From September 1987 to January 1993, I lived in London, England for nearly five years, although I had to return to Japan for about six months during that time. At that time, I was working on a monthly magazine for Japanese expatriates in London, and I visited Sotheby's and Christie's in London many times for interviews. On one occasion, I was commissioned by Geijutsu Shincho, a Japanese magazine published by Shinchosha, to cover an entire issue of Christie's Sotheby's. At the time, wine auctions were not common. At that time, wine auctions were generally well known and I had participated in several auctions, but there were no auctions held for whiskey alone. Whiskey bottles began to appear at auctions in the late 1990s after I returned to Japan. At the time, I was mainly covering Scotch as a whiskey writer, so I visited auction houses in Edinburgh and Glasgow to cover previews and other events. I was surprised to see dozens of old bottles of Macallan, which I had never seen before, from the 1860s and 1970s, being offered at each auction. I would like to write about that someday when I have a chance, but what is being said now is the fact that all but one or two of those bottles were fakes.
Be that as it may, the bottle I am going to introduce this time is the genuine article of the same Macallan. Unlike the earlier bottles from the mid-19th century, the 60-year-old Macallan has all the data, and there is virtually no possibility of faking it. This bottle was distilled at the Macallan distillery in 1926, packed in Oloroso sherry butt casks (500 L capacity), and laid up in the Macallan warehouse. The cask number is No. 263, which is also listed in the distillery's ledger.
This was bottled in 1986, and the owner of Macallan found it by chance when he was sorting through the old ledgers at the time. While the whiskey is aging in the casks, the contents are reduced by two to three percent per year through evaporation, called angel's share. Macallan has dozens of aging casks, some of which have extremely low angel's share. Normally, after 60 years of aging, it would not be surprising if the contents had been reduced to zero, but miraculously, about 30 liters remained in this cask. The original 500 liters were filled with 30 liters, which means that 470 liters were drunk by angels, but it was decided to bottle and release this wine, so it was carefully bottled. The number of bottles is said to have been as many as 30 or 40.
Artists work on special labels.
Because it is bottled as a miracle whiskey, the packaging had to be special as well. Macallan commissioned two artists to label 12 bottles each. One is Sir Peter Blake, a British contemporary pop art master, who may not be familiar to the general public, but you may be surprised to hear that he painted the cover of the Beatles' famous album, "Sgt. The cover is a very similar one to that album. Exactly the same pop artwork as that album was painted and applied to 12 bottles as labels.
These Peter Blake bottles were sold in 1986 for $1 million each. At that time, even a bottle of Macallan 50 years or older could be purchased for 50,000-60,000 yen, so it was not an easy sell, no matter how many bottles were labeled with Peter Blake's name. Even so, it took six years to sell out the 12 bottles. So Macallan decided to sell the next bottle of the 60-year-old Macallan, with a label featuring a painting by Italian artist Valerio Adami, this time at an auction rather than for sale to the public. It took three to four years for the 12 bottles to be sold out, but I remember that the winning bid was between 2 and 4 million Japanese yen. I have heard that two of my acquaintances won the auction for this bottle, and one of them paid 2 million yen. Of course, the contents are exactly the same as those of Peter Blake's bottle.
However, as mentioned above, there are nearly 6-16 remaining unlabeled bottles of this Macallan 60 year old. One of these bottles was sold at Fortnum & Mason in London in 1992-3, and was painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon directly on the unlabeled bottle. The office where I was working at the time was located near the store, and I went there to cover this bottle and remember it well, but I recall that the selling price at Fortnum was something like 6 million yen. I am not sure who bought it, but it disappeared from the storefront around 1998.
Finally, a single bottle of the product was surprisingly worth more than 200 million yen...
Now, here we come to the unprecedented auction fever caused by the recent whisky boom. It was around 2017-18 that the aforementioned Peter Blake and Adami bottles began to make a splash at auctions in London, Hong Kong, and New York. First, the two bottles appeared at the Bonhams Hong Kong auction held in May 2018, where the Blake bottle sold for US$1,014,000 and the Adami bottle for US$1,100,000, making a splash. Of course, this was the highest price ever paid for a single bottle, at the time, about 112.4 million Japanese yen and 122 million yen, respectively.
However, in October of the same year, the same Adami bottle sold for 126 million yen at an auction in Edinburgh, quickly surpassing the record set in Hong Kong. Still, it is an unusual situation (?) that a single bottle of Adami exceeds 100 million yen. The first sale price was 1 million yen, and the second was 2 million yen. Considering that the initial selling price was 1 or 2 million yen, the price jumped nearly 100 times. However, there is a higher price....
The same 1926 Macallan 60 year old, but as I have said many times, there are (or should be...) still unlabeled bottles of this. One of those bottles appeared at the London Sotheby's auction in October 2019 and sold for a whopping 1.5 million pounds, or 217.3 million Japanese yen. Finally, the price of one bottle exceeded 200 million yen...
The craftsmen who made this bottle at the Macallan distillery in rural Scotland in 1926 might be stunned to hear this. In any case, this is the highest price ever put on a bottle, and it has yet to be broken. No, it should be.