By Mairi Beautyman | April 24, 2019 | Food & Drink
Forget jewelry, watches or classic cars—rare whisky is the luxury item enticing investors. According to the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index released in March, rare whisky came in second—after art—in top sales of 2018, with a record-smashing sale by auction house Christie’s of a bottle of TheMacallan 1926. Hand painted by Michael Dillon, the bottle holds the world record for most expensive sale at $1.5 million.
On the heels of this news, distillery The Glenlivet introduces 150 bottles of 50-year-old scotch, each priced at a cool $25,000. Titled the Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, the collection is a toast to both Glenlivet’s master distiller Alan Winchester and to the oldest of the malts from the oak casks which make the single-malt blend. This most recent release is Glenlivet’s third collection of 50-year-scotch, following those in 2014 and 2016.
In the rare whisky industry, the bottle and case are nearly as important as the blend itself, something the business minds behind Glenlivet (who has in the past released bottles encrusted in diamonds) are well aware. For the task, they enlisted British designer Bethan Gray, who referenced the beauty of the local Scottish landscape—Glenlivet has operated almost continuously since 1824 in rural Moray, Scotland—for the handblown glass bottle and stained maple, copper, and mother-of-pearl case.
“We used 165 feet of copper overlay because copper is a specific part of the whisky making process,” says Gray, referring to the distillery’s enormous copper stills. “The mother-of-pearl is in reference to the fresh water mussels in the near by river.
Overfished for their pearls, these mussels are now endangered. The hand-painted and engraved bottle’s ombré coloring—transitioning from light to dark—is a reference to the aging process. To produce two bottles, with their accompanying cases, all by hand, it takes craftsworkers a week.
As for how the distillery is able to come up with 50-year-old bottles of scotch, it wasn’t exactly planned. “What they were laying down was probably for the 12-year-old,” explains Winchester. “Over the years we lay down stocks, and sometimes we don’t need it—but that’s not often.”
The preciousness of the ancient tipple is also heightened by the ‘angel’s share’—or what is lost to evaporation, heavily influenced by humidity and storage. If the whisky falls below 40 percent of alcohol content, it can not be called scotch. It’s also worth noting
that whiskey with the ‘e’ also makes it not Scottish.
Certain whisky styles do well in certain countries, Winchester reveals. The 12-year-old, for example, is number one in the U.S. market. Canadians, on the other hand, have a penchant for the 15-year-old. “Using past experience, Taiwan could be the biggest market for the 50-year-old,” Winchester predicts.
What does 50-year whisky taste like? “The nose is busting with sweetness with hints of jam and toasted almonds,” while the taste “coats the mouth with a lovely velvety note with delicious notes of fondant orange melting into milk chocolate,” Winchester told a crowd of journalists and members of the whisky industry at the bottle’s launch—a rare dinner inside the distillery itself (in order to create a more comfortable temperature, the heat-generating copper stills were turned off at noon). However, the savvy investor won’t crack open a bottle any time soon.
Photography courtesy The Glenlivet