In 1926, whisky makers at Scotland’s Macallan Distillery took a Spanish-made oak cask, filled it with Oloroso sherry, to absorb the flavors, emptied it, and then filled it with a clear, pre-maturation whisky, known as “new make” spirit. Then they waited. And waited, and waited.
Sixty years later, in 1986, when their successor whisky makers deemed the wait long enough, cask no. 263 was finally drained, and poured into 40 bottles. In 1989, they released the first 12, with labels by English pop artist Peter Blake, who had designed The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album cover around a decade prior. Four years later, they released another 12, with labels designed by Italian painter Valerio Adami.
Those 24 bottles seldom pop up on the market, and when they do, they go for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. But it’s their sisters that are the real prize, with one-of-a-kind hand-painted bottles, and prices to match. One such bottle from 1999, painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon, sold for $1.5 million (£1.2 million) at auction at Christie’s last week (Nov. 29). The sale broke a previous record for most expensive whisky, set in October by a nearly $900,000 (£700,000) Macallan bottle with a Valerio Adami label. The Dillon label is a vividly rendered illustration of the Macallan home, built in 1700.
But here’s the question: If you’re the owner of this Scotch, do you put it aside as a million-dollar investment, or say to hell with it, and pour yourself a drink? If it’s the latter, Christie’s master of wine Tim Triptree said in a statement, you’re in for a real treat. “It’s going to be incredibly complex,” he said—with a deep mahogany shade, and a cacophony of different aromas and concentrated flavors. “You’ll get some of the spices from the wood, little hints of vanilla, potentially some nutty characteristics, cinnamon, Christmas cake….”
On the other hand, at $1.5 million for 750ml, each 25ml pour comes with an eye-watering price tag of $50,000. A hefty chunk of change for the wee-est of drams—though if you’ve just dropped that much moolah on a bottle of whisky, you may need a dose of something strong to steady your nerves.