When I was but a young naïf of twenty-two, I scored my first real fine dining job waiting tables in a super fancy restaurant just off Boston Common. One weekday afternoon near closing time, a pair of well-preserved ladies came in and ordered a $400 bottle of Cristal champagne. There didn’t seem to be any occasion to recognize, no birthday to celebrate. This was just what they were drinking with lunch. They may as well have ordered iced tea.
I was gobsmacked. I’d only just started, and was grinding through a schedule of lunch shifts trying to climb the seniority ladder. I’d never sold such an extravagant bottle before. Heck, I’d never been in the presence of one before. The big-ticket stuff was usually purchased during dinner service, and I hadn’t been allowed into that star chamber yet.
My boss was a manic and extraordinary Greek named George. He’d already taught me quite a bit about wine — how it’s made, how to taste it — but he didn’t quite trust me with presentation and pouring, so he handled that part of service. It wasn’t until the ladies had eaten and gone that I even got to touch the bottle, now empty in the ice bucket. Or so I thought.
“George!” I chased him into the kitchen. “There’s half a glass in here! Can I try it?” He said I could, that he was curious to see what I’d say. So, standing there next to the hot line, feeling just like Biggie Smalls in an ankle-length apron, I swigged Cristal straight from the bottle. I did all the things George had taught me to do. I swished, I rinsed, I swallowed.
“What do you think?” George asked. I wanted to say something erudite, to comment on its bouquet or its mousse. This was all I could come up with:
“Tastes like champagne.”
“Tastes like champagne,” he said. I’d gotten the answer right. Lesson learned: just because a bottle has a fat price tag attached to it, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re paying for an extraordinary product.
While tracking down the world’s costliest elixirs, I came across bottles that sell for seven figures, easily the most expensive alcohol out there. And you won’t find them on this list. Bottles like Diva Vodka (up to $1M) sport a column of Swarovski Crystaland diamonds running through the middle. Tequila Ley .925 ($3.5M, the Guinness World Record holder) comes in a 24-karat white gold- and platinum-dipped bottle encrusted in 6,500 (you guessed it) diamonds. In other words, you’re not paying for the booze so much as you are for the bling. And, if you’re the show-off shelling out for one of these tacky pieces of chintz, you’re also probably an awful person.
This is a qualified list, compiling the most expensive liquors out there based on factors contributing to their collectability — age, pedigree, rarity, and quality. I’ve disqualified bottles made valuable only by the inclusion of other valuable items like rare gems and precious metals. Not surprisingly, the most expensive liquors out there are scotches, but I’ve included some rum and a few cognacs to round out the list. Read on to learn how a $400 bottle of champagne can look pedestrian, and if you ever get to sip any of these, write and let me know if it was worth it.
Chivas Regal Royal Salute 1953 — $10,000
Released in 2003 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 50 years on the throne, this blended whisky has sat aging in a barrel since the Queen’s coronation in 1953. Only 255 bottles were produced, one of which was given to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to summit Mt. Everest. The scotch is said to have notes of deep raisin, smoke, and anise.
Glenfarclas Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky, 1955 — $10,878
This 50-year-old scotch is a Speyside single malt whisky, light in body, sweet up front, and heavily sherried. It was aged in a single barrel handpicked in 1955 by George Grant on his ancestor and distillery founder, John Grant’s, 150th birthday. There were only 110 bottles of this produced, all of which were sold prior to their bottling in 2005, on John’s commemorative bicentennial.