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Is The World's Most Expensive Whisky 'The World's Most Expensive Whisky'?

Updated: Mar 2


The Emerald Isle Irish Whisky Co

Image by The Irish Whiskey Co / The Whisky Ardvark


In January 2024, The Irish Craft Whiskey Co. set a new record for the most expensive whiskey sold in an auction with their bottling called Emerald Isle. The whiskey fetched a price higher than the previous record set by a bottle of Macallan 1926 Valerio Adami, which sold for $2.7 million just a couple of months earlier. However, unlike the Macallan bottle, Emerald Isle seemed to come with many extras that are not necessarily associated with whiskey. This raises the question of whether the title 'world's most expensive whiskey' can be given to Emerald Isle if the extras it comes with are more valuable than the whiskey itself.



 

What is The Emerald Isle Whiskey?


The term 'Emerald Isle' refers to the emerald-green island of Ireland, and it has been used by other whisky bottlers even before 2021. Aceo Limited obtained the trademark for the name in 2018 in the UK. However, London-based independent bottler Speciality Drinks had already used the name for three of their bottlings of Irish single malt whiskies in 2016. It is important to note that the recent record-breaking bottling has no connection with the two bottlers that had previously used the name.


In February 2021, The Irish Whiskey Co., a luxury independent bottler, launched a new ultra-rare luxury whiskey called 'The Emerald Isle'. The company aims to elevate the status of Irish whiskies to the same level as some of the most collectable Japanese and Scottish whiskies, specialising in bottling Irish whiskies with a flair.


The Emerald Isle is a 30-year-old Irish single malt whiskey touted as the oldest and rarest triple-distilled Irish single malt in existence. To celebrate 'The Seven Wonders of Ireland', the bottler released only seven 'experience' bottle sets, each with a unique name.


The whiskey was aged in a 200-litre American bourbon barrel, followed by an undisclosed amount of time in a 40-litre Pedro Ximenez cask. The origin of the whiskey, bottled at variable strengths, has not been disclosed.


The Emerald Isle single malt Irish whiskey

Image by The Irish Craft Whiskey Co.


But how can a 30-year-old single malt be worth such an exorbitant price of $2.8 million (£2.2 million), especially when a famous distillery, Bushmills, offers a similar option for just £2,000 and a 47-year-old Midleton costs £42,500? Is the £2.2 million price tag justifiable?



 

The Bottling & The Extras


The Emerald Isle whiskey is presented in a decanter with gold detailing and embedded with responsibly sourced emeralds from Gemfields’ Kagem mine in Zambia on the neck and the stone-detailed stopper. It is presented in a custom-made walnut showcase depicting one of the seven wonders and a built-in humidor for the accompanying pair of Cohiba Siglo Gran Reserva VI cigars.


The set, done in collaboration with Fabergé, also comes with a bottle of Irish spring water and a pair of tumblers, a gold-plated cigar cutter, a gold-plated water pipette, four pure obsidian whiskey stones and a hip flask with a sample of The Emerald Isle whiskey.


The Emerald Isle single malt Irish whiskey presentation
The Emerald Isle single malt Irish whiskey presentation

Images by The Irish Craft Whiskey Co.


In addition, each bottle of whiskey is accompanied by a bespoke Fabergé Celtic Egg objet, handcrafted by fourth-generation Fabergé enamel workmaster Dr Marcus Mohr. Each egg took 100 hours to complete and is crafted from 18k yellow gold with a pavé diamond Celtic knot and features Fabergé’s guilloché enamel in a pastel green; the green, white and gold colours symbolise the Irish flag. Inside each egg is an uncut Zambian emerald gemstone.


Each egg in the collection is adorned with a different gemstone on its exterior, representing one of seven Irish locations. The gemstone options include Gemfields Zambian emerald, blue sapphire, Gemfields Mozambican ruby, amethyst, rhodolite, spessartite, or tourmaline. A matching cabochon-coloured gemstone is also set on top of each egg, and the piece is mounted on a hand-carved and polished rock crystal plinth with a gold base.


The Emerald Isle single malt Irish whiskey Faberge egg

Each set includes a set of items and a unique and personalised timepiece designed and crafted by Fabergé’s workmaster, André Martinez. The Fabergé Altruist 18k rose gold watch has a self-winding movement from Vaucher Manufacture and features a one-of-a-kind dial made from a white mother-of-pearl face that has been etched and hand-painted with 24k rose gold. The design of the dial is inspired by the landscape of one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Ireland’. The watch is completed with a brown alligator strap.




 

The Controversy


The reason The Emerald Isle has raised eyebrows in the whisky industry is not based on the originating country of the whiskey but on how the whiskey is presented, considering the equivalent whiskies on the market that are offered without the same glamour. Some argue that the 30-year-old Emerald Isle should be regarded as only one element of a collector's set designed for the highly collectable jewellery market and, therefore, does not represent the spirits industry per se.


In recent years, it has become trendy for whisky producers to collaborate with artists and designers to create unique and memorable presentation cases and display apparel. They do this to attract a specific type of clientele. Some examples of such collaborations include Royal Salute's Platinum Jubilee, which comes with a brooch, Forces of Nature, which is accompanied by a sculptor, and Glenrothes Philos, which is meant to be displayed on super yachts. Some high-end whisky sets come with the whisky and glasses or an entire cocktail set. Some sets that come with glasses are Aberlour 1967, Tullibardine 1952 and Macallan Steven Klein, Master of Photography. Producers make multiple glass sets available for gifting; even having a bottle of water to accompany the whisky is not unheard of.


Expensive single malt whisky expressions

Images by Royal Salute, Glenrothes, The Whisky Exchange



Blanton's and Dalmore have also done boxes with humidors, to name a few. And who could forget the $240,000 one-off bottle of Royal Salute Tribute to Honour, encrusted with 413 black and white diamonds?


But what then makes Emerald Isle so controversial if most elements inside the box are not new to the industry?


One reason for this is the way the whisky is presented. Unlike most whisky releases, where the focus is on the whisky itself, the emphasis for Emerald Isle seems to be on the accompanying extras. Additionally, the company does not talk much about the whisky itself, which has led the industry to view it more as a jewellery box, which happens to incorporate the element of whisky in it.


The real question is how much less the set would be worth without the whisky. Although the value of things is determined by how much someone is willing to pay, whisky appears to play a minor role in this particular case.


The previous record-holder, the Macallan 1926 Valerio Adami, sold at a Sotheby's auction for £2.1 million in November 2023. In a simplistic presentation case, the stand-alone whisky was bottled in 1986 after 60 years in oak and represents a well-known distillery. Although the hammer price is astonishing, it somehow seems more justified for the Macallan than the Emerald Isle.

Macallan 1926 Valerio Adami

Image by Sotheby's


It might be necessary to create a new category for high-end sets that combine whisky with other collectables due to the evolving nature of the whisky industry. Art and whisky compete on the same platform today because of their trading value and collectability. Certain whiskies have become a luxury investment, which we believe is the essence of The Emerald Isle.


Mike Daley, an American collector, the owner of $2.8million Emerald Isle

Image by Fox News - Mike Daley, an American collector, the owner of $2.8million Emerald Isle


 

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Can The Emerald Isle be considered as the most expensive whisky in the world?

  • Yes

  • No


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