N10.6m for a bottle of Macallan? O Thunder, where art thou!

My father-in-law recently withdrew to more favourable frontiers. Tired of the earthly church, he decided to join the church triumphant. 

I have so much love for the man. Without him, my wife might not have married me. He saw a son-in-law in a smoke-bellowing, booze-guzzling, jeans-sagging and dreadlock-spotting irreligious boy. He looked beyond the cover of the book.

His death is what Yoruba people euphemistically refer to as “oku amala” – the death of an aged person is always deserving of feasting and celebration. So, yes, there will be amala and all manner of nosh.

And there will be liquor too. 

Which was when I came upon two bottles of The Macallan that were N10.6m and N9.5m a pop. 

That’s $7,381 and $6,574 respectively. 

For a bottle of grog. 

My first thought on seeing the price tags on those bottles was that this liquor must be from the wedding in Cana. You know, the selfsame tipple my Lord and Saviour turned water into. They’ve got to be. And they must be aged 3,000 years. I am also certain that these bottles must be one of the subjects of the ecclesiastical rumination of Solomon. “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.

But it turns out, I am a cheapskate. For somewhere out there are bottles of spirits upwards of $15,000.

Pardon my poverty but if I buy and drink any of these spirits, will I be high forever?

I’m not much of a tippler these days.  If I was, I probably would not be gobsmacked by the prices of those two bottles. Yes, I drank my share in my days. My pad was a mini distillery. If you needed to drink copious amounts of whisky, cognac, vodka, brandy or rum at 7:00 am on a Sunday, you came to my pub, sorry, house. My crib was beloved by the boys. But I’m no longer that man. The Good Lord saved me. 

But in those days we bought Johnnie Walker Red for N2,700 and Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 for N3,200. But now there’s a whisky that retails for N10.6m! How did we get here? 

Oh, but I know how. Here is a short chronicle of our spirits journey.  

Johnnie Walker Red, Black & Jack Daniel’s Old No.7

As income and the middle class rose, we began to acquire an exquisite taste. Beer was becoming passé. We still drank it but we now added spirits to our drinking repertoire. When spirits consumption took off in Nigeria in about 2004, it was with Johnnie Walker Red Label. We drank that grog as if we had no liver. We lived la vida loca. Those days, we drank our whiskies highball. Hardly neat or on the rocks. 

But we soon realised that Johnnie Walker Red was an entry-level whisky unbefitting our palate. Turned out Johnnie had this suave older brother named Johnnie Walker Black. That was who we needed to hang out with. He and a witty, down-to-earth, charmingly rugged American from Lynchburg named Jack Daniel’s. “Bourbon” whiskey had a cool and sophisticated ring to it.  

Along the line came suitors like vodka, rum, tequila and cream liqueur. Absolut, Smirnoff, Olmeca, Bacardi. We wetted our beaks with those lot but the love was skin deep. Nigeria is primarily a whisky (or whiskey), gin and wine country. Beer was, of course, still king. But as everybody knew, beer was for losers.  


Fast forward a few years. Say 2008 upwards. American hip-hop has always had a big influence on our lifestyle. Whatever the African American community did, we copied. So when Hennessy became a badge of status, class and style in the African American community, it became the same in Nigeria. We found the hip in our hop and raised our glasses to the hustle.

We started with Hennessy VS. Then we moved to VSOP, and now to XO. Hennessy became a status symbol and the representation of connoisseurship. It was cognac, not a lame whisky. It never mattered that we didn’t know the difference between whisky and cognac. All that mattered was that cognac had more prestige than whisky.

But Henny isn’t cheap. We could not afford to drink it at every drinking occasion. We’ll be bankrupt. So, we needed something that was not as “basic” and “harsh on the palate” as Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniel’s but that was significantly cheaper than Hennessy, Remy Martin or Martell.


And who stepped in to fill that gap? Jameson. Tripled distilled, twice as smooth. 

My, how Jameson caught on! Bars, lounges, restaurants, and parties; all belonged to Jameson. It threw these wildly popular “Block Parties.” They were cool parties in unconventional locations. Some were on boats. Some in abandoned railyards. Others in warehouses. Jameson rocked the city. And consumers loved it. 

For an entry-level whiskey, Jameson didn’t have the spurious perception of a low-class whisky that Johnnie Walker developed. Truth be told, Jameson was way smoother to drink than messers Johnnie and Jack. It was so smooth you could enjoy it without mixing it with Coke. And importantly, it was new. We like shiny new things. 

