A one-of-one edition of the Macallan The Reach 81 year old, the world’s oldest whisky, achieved a hammer price of £240,000/$270,487 at Sotheby’s, London in a special single lot auction on October 5th. An anonymous UK collector made the winning bid, making this the oldest whisky ever sold at auction. It was consigned directly from the distillery, with proceeds set to benefit the Macallan Artisan Apprentice Fund.
The previous record holder for the oldest whisky sold at auction was the world’s first 80 year old whisky, Gordon & MacPhail’s Generations 80 year old distilled at Glenlivet. Aged one year less than The Reach with only 250 bottles released, its decanter No.1 was auctioned by Sotheby’s, Hong Kong on October 7, 2021, achieving a hammer price of HK$1.2 million/$154,158. The proceeds of both sales raised money for charitable causes.
So what difference did a year make? Well, $116,330 apparently; the difference in the hammer price between the world’s first 80 year old whisky and the world’s first 81 year old whisky. But why? First, the Macallan is the world’s most collectible whisky and the first and only distillery to break a million dollars for a single bottle at auction. The presentation of both whiskies feature high-end design and craftmanship, but the sculptural elements of The Reach give it greater form as artwork over the Gordon & MacPhail bottling.
This sale took place at a time when some whisky auction houses were seeing a significant rise in the number of unsold bottles at their auctions, making the result all the more remarkable. When the Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80 year old was auctioned in October 2021, it was arguably a more crowded market. The day after the Glenlivet 80 year old fetched $154,158, Sotheby’s held a successful sale of the only set of the Dalmore Decades The No. 6 Collection for a hammer price just shy of $900,000, for example.
The Macallan The Reach 81 year old, 41.6% ABV, was released in February 2022 at a price of $125,000 per bottle, having been nurtured for generations since its distillation year in 1940. Macallan released 288 bottles, each cradled by three hands cast in bronze by sculptor Saskia Robinson in a case crafted from the wood of an old elm that had fallen at the Macallan estate. The one-of-one edition sold at auction had a red leather lining for its case, while all the others were cream-colored.
This auction competitiveness between greatly aged whiskies is far from over, as some of the biggest names in scotch attempt to preserve dwindling stocks of very old liquid inside ancient casks in order to bring forth ever older whiskies. By the middle of the 21st century, we may face the prospect of seeing the world’s first whisky aged for a century, leaving us to wonder what that one will be worth?