible to talk about the rising tide of extremely old single malt Scotch without mention of the oldest bottle ever released: an 80-year-old expression of Glenlivet released by Gordon & MacPhail, the family-owned retailer that has diligently matured and bottled whisky from a portfolio of distillers across Scotland over the decades.

‘Our old whiskies are a legacy of the hard work done by the generations before us,’ says Stephen Rankin, director of prestige whisky at Gordon & MacPhail. ‘Very old whisky releases are important in the category as it shows what the spirit can do when it is well looked after.’

Gordon & MacPhail have been trailblazers over the past decade in releasing very old whisky: starting with a 70-year-old, moving to a 75-year-old and now with this eight-decade-aged release. I ask Rankin if we might soon see a 100-year-old Scotch hit the market. ‘Well, never say never’, he replies with a smile.

In the meantime, here are five extra-old whiskies to try getting your hands on…

Five extra-old – and extra-rare – whiskies to try

Talisker – old whisky

Talisker 43 Year Old Xpedition Oak

The famous distillery from the Isle of Skye has released a 43-year-old – the oldest whisky to date from Talisker – that highlights how old stocks of whisky from marquee distilleries are being selected for release on a more regular basis. This particular number carries the signature Talisker sea-salt smoke, with big notes of oak spices, a hint of pine freshness and cracked black pepper.

Glenglassaugh 50 Year Old – old whisky

Glenglassaugh 50 Year Old

A distillery that doesn’t often release single malts, this coastal Highland distillery is gaining a growing fan base for its unique personality and style. The 50 Year Old starts out with a note of vintage leather and gingerbread with a soft overtone of salted caramel. The palate has toffee apples and Battenberg cake, while the finish is lingering oak spices and warming ginger.


The Dalmore 1979 The Decades Release

The Dalmore is known for long maturation, starting many of its whiskies in American oak before moving them to different styles of casks to add additional notes. This 1979 – which features in three of the distillery’s six-bottle Collections series – was finished in a port cask, and the initial nose is of a deep and rich grape spirit with lots of red fruit and suede aromas. The palate gives damsons and poached pears while the finish is rounded with polished oak notes.

Glen Grant

The Glen Grant 60 Year Old Dennis Malcolm 60th Anniversary Edition

This release is in celebration of and tribute to the Glen Grant’s master distiller, Dennis Malcolm – known as one of Scotland’s longest-serving distillers, and who has just reached six decades of working in the industry. The whisky is incredibly rich on the nose, with Christmas cake, cinnamon buns and cardamom notes. The palate gives deep oak spices, rounded black cherry and hints of liquorice. The finish is long, drying and oily.

gordon & macphail cask for its 80 year old whisky

Glenlivet 80 Year Old

Gordon & MacPhail astonished whisky lovers once again this year with yet another world-beating aged released. The record-breaker was matured in a Spanish sherry cask that was used to transport wine from Jerez to their shop in Elgin. The result is a surprisingly vibrant whisky with floral notes of white flowers and zesty lime on the nose. The palate gives complex coconut notes, with some red fruits and lingering spice.