At £76,000 a dram, a rare bottle of Macallan whisky has sold in London for £2.2million – the most expensive ever bought at auction.
The Macallan 1926 featuring a Valerio Adami label reached an eye-watering figure at Sotheby’s auction house in London yesterday, eclipsing the previous whisky record of £1.5million.
Sotheby’s said the sale was “nothing short of momentous”, with a bidding war taking place between people in the room and on the phone.
Based at Craigellachie next to the River Spey, the Macallan distillery is a local landmark.
How has the whisky market received this rare bottling of Macallan?
There were 40 bottles of the 1926 Macallan bottled in 1986 – each with a different label – and it’s known that one of the bottles has been drunk.
The appearance of any of the bottles at auction over the years has produced extraordinary results.
In 2018 and 2019, the auction record was broken three times by three of the different labels: a Sir Peter Blake “Roaring 20s” label, a Michael Dillon label and Fine & Rare.
This bottle, unlike any before it, was reconditioned to give it an extra boost at auction.
The process involved replacing both the capsule and the cork, applying new glue to the corners of the bottle labels and taking a 1ml liquid sample to test against another 1926 bottle.
Macallan master whisky maker, Kirsteen Campbell, undertook a nosing of the whisky from that small sample.
She said: “Being involved in the sensory analysis of this incomparable whisky was an incredible privilege.
“The whisky had an incredible depth of character-rich dark fruits, black cherry compote alongside sticky dates, followed by intense sweet antique oak, which is for me a recognisable note of such aged Macallan. Dark chocolate, treacle, ginger… the notes go on and on.
“It was a very special moment to experience the opening of this iconic 60-year-old single malt, first bottled 37 years ago, and I hope the new custodian will enjoy the same privilege.”
Only 40 bottles of The Macallan are in existence
So what makes this bottle of whisky so important?
After being aged in sherry casks for six decades in Aberlour, just 40 bottles of The Macallan 1926 were bottled in 1986.
It is the oldest Macallan whisky ever produced at that time.
For the sale of yesterday’s bottle Sotheby’s worked directly with The Macallan to recondition and authenticate this bottle, the first time this had ever been done for a 1926.
Of the 40 bottles drawn in 1986, 14 were decorated with a Fine and Rare label.
Two bottles were released with no labels at all.
Of these two, one was hand-painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon – when sold in 2018, it became the first bottle of whisky to surpass £1 million.
Of the remaining bottles, in 1986 twelve were labelled by Pop Artist Sir Peter Blake.
He focused on the most notable events in the “roaring 20s” depicted in black and white sketches and photography.
In 1993, a further 12 bottles had their labels designed by Valerio Adami.
The Italian artist, born in 1935, was recommended to The Macallan by Italian agent, Armando Giovinetti.
Limiting his palette to black and white for the label, Adami produced a design that has since become iconic in the whisky world.
Of the 12 Adami-labelled bottles one is thought to have been destroyed during a Japanese earthquake in 2011.
At least one bottle has been drunk
It is also believed that at least one has been opened and consumed, verified by images taken in Japan.
Therefore of the 12 Valerio Adami bottles originally created, only 10 remain in existence.
Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s head of spirits, said: “This record-breaking result for The Macallan 1926 is nothing short of momentous for the whisky industry as a whole.
“When we first set the record for the Fine & Rare back in 2019 it was a defining moment not just for Sotheby’s, but for me personally.
“This new record result for The Macallan Adami feels all the more emotional for me, having worked directly with the consignor and distillery to recondition, nose and authenticate this bottle, then finish this journey on the rostrum fielding bids in the room and on the phone.”
He added: “Bringing down the hammer for a new whisky world record is a feeling I’ll never forget.”
The sale was part of Sotheby’s ‘Weekend of Whisky’, a two-day event which also established an auction record for a collection of Japanese whisky.