In 1926 John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of television; Route 66 was established between Chicago and Los Angeles; and Agatha Christie mysteriously disappeared for 11 days. Meanwhile, the whisky-makers at The Macallan Distillery on Speyside in Scotland filled cask no. 263 — which had begun its life in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain — with clear, ‘new make’ spirit from one of its famous ‘Curiously Small Stills’. Then they left it, and they waited for the Spanish oak — which had been ‘seasoned’ with Oloroso sherry — to work its magic.
Those whisky-makers may no longer be with us but, 92 years later, the spirit remains. In 1986, after six decades of maturation, The Macallan’s master distiller decided that this particular elixir had reached its zenith, and it was bottled, with appropriate reverence, into 40 bottles. One of those bottles — uniquely hand-painted by the Irish artist Michael Dillon — is to be offered in Christie’s Finest & Rarest Wines & Spirits sale on 29 November in London.
‘Of the original 40 bottles, 12 had labels designed by Peter Blake, who is best known for designing the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, and a further 12 individually numbered bottles were designed by the Italian painter Valerio Adami. These bottles are much better known among whisky collectors,’ explains Tim Triptree MW, Christie’s International Director of Wine. ‘A few of them have come up for sale previously, and actually, in May this year, a 1926 Macallan with a Valerio Adami label sold for $1.1 million — an auction record.’
The bottles with labels designed by Peter Blake were released in 1989, and the Valerio Adami bottles in 1993. The remaining bottles joined The Macallan’s Fine & Rare Collection.
‘The Macallan were unsure that this bottle still existed — it was last seen at Fortnum & Mason in London in 1999 — and it is quite excited that the buyer has kept hold of it,’ says Triptree. ‘These whiskies rarely come up for sale. Prior to this year, the previous auction of a Macallan 60-year-old with an Adami label was in 2007. That sold for $75,000. In the 11 years since its value has increased 14-fold, which shows the strength of the whisky market, and how collectable these bottles have become.’
Whoever acquires this bottle — beautifully illustrated with Dillon’s depiction of The Macallan’s historic home, Easter Elchies House, built in 1700 — will therefore have a tough decision to make: bank on it as an investment… or drink it.