It’s worth mentioning this whiskey wisdom at the outset: Age does not necessarily equal quality. In fact, some of the best American whiskeys are just about six years old, and some of the best single malt scotches are aged for 10 to 12 years. There is, of course, a whole world of pricy, ultra-aged whiskey out there ranging in age from 20 years to close to a century old. The Macallan, for example, is well known for releasing single malts aged up to 81 years (these generally approach $100,000 in price). Some of these whiskeys are good, others perhaps spent about 30 years longer than necessary inside a barrel. So we put together a list of some of the best ultra-aged single malts (Scottish and Irish) available now. These whiskeys may be expensive, but they’re excellent sippers.
Best Ultra-Aged Single Malts to Drink Now
1. Bushmills Rare Cask #3 (30 YO Madeira Cask)
Bushmills is best known here for its easy-to-drink blended Irish whiskey, but the fact is that this distillery (which likes to point out it’s the oldest licensed distillery in the world) produces only single malt. And that whiskey is excellent, with a core range of age statements from 10 to 21 years old. If you’ve got some money to spend, check out the Rare Cask series of ultra-aged single malts. The latest is a 30-year-old whiskey that spent 13 years in bourbon and sherry casks, then another 17 in first-fill madeira wine barrels. This is a delectable whiskey with notes of vanilla, baked apple, stone fruit, and raisins on the palate. If you can’t find 30YO, opt for 29YO.
2. The Glenrothes 36
While not as well known as The Macallan Scotch distillery, The Glenrothes is also an expert at making sherry cask-matured single malt whisky. The distillery has an even older 50-year-old release, but this 36-year-old hits the sweet spot in terms of flavor. It’s a single cask expression that was distilled in 1978, then matured in sherry-seasoned oak. That oak doesn’t overpower the palate, which has big notes of orange, cherry, vanilla, and spice rounding out this very refined whisky. And for those still interested in NFTs, this comes with one designed by New Yorker illustrator Maddie Dai. Fewer than 200 bottles are available.
[From $3,900; reservebar.com]
3. Mortlach 30
Mortlach is one of the many distilleries owned by drinks giant Diageo, and happens to be one of the most interesting. This new “Midnight Malt” also has a fascinating maturation story: It was aged in American and European oak, then finished in Bordeaux wine, Calvados brandy, and rum casks, with a final marrying period in small quarter casks. All of that wood influence has combined to create a complex single malt with equal parts dried fruit, tropical fruit, tannin, spice, and caramel on the palate. The extensive cask finishing at play here is balanced and, thankfully, has not gone overboard.
[From $6,000; reservebar.com]
4. The Glenlivet Sample Room Collection 25 Year Old
The Glenlivet is usually neck and neck with fellow Speyside distillery Glenfiddich as far as popularity, sales, and name recognition—and both have some excellent new ultra-aged expressions available now. The Glenlivet launched the Sample Room Collection a few months ago, and the pinnacle expression in the series is this 25-year-old single malt. What makes it extra special is that it’s finished in a combination of PX sherry and Troncais oak cognac casks, bringing notes of candied orange, tropical fruit, vanilla chai, and a burst of citrus to this well-matured whisky.
5. Glenfiddich Time Re:Imagined
As mentioned before, Glenfiddich is one of the most popular Scotch whisky brands out there. The distillery released this trio of ultra-aged single malts this fall with time-themed names: 30 years old (Suspended Time), 40 years old (Cumulative Time), and 50 years old (Simultaneous Time), priced at $1,300, $46,000, and $50,000, respectively. These are special whiskies, with flavors that expand into new layers at each successive age statement. The 50-year-old comes from just three barrels that were married together in an American oak refill cask for its final two years. It’s limited to just 220 decanters that come housed in packaging that’s supposed to represent the climatic data that influenced the whisky’s half-century maturation period.
6. Secret Speyside Single Cask Editions
This series of whiskies comes from Chivas Brothers, a name you might be more familiar with from the bottles of blended Scotch you can find virtually everywhere. But these whiskies are single malts, not blends, and each vintage was produced at a distillery that might not be on the average whisky drinker’s radar. Some examples include whiskies aged 21, 25, and 30 years from Caperdonich (a distillery that closed in 2002), and 18, 23, and 25 single malts from the Longmore distillery. These are definitely bottles whisky fans looking to broaden their horizons should seek out.
[prices vary; thewhiskyexchange.com]
7. Loch Lomond 46 Year Old
This is the second release in Loch Lomond’s Remarkable Stills series of single malt whiskies, named in honor of the unique straight-neck stills that are a trademark of the distillery. This whisky was distilled in 1974 and aged for 44 years in American oak ex-bourbon barrels before being put into Oloroso and PX sherry casks for a final two years. Look for peach, mango, and vanilla syrup flavors, according to the official tasting notes, followed by toffee and a burst of citrus on the palate.
8. Lambay Single Malt Castle Prestige Edition 20 Years Old
This last whiskey is another Irish single malt, but this one got a special French kiss. That’s because Lambay is part of the Camus Cognac house, so all of the expressions are finished in cognac casks. This new 20-year-old single malt was triple distilled, bourbon barrel matured for 18 years, then finished in French oak barrels for a final two years. Just 8,000 bottles are available, and tasting notes include spices, fruit, and vanilla on the palate, with a saline finish said to be from the maritime environment in which the whiskey ages. This is yet another reason to give Irish single malt whiskey a try.