Why does some whiskey get so expensive?

For those of you who read 99 Drams, you’ve found out that the trip started first as a quest to understanding why someone would pay $50,000 for a bottle of whiskey. Let me give you a bit of a spoiler to that question:

They pay that amount because they can.

The truth is that the money spent on these whiskeys has little, if anything, to do with the quality of the drink itself. Once you start seeing prices for whiskey above, say $500, it has more to do with the exclusivity of what is being purchased. Whether it’s better than other whiskeys is often irrelevant.

The high costs of some whiskey is the result of two different (but sometimes related) activities surrounding human nature. The first is the our propensity to collect things. Whiskey is no different, and there are a plethora of people out there who purchase whiskey like kids buying trading cards. The purchase bottles because they’re the first production bottle, or the last known bottle of a brand long retired. Here again, it’s not that the whiskey tastes better, it’s that the bottle is different, or has historical significance.

However, to that end, the second variable comes into play. Because collectors search for unique bottles, they often end up with 25 year old, 30 yer old, even 40 year old bottles of whiskey. Many people collect these bottles because they’re rare. Or at least more rare than the twelve year old bottles that most every Scotch and Irish Whiskey Distiller produces.

Now it just so happens that older whiskeys are often also better tasting…more complex. Staying in a barrel longer means that they develop deeper and richer flavors. To a point, mind you. At some point in the aging process, whiskey will take on too many characteristics of the oak, something which is to be avoided if at all possible, unless you like the taste of bark. Additionally, Bourbon ages differently than Scotch and Irish Whiskeys, so a 30 yo Scotch may be something to enjoy, while a 30 yo Bourbon will leave your breath smelling like a beaver’s belch.

But back to the uniqueness of the flavor. The older whiskey’s taste differently than the younger whiskeys which brings us to reason #2 why there are pricey whiskey’s out there: Uniqueness. The uniqueness of flavor makes older whiskeys something to be sought out if you like to try newer and rarer (and some would argue, better) than the average whiskeys out in the marketplace.

Now the collectors in the first camp love the people who search out unique tastes, because they will inevitably consume the rare drink, which in turn makes the collectors investment raise in value. It’s a win/win for both crowds.