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Discover which Scotch Whisky brand dominates our shortlist of the world's most collectable bottles.
By Emma Al-Mousawi | February 18 2021
When it comes to the price of rare and collectible whisky, it seems like the only way is up. As soaring bids and an endless buzz of broken auction records continue to dominate the industry’s headlines, it is predominantly Scottish and Japanese whisky that command the mightiest price tags among global collectors. As a result, it is the whisky from these two nations alone that make up our short list of the most expensive whisky ever sold at auction.
It may be unsurprising to whisky aficionados that The Macallan reigns supreme when it comes to smashing records under the hammer. In fact, no other Scotch whisky brand comes close.
Not only does the Speyside distillery take all but one space on our list of seven, four of the six Macallan lots featured are actually from the same cask: the legendary #263, which auction house Sotheby’s has described as the “holy grail” of whisky. But there are a number of factors that set the bottles apart. We take a look at these and a handful of other bottles that have made our list of the most expensive whisky ever sold at auction.
When The Macallan Red Collection went up for auction at Sotheby’s in London in November 2020, the rare set of six whiskies had, what in hindsight seems to be, an extremely modest presale estimate of £200,000 ($259,000). Bids soon started arriving from all corners of the globe as collectors competed to own the only set of its kind to be made available for sale. The result was a winning bid nearly four times higher at £756,400 ($975,756), with the proceeds going to the food charity City Harvest London.
The collection features six highly aged Macallan whiskies, including two of the oldest ever released by the distillery – a 74 Year Old and a 78 Year Old. Despite The Macallan Red Collection being made available to purchase in extremely limited numbers, this particular series differs from the standard release thanks to its exclusive labels, illustrated and signed by Spanish artist Javi Anarez, with only two sets in existence.
The Macallan Lalique Legacy Collection is a set of six crystal decanters from revered French glassmaker and jeweler Lalique, containing some of the rarest of The Macallan’s single malts aged from 50 to 65 years old. Each of the six sought-after limited-edition decanters had originally been single releases and are the product of a decade-long collaboration between The Macallan and the iconic French brand.
Each of the six bottles is highly prized as individual whiskies, but when the whole collection – housed in a bespoke natural ebony cabinet that also holds six miniatures and six pairs of Lalique Macallan glasses – came up for auction in April 2017, it also surpassed expectations. The spring auction at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong saw the incredibly rare set sell for $993,000.
This is the first whisky on the list from The Macallan’s famous cask #263, and it’s worth giving you a bit of background. After the sherry-seasoned cask was filled in 1926, it lay untouched in the Speyside distillery for six decades until 1986, when its golden elixir was divided into just 40 bottles. Twenty-four were dressed in labels by famous artists, one bottle was commissioned to be painted, while two were auctioned in blank bottles. The remaining 14 were to be offered as part of Macallan’s vintage release program – but more on that later.
The first release of 12 bottles was in 1993, and to reflect the exclusivity of the single malt, The Macallan teamed up with pop artist Sir Peter Blake (best known for his design of the album cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) to design the label. This would be the first of three artistic partnerships that would help see the Macallan 1926 60 Year Old achieve skyrocketing auction bids.
In May 2018, one of the 12 The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60 Year Old came up for auction at Bonhams in Hong Kong and sold for £751,703 (approximately $1.04m).
The second release of 12 bottles of the Macallan 60 Year Old from that elusive cask came in 1993. This time, it was the turn of another famous pop artist to design the label: Italian painter Valerio Adami. Adami’s label depicts a nude figure seemingly admiring the same bottle of The Macallan 1926.
Out of the 12 bottles produced, it is rumored that one was destroyed in a Japanese earthquake, making it even rarer and ultimately more sought-after. When a bottle came up for online auction in February 2020, it attracted 1,642 bidders from 56 countries across the globe, including Australia, Singapore and the UK. The winning bidder is said to be a European who paid £825,000 (approximately $1.07m).
Last year this set of ultrarare Japanese whiskies shattered its previous 2019 record by $600,000 to sell for $1.52m, reaffirming its place as the most expensive set of Japanese whisky ever sold. The highly sought-after Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series comprises 54 bottles, each representing a playing card in a deck.
Adding to the desirability of the collection is the story of how it came to life. The renowned Hanyu distillery was established in 1941 by Isouji Akuto, who came from a long line of sake brewers. Before it ceased in 2000, Akuto’s grandson conserved 400 casks of fine whisky from the distillery. From these casks, he hand-selected each whisky (or card), which was then released between 2005 and 2014 to create the Full Card Series.
As one of the few remaining bottles from cask #263, The Macallan distillery decided this bottle of the prized 60 Year Old was to be commissioned to be hand-painted by the Irish artist Michael Dillon. The one-of-a-kind bottle was released in 1999 and depicts The Macallan Speyside estate’s cherished Easter Elchies House in beautiful detail.
The bottle hadn’t been seen since it was originally purchased 19 years previously at the prestigious London department store Fortnum & Mason. That is, until it went under the hammer at Christie’s in London in November 2018 and became the first whisky to surpass the £1m mark at auction, selling for £1.2m (approximately $1.53m). It is now the second-most-expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at auction.
The Macallan Fine and Rare 60 Year Old was bequeathed the status of the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at auction when in 2019 it sold for a record-breaking $1.9m at Sotheby’s in London. It’s considered the founding father of The Macallan Fine and Rare series – a collection of 57 vintage single-malt whiskies produced by the distillery over eight decades – which remains the most coveted whisky collection to this day.
All 14 bottles of The Macallan Fine and Rare 60 year old are thought to be housed in private collections, but a new record is expected to be set February 22 when a bottle goes under the virtual hammer on the Whisky Auctioneer website. Bidding began on February 12, and at the time of publishing, with four days to go, stood at £835,000 (approximately $1.16m).