The Balvenie Fifty: A $30,000 Bottle of Scotch

The Balvenie 50
The Balvenie 50
Patrick Comiskey

In the glass depicted above is a scotch whisky from The Balvenie, a highland distillery that specializes in single malts with lustrous wood finishes. This particular scotch went into a barrel in 1962, and did not emerge until late last year, when the company decided to release it as a single cask reserve they're calling, appropriately, the Balvenie Fifty.

The company's master distiller, David Stewart, happened to join the team that same year, giving this whisky a special meaning for the company and for those who love the Balvenie (and they are many -- the company is the fourth most popular single malt producer in the U.S.).

Stewart was in town earlier this week to pour a few precious drops of The Balvenie Fifty to a small number of distinguished guests at Mastro's Penthouse in Beverly Hills. And when I say precious, I'm not kidding ... this bottle, one of only 88 made, will set you back $30,000. The glass depicted above, containing precisely a half-ounce, represents a pour worth about $700, or about $100 per tiny sip.

World demand for rare bottles such as this one is skyrocketing, among cognacs, tequilas, rums, even vodkas. The scotch category seems to be the hottest at present, with whisky bottlings of every imaginable iteration now being brought to market, many derived from very old stock, and coming with a price tag that is patently catered to the 1%. At Wally's, $5,000 buys you a 1964 Bowmore; for slightly less you can purchase a bottle of Highland Park 1968; both make the Macallan 30-Year, selling for a mere $1,500, seem like a steal.

Perhaps you're wondering what a 50-year-old scotch tastes like. Or perhaps, now that you know its price, you're wondering whether it's worth the price tag. In a way, it's hard to say. Many older whiskies are so refined in the glass, so delicate, with a precarious mingling of oak, earth, and sweet spice that seems as if the entire composition may collapse at any moment.

This one, however, the Balvenie Fifty, hardly seemed fragile; if anything this quinquagenarian seemed burnished, like polished wood. It had a nose that could go on for days: scents of fennel, earth, turned soil, toffee and molasses, giving way to subtle fruit and nut elements, marzipan, caramel, orange zest. Its flavors were more attenuated, finely wrought and elusive, but with air it became more harmonious, with incredible length and concentration.

It seemed wonderfully complex, even if that complexity seemed elusive all the same -- then again, for those who'll pay the tariff for a dram of this stuff, perhaps complexity isn't so much on one's mind as other, more pressing concerns, such as 'how much should I tip?' or perhaps more to the point, 'how do I look with this scotch?'


Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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