The Oenophile: The Macallan's Dram Buster
Tim Triptree, Master of Wine and Christie's International Director of Wine opines on the upcoming auction of one of The Macallan's most sought-after single-malts ever produced.
One question I am often asked is what is the next big thing in wine and spirits. I wish I possessed a crystal ball to predict the future (and would stock up on that wine or spirit!) but what I can say with a degree of certainty is that whisky is red hot at the moment, with demand for the finest single malts pushing prices at auction to stratospheric levels. One whisky that is head and shoulders above the rest is The Macallan, which is the most highly collectable whisky, producing stunning examples of cask-matured single malts, particularly their highly prized and exceedingly rare single-cask, limited-edition bottlings and Fine & Rare Collection. The Macallan 60-Year-Old 1926 takes this rarity to a higher level and is the zenith for collectors of The Macallan whisky. Sir Peter Blake (the renowned artist responsible for the album cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) and Valerio Adami were asked to design a label each for this special bottling, and 12 individually numbered bottles from each artist were released. The Macallan currently holds the world record for the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at auction, set in May this year with one bottle of the 1926 Macallan with a Valerio Adami label selling for a total of US$1.1 million, almost double its high estimate. Less well-known was that one bottle of this ultra-rare elixir was hand-painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon and offered for sale through Fortnum & Mason in London in 1999. Until recently it was believed to have been consumed, however thankfully that was not the case and Christie’s are delighted to be offering this unique Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old Michael Dillon bottle in the 29 November Christie’s London auction, Finest & Rarest Wines & Spirits. This bottle is unquestionably the 'Holy Grail' for whisky collectors as it is truly one-of-a-kind and expectations are that this will set a new world record for a bottle of whisky.
The Macallan have a rich history since their founding in 1824 and recently invested £140 million in a new distillery and visitor experience in Speyside, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, which opened in June this year. I was lucky enough to visit The Macallan and it is a stunning piece of architecture, blending in seamlessly with the surroundings and the scale of the building is truly impressive. Education is at the forefront of the experience and I would certainly recommend a visit for those keen to learn about whisky production. Factors behind the success of The Macallan include their obsession with quality and the specific stills they use called “Curiously Small Stills”, which are among the smallest on Speyside. Their unique size and shape give the spirit maximum contact with the copper, helping to concentrate the ‘new make’ spirit and provide the base for the rich, fruity, full-bodied flavours characteristic of The Macallan. The Macallan are famous for the use of sherry-casks - they have a “The Macallan Master of Wood” in order to control production of the casks and even select particular oak trees before they are felled. Ninety per cent of their casks are from Spain and seasoned with oloroso sherry. The casks provide all the colour to their whisky as the new make spirit is water white when it comes out of the still. The Macallan are always naturally coloured from the long ageing in oak casks (some other distilleries use caramel for colouring).
Speyside is a fabulous place to visit and is only just over one hour’s drive from Inverness or Aberdeen airports. There are many other fine distilleries to visit in the area, such as Balvenie, Cardhu, Glen Grant, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Strathisla to name just a few. I would recommend staying at the Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside which has an excellent pub restaurant called the Copper Dog (particularly delicious black pudding!) and an extremely well-stocked Quaich bar with over 900 single-malt whiskies!