The Macallan 1926 60 Year Old is without doubt the most exclusive and sought after bottle of whisky in the world, drawn from the legendary cask #263.
The cask was discovered in the early 1980s by Hugh Mitcalfe (the marketing director of Macallan at the time) tucked away in the corner of a warehouse. Just over 30 liters of liquid remained in this 250 liter cask, with the angels having enjoyed the rest.
Incredibly, the ABV of the whisky remained at 42.6% and it was unanimously approved by the nosing panel. Mitcalfe reminisced, “two of us had the hairs standing up on the backs of our necks because we were so amazed that it could last for 60 years in a cask and it was still so good.”
Enough remained for 40 bottles, which were all drawn, but not immediately released. To begin with just 12 bottles of this special whisky were released, and over the next 16 years five iterations would come to market, namely:
1986 Peter Blake labels—12 bottles
1993 Valerio Adami labels—12 bottles
1999 Michael Dillon label—one bottle
2001-2002 Unlabelled—two bottles
The Macallan Fine and Rare labels—up to 13 bottles
Version One: The Peter Blake 1926 60 Year Old
The first 12 bottles of the Macallan 1926 60 Year Old were released in 1986, and featured a label designed by British pop artist, Sir Peter Blake. Blake is perhaps best known for creating the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). He has had a long-standing relationship with Macallan since he was approached by his friend, David Holmes, to create a label for the twelve 1926 bottles in 1986.
For his labels Peter Blake used collage to create a black and white design depicting the distillery workers from the 1920s who helped to create this award-winning single malt. In the background is Easter Elchies House, an enduring symbol of the Macallan that sits on the banks of the river Spey.
The Macallan 1926 60 Year Old Peter Blake was presented in a bespoke glass presentation case, designed by David Holmes, which took inspiration from the distillery’s spirit safe. The record for the Blake edition was set in 2018, and remains at £800,000.
Version Two: The Valerio Adami 1926 60 Year Old
The second incarnation of the Macallan 1926 60 Year Old was the Valerio Adami, released in 1993. Armando Giovanetti was Macallan’s Italian agent in the 1980s and apparently he suggested Adami, an Italian painter who is well-known for his fragmented, abstract paintings.
Like Peter Blake, Adami was commissioned by Macallan to create just 12 labels for the Macallan 1926 60 Year Old bottles. Records suggest that at least two of these bottles have been lost or destroyed; one reportedly opened and drank years ago, and another smashed in 2011 during an earthquake in Japan. Which means only 10 Adami bottles remain.
In 2023 this edition set the world record price for a single bottle of whisky, £2,187,500 ($2,714,25).
Version Three: The Michael Dillon 1926 60 year old
In The Definitive Guide To Buying Vintage Macallan, Macallan invited purchasers to commission their own label designs for bottles of this iconic whisky, “We are happy to offer future purchasers of the few remaining bottles of 1926 Macallan the opportunity to work with a designer to create their own bespoke label design.” One such bottle was commissioned and offered for sale through Fortnum & Mason in London in 1999.
While it is often suggested that the hand painted one-of-one Michael Dillon bottle was one of two the bottles sold as unlabeled, the two unlabeled bottles were sold in 2001 and 2002, after the Dillon version was commissioned.
Dillon is best known for his long-running career as a decorative painter who mainly focuses on murals. This version of the 1926 60 Year Old sold for £1.2 million at Christie’s, London in 2018 and held the world record price until 2019.
Version Four: The Unlabelled Bottles
The remaining bottles of the Macallan 1926 60 Year Olds were initially left unlabelled. At least two of these bottles were sold in their unlabeled state, with the purchaser invited by Macallan to design their own bespoke label as part of the sales.
As mentioned, it is generally assumed that the Michael Dillon bottle is one of the two unlabeled bottles sold at auction. The timings from Macallan’s own literature suggests this is unlikely, which leaves us with the exciting prospect of more unique bottle designs yet to emerge.
The two unlabeled bottles each set records for the most expensive bottle of whisky when they were sold in 2001 (£15,000.00) and 2002 (£20,150.00) both by McTear’s Glasgow.
Version Five: The 1926 60 Year Old Fine & Rare
The Fine & Rare series began in 2002, and is the largest vintage collection from a single distillery in the world. Its aim is to showcase the broad range of vintages available from Macallan, ranging from the 1920s to the 1990s. In 2004 the remaining bottles from cask #263 joined this iconic series.
It is often cited that there are up to 14 bottles with the Fine & Rare label. This has not been confirmed by Macallan (that we are aware), and the timing of the other releases suggest this is more likely to be a maximum of 13. It is still the most common of the different label designs.
In 2019 a bottle of Macallan 1926 with the Fine & Rare label sold for £1.5 million at Sotheby’s London, that bottle held the record for the most expensive single bottle of whisky until 2023.
Despite being the most common edition of the 1926 60 Year Old, this bottle remains one of the most sought after at auction. One explanation for this is the bottle’s position as the figurehead of the Fine & Rare collection, and the official Macallan branding on an otherwise ordinary label. By contrast, the artist-produced labels have dual appeal to both whisky and art collectors, however that may also require the purchaser to have prior knowledge of the artist before dropping millions on a single bottle.
The Enduring Significance of Macallan 1926 60 Year Old
The first bottles of Macallan 1926 60 Year Olds were released in 1986, however Macallan have continued to evolve the bottle designs for the iconic whisky from cask #263 maintaining their relevance with collectors. This is shown by bottles from the series continuing to break their own records and increase in value.
While the bottles are sold on the secondary market, Macallan continues to have an active involvement with the 1926 series. They recently commissioned a short-film directed by Alan Scott, which celebrated the life and achievements of “Nettie” who was the convention breaking female head of the distillery in 1926. Macallan also worked with Sotheby’s to recondition the capsule of the most recent Valerio Adami bottle to go up for sale. The bottle went on to set the new record for most expensive bottle of wine or spirit but over £600,000, retaining the crown they have held more times than any other distillery.