A veteran in the world of whiskies, David Cox already had a well established career in the industry before moving north of the border to join The Macