DAVID COX, THE MACALLAN’S DIRECTOR OF RARE AND FINE WHISKIES, DECONSTRUCTS HIS LATEST US$933,000 COLLECTIBLE BEFORE HANGING UP HIS BOOTS.
WHEN THE AUCTIONEER opened to the floor The Macallan’s Legacy Collection at the kick-off to the Spring Sale Series by Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April, hands were shooting up for HK$850,000.
When the final hammer struck, mouths were agape at the black screen buzzing with the amount in various currencies: HK$6.3 million, seven times its initial bid.
Though daunting, the towering price tag wasn’t a complete surprise to the 100-strong audience or anyone in the whisky industry. It was, after all, the final collaboration in The Macallan’s 12-year partnership with Lalique and one that depicts the most fundamental traits of the whisky label’s genetic make-up: the Six Pillars.
The hefty bill includes six elaborate Lalique decanters symbolic of the brand’s six bedrocks – The Spiritual Home, The Curiously Small Stills, The Finest Cut, The Exceptional Oak Casks, The Natural Colour and The Peerless Spirit – each holding whiskies as old as 65 years, tipples that are no longer in circulation.
Also in the cabinet are the corresponding number of serial-coded The Macallan Lalique glasses as well as miniatures with whiskies dating from 1937 to 1939, reminiscent of René Lalique’s heydays.
The piano-like cabinet itself also has a tale. Designed by Pietro Mingarelli at La Maison Lalique, the dark and light timber stripes tip the hat to The Macallan’s use of the more full-toned Spanish oak casks and the straw-coloured American oak casks. Autographs of the masters behind the collection appear on a plaque inside.
And in good spirit, The Macallan made its own contribution on top of the HK$6.3m (US$809,000) to raise the total to US$933,000, the net profit of which will go to Hong Kong and Asia-based charities including the Society for Community Organization, Foodlink Foundation, Crossroads Foundation, Watsi and One Sky Foundation.
Although the idea of a collector’s box has been brewing in The Macallan’s pipeine since the birth of the initial decanter 12 years ago (with subsequent decanters released every other year), David Cox, the brand’s Director of Rare and Fine Whiskies, remembers their first business handshake like it was yesterday. And this final curtain call comes in time for Cox’s retirement after a tenure of almost 10 years.
Despite having heard of the crystal maker’s reputation through his remarkable perfume bottles and jewellery in classic Art-Deco style, it wasn’t until Cox touched the vases at Lalique’s shop on Bond Street that he fully grasped the calibre of his partner for the next 12 years. And given that Lalique would be working with his brand’s core values, Cox’s confidence was understandable.
“The Six Pillars are what makes The Macallan, The Macallan. It’s a combination of the six properties rather than just one. People do come along and say they take a finer cut or also have natural colour as well, but it’s the synergy and the collaboration of the whole that makes us special,” said Cox.
“I was intrigued by the Lalique style. As a brand, there’s something independent, individual and very distinctive about them. And it’s especially fitting that they haven’t done anything with or for the whisky industry before they met us,” he said, adding that he was fortunate enough to have worked with the same designer at Lalique, Marc Larimaux, throughout the decade-plus partnership.
Such close ties and the magnitude of Lalique’s exhaustive knowledge of The Macallan’s roots are perhaps best manifested by a tiny detail in the recently auctioned The Legacy Collection: the exclusive crystal glasses, which upon detailed inspection, reveal a slightly flared out mouth compared to traditionally vertically-rimmed tulips. It’s a detail Cox said Larimaux had simply “sketched out based on the descriptions of our head whisky maker Bob Dalgarno”.
The new design isn’t just for show. Rather, it overturns the conventional glasses for nosing and tasting whisky. According to Cox, the pinched tulip is ideal for concentrating aromas but sacrifices the taste as the liquid is directed down the middle of the mouth rather than to the sides where flavours are best captured.
The wide opening of the more popular tumbler, on the other hand, dismisses the aromas too quickly.
“The new Macallan Lalique glasses still deliver the fragrance, but thanks to the shape of the rim, alcohol is sent to the sides of the mouth so every drop of it can be savoured,” said Cox, adding that the satinated stem is as decorative as it is ergonomical.
And he’s right. Before he could explain further, my index and middle fingers instinctively wrapped behind the knobs on the stem while my thumb rested in the front.
“See, it just fits,” he smiled.
Though The Macallan’s collaboration with Lalique has drawn to a close in the Six Pillars project, Cox said the next partnership was launched last March.
Dubbed the Golden Age of Travel, the duty-free exclusive collection comprises whiskies distilled in the 1930s, again paying tribute to Lalique’s most influential days.
The decanters embossed with steam ships and aeroplanes are limited to 50 each. Every bottle is topped with a compass-like stopper and is housed in blue leather luggage complete with stitch marks on either side for a touch of authenticity.
“The Legacy Collection is symbolic of a legacy of a time of The Macallan long past. It’s the end of one journey with Lalique,” Cox concluded. “But we’re always thinking about what we can do with them. We didn’t and don’t want it to end.”