31/10/2023 General News
Despite the rise in specialist whisky shops and online retailers, the auction room remains the best place for enthusiasts to source the rarest and hardest-to-find bottles, writes Angela Marshall.
For the average whisky drinker who is used to buying mainstream brands in the supermarket, the thought of paying many hundreds, or even many thousands, or pounds on a single bottle might seem incredible. But just as collectors in any other arena value rarity and quality, so it is in the world of collectable whisky.
The most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at auction was a Macallan 1926 60 year-old Fine and Rare, which made a whopping £1.45 million at Sotheby’s in 2019. The bottle was described by the auctioneers as ‘the most iconic of all bottles of Scotch whisky’ and ‘the holy grail of whiskies’.
Macallan dominates the world of whisky collecting, with the top six most expensive whiskies ever sold coming from the Speyside distillery (the original name of the area was ‘Maghellan’, taken from the Gaelic word ‘magh’ meaning fertile ground and ‘Ellan’ from the monk St Fillan, who held a close association with the church that stood in the grounds of the Macallan estate until 1400).
Founded in 1824, Macallan was one of the first distillers in Scotland to be legally licensed. Despite its north-of-the-border origin, the distillery itself acknowledges contributing influences from Spain and North America in the creation of its iconic whiskies.
The whisky is distilled in some of the smallest stills used in Scotland, each holding an initial ‘charge’ of 3,900 litres. Just a small portion of this (the ‘cut’) will make it into the final bottle, giving a full-bodied richness which is so loved by whisky connoisseurs.
As important to the reputation of The Macallan as the spirit itself is the quality of the oak casks which give the finished product its distinct character. Much like top vineyards might lean on the expertise of a Master of Wine, Macallan has its own ‘Master of Wood’, who is responsible for sourcing, crafting, toasting and seasoning the casks.
Because they are so prized, new bottlings of Macallan get snapped up the moment they are released. So the saleroom has become one of the principal places to source the rarest examples.
Amongst a number of fine and rare bottles of whisky in Keys’ three day Fine Sale at the end of November is a bottle of The Macallan Anniversary Malt 25 Year Old, distilled in 1967 and bottled 1992. Complete with its original wooden presentation case, it has a pre-sale estimate of £2,500-£3,000.
Recent years have seen an explosion in companies offering ‘investment opportunities’ in casks of whisky. The nice thing about most whisky bottle auctions is that most bidders are enthusiasts rather than speculators. They are there because of their love of whisky, and even the most expensive bottles are usually destined to be opened and enjoyed at some stage.