WORDS CHRIS MADIGAN
On Friday, 21 October, a 50-year-old Glenlivet single malt was auctioned at Christie’s, New York, to raise money for the British Crafts Council, and reached $31,850 before the hammer fell. The auctioned lot was a special master distiller’s bottle of The Glenlivet Winchester Collection Vintage 1966, in which the decanter is specially etched with Glenlivet master distiller Alan Winchester’s signature, but also included an invitation from Winchester to the Speyside distillery to fill a cask with 2016 new-make spirit to be laid down for another 50 years and bottled in 2066 for the owner’s descendants (barring medical miracles!).
The Glenlivet Winchester Collection Vintage 1966 comes from a sherry cask which – thanks to a half century of maturation and evaporation (‘the angel’s share’) – has produced only 100 bottles of an incredibly rich, dark whisky (plus a 5cl tasting sample each). With the first now sold, bottles number two to 100 are on sale for £20,000 from selected stockists.
The man who gives his name to the whisky offered his tasting notes at the unveiling in New York: ‘The nose is deliciously sweet with the aromas of moist raisins and apricot jam . Then, on the palate you have a wonderful release of soft fruits, even boiled sweets, treacle and juicy orange, with extra layers of liquorice and cinnamon – that’s the strong influence of the Spanish oak sherry butt it has been maturing in for 50 years. The way the subtle spice contrasts with the signature soft sweetness is probably the greatest difference between this and the first whisky in the Winchester Collection, the Vintage 1964.’
The idea of the sale benefitting the Crafts Council came from the fact that, in Winchester’s words, ‘this whisky has been cared for and crafted for generations, as will be the Vintage 2016′. As is the way with rare releases of single malt whiskies, craftsmanship surrounds the packaging too. The decanter, handblown by glass artist Brodie Nairn has flowing lines which refer to the name Glenlivet, which is Scots Gaelic for ‘the smooth-flowing valley’. Silversmith Richard Fox, who has previously worked for Rolls Royce and designed F1 trophies, has created a gold stopper set with quartz from the Cairngorms known as the whisky stone. And it is contained in a leather-lined cherry-wood case made by Glaswegian cabinetmaker John Galvin.
The money raised will support British makers showing their wares at international fairs such as Design Miami in early December. One of the craftspeople selected is Joseph Harrington, who uses an innovative method of carving salt-treated ice as a mould to produce glass interpretations of the landscape. The Crafts Council creative director Annie Warburton said, ‘John Ruskin’s description of art as the confluence of head, heart and hand applies equally to whisky-making. We have a shared passion – not only bringing the finest British products to international attention, but also passing on treasured skills from generation to generation.’
Christie’s, which auctioned the 50-year-old Glenlivet, hosted its first dedicated fine wines sale in October 1966, so it was the appropriate auction house for The Glenlivet Winchester Collection Vintage 1966. Christie’s wine and spirits specialist Noah May said, ‘The bottle was, without doubt, one of the greatest whiskies Christie’s have ever offered; this was illustrated by the stellar result – the lot the second highest price for any bottle of whisky sold at Christie’s in New York. The quality of the whisky spoke for itself, but the added dimension – the opportunity to travel to Scotland and lay down a cask with Alan Winchester – was unique and led to competitive bidding for this exceptional lot.’