Curiously, for people who like to trade up to the next level in status, we have not embraced the senior 16-year Jameson Black Barrel. Most drinkers don’t like its palate and finish. If you want brand loyalty, don’t look to whisky drinkers.

Jameson ushered in the era of entry-level smooth whisky. But our palate and lifestyle never stayed static.  Our tongues were maturing daily and growing in sophistication. We needed something with a higher-status badge. Or that every Tom, Dick and Harriet wasn’t drinking. Mass acceptance may be good news for Pernod Ricard but not for trend-setting upwardly mobile Naija blokes. We like exclusivity.  

Glenfiddich – the age of the single malt

Sure-footed and with bold antlers, the deer from Dufftown strode gracefully into town. Glenfiddich. It brought with it the age of the single malt whisky.

Glenfiddich, or “Glen”, became the standard for premium whisky. It turned the heads of many away from blended scotch to single malt whisky. It opened our eyes to the age and cask of whisky. When we drank other whiskies, we never cared much about the age or the cask of the whisky. But with Glen, we now understood and appreciated a 12-year, 15-year, 18-year or 21-year whisky. We started paying attention to casks.

Consequently, the age statement of a whisky became the number one indicator of its quality and smoothness. If there was no obvious age statement on the bottle, we didn’t regard it. Blended scotch whiskies with age statements like Dewar’s and Teeling have a higher chance of flying off the shelf than the stellar  Johnnie Walker Blue Label which didn’t carry an age statement. Little wonder Diageo now has a new blended scotch offering: “Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years.”  The “18” is emblazoned on the bottle and packaging. It has the rider The Pursuit of the Ultimate 18-Year-Old Blend. Let me tell you, the Blue Label dram is delectable. It is strange how drinkers look down on the Johnnie Walker brand in Nigeria. Well, it is a branding issue and not a product issue. Diageo should know better.

Anyway, seeing the trend towards single malts paved by Glenfiddich, a host of opportunists threw their hats in the ring too. The Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, The Singleton, The Macallan and most recently, Balvenie. The age of the single malt is well and truly alive.

I have friends who no longer drink whisky aged less than 15 years. These geezers didn’t even know about “single malt” or cared about the age ten years ago!

But we are not very knowledgeable drinkers. Most whisky drinkers in Nigeria don’t know the difference between a single malt and a single grain whisky. Or between a single malt and blended scotch whisky. Because of the prestige badge of single malts, drinkers believe it is intrinsically better than a blended scotch whisky.  That is, of course, blarney. Single malt simply has more prestige value than blended scotch. A single malt is no better than a blended scotch any more than a BMW is better than a Mercedes. It all boils down to personal preferences. 

Let me tell you a fun fact. 

I heard that when Don Julio (a Diageo premium tequila) does it launch event in cities around the world, the number of bottles sold on the night in the clubs is about 15 bottles. In New York, London, Brazil, and Bangkok. But when they did the launch event in Lagos in 2023, they sold…75 bottles. 

Let that sink in. Minimum wage – N30,000. A bottle of Don Julio 1942 -N320,000.  

Now, was that up stick in sale because revellers knew that Don Julio was made with 100% blue agave and is from the legendary La Primavera distillery in Jalisco? You bet your sober butt not. All you need to warm your way into pockets of status-conscious consumers is to infer “premium” or “ultra-premium” with your brand. You associate George Clooney with Casamigos and that’s the only tequila we want to drink.

So is a N10.6m whisky any good? Well, at that price point, it is no longer about the taste of the whisky. No doubt that whisky will taste great. But so will a N1.7m Macallan. Or even a N700K Macallan, for that matter. Rather, a N10.6m whisky is about image and signalling. You buy it because you can. Because it is a luxury. What did Coco Chanel say about luxury again? “Luxury is a necessity that begins where necessity ends.” 

That’s why you buy a $7,381whisky. 

Anyway, if you do come to my father-in-law’s funeral party, you will drink Guinness, Trophy, Goldberg, Heineken, wine and some very good single malt, blended and single grain whiskies. But you will not drink a N10.6m or N9.5m whisky. That is because you will not send me to join my father-in-law.


Fun facts

A whisky cannot be referred to as “single malt” if it is not:

(a) made in Scotland

(b) made solely from malted barley

(c) made in a single distillery

(d) Aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak casks. 

Whisky vs Whiskey. Which is correct?

In Scotland, Japan and Canada, it is written as “whisky”.  In Ireland and the United States, it is written “whiskey.” Thus it is Glenfiddich Single Malt Whisky (Scotland) and Jameson Irish Whiskey (Ireland).  


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