Why This Macallan Scotch May Nab $1.4 Million at Auction | Wine Enthusiast
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The World’s Most Sought-After Scotch May Fetch $1.4 Million

On November 18, a 96-year-old bottle of single- malt Scotch, The Macallan Adami 1926, will go up for auction at Sotheby’s, in London. Billed as “the most sought-after Scotch whisky,” it’s anticipated to fetch a staggering price of $1.4 million (1.2 million pounds).

Vintage whiskeys—Scotch and otherwise—come up for auction regularly. So, what makes this bottle so desirable? Age and scarcity, says Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s global head of spirits.

“The Macallan 1926, in general, is the oldest whiskey by vintage statement that Macallan has ever released,” Fowle explains. Bottled in 1986 at 60 years old, it was at the time the longest-aged liquid the distillery had ever bottled, he says. Only 40 bottles were made; they weren’t sold to the public, only offered to select distillery clients.

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onny Fowle, Sotheby's Global Head of Spirits, unveils a bottle of The Macallan 1926, the world's most expensive whisky estimated at £750,000- 1,200,000, at Sotheby's on October 19, 2023 in London, England.
Image Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Just 11 Bottles Left (and Possibly Fewer)

Those 40 bottles were released with various labels. As many as 14 were decorated with the iconic Fine and Rare labels. Another 12 were labeled by pop artist Peter Blake and two were released with no labels at all. In 1993, the remaining 12 bottles had their labels designed by Italian painter Valerio Adami—one of which is what’s coming up for auction this month.

Adding to the rarity factor, one of the Adami-labeled bottles is thought to have been destroyed during an earthquake in Japan in 2011. And one or more of the 40 bottles has already been opened and consumed (which label is unclear). So, at most, just 11 of the Adami bottles are left.

“For various reasons, this sits above the industry as the collectible bottle, rather than a collectible bottle,” says Fowle. “Every time it’s come to auction it’s broken records.” The last time a Macallan 1926 bottle sold (with the Fine & Rare label, also at Sotheby’s) was 2019, for $1.8 million (1.4 million pounds). It sett an auction record for any bottle of wine or spirits at the time.

“A Talisman That People Want to Own.”

Is this bottle really worth a million-plus? Some say it’s not about the liquid in the bottle, but about the perception that the brand is investment-worthy. Forget crypto or fine art—for some, the ultimate alternative investment is whiskey, and Macallan in particular.

“Any whiskey auction these days has more Macallan in it than any other distillery,” says Edgar Harden, who runs Old Spirits Co, which buys and sells vintage booze collections. “Macallan is the leader in terms of whiskey investment by brand.” The only other brand that comes close is America’s Pappy Van Winkle, the cult bourbon brand, he adds. Both are about the liquid in the bottle—but it’s also about marketing.

“Of course, the whisky is excellent, but is it that much better than any one of a number of other famous Scotch brands selling 50-plus-year-old whiskies?” Harden asks. “Possibly a bit, but not by a factor of hundreds or thousands,” as current auction prices reflect.

In the end, “a bottling such as the 1926 60-year-old is a talisman that people want to own,” says Harden. “The problem is that there are more billionaires than ever right now and they are all vying for the same trophies.”

The Distillers One of One auction, Hopetoun House, Scotland_5 October 2023
Image Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Testing and Tasting

Like any high-end collectible at this range, the item is rigorously vetted before it goes up for auction. The verification process included examining the specifics of the bottle and cork, glass type, paper quality and printing on the label.

But unlike most bottles, this one was taken back to Macallan to be opened and the liquid tested. Macallan Master Whisky Maker Kirsteen Campbell was also involved in verifying the liquid. Her tasting assessment of the Scotch, aged for six decades in ex-Sherry casks (plus additional decades in the glass bottles) included “sweet antique oak” and “a robust presence of resinous wood, complemented by the sweetness of medium treacle toffee and an abundance of rich dried fruits.”

The bottle was then reconditioned, including replacing the capsule and the cork and applying new glue to the corners of the bottle label.

For those seeking similar investment-grade bottles, Geoff Kirk, channel director secondary market at The Macallan, suggests looking to the brand’s Fine & Rare Collection. (For more immediate pouring, we’ll add our own recommendation, too: The Macallan Estate Single Malt, which has similar Sherry cask finishing. It’s retailing for around $500 these days, which is not cheap—but it’s not $1.4 million, either.)

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Of course, these bottles won’t be exactly like the 1926 bottling. “It is not possible to precisely replicate the characteristics without long maturation,” says Kirk.

Advance bidding began on November 1. On the day of the auction, the live event will include bidders in the room raising their paddles (yes, that’s still part of IRL auctions) and sipping single malts from a special pop-up bar on site. It’s part of a larger “Weekend of Whisky” promo that also includes the sale of a particularly valuable collection of Japanese whiskies. “We’re trying to bring entertainment back into the auction room,” says Fowle. “It’s been lost during the digitization of the pandemic.”

We’ll also be keeping an eye on the upcoming auction—but as spectators, not investors, likely with a (far less expensive) dram close at hand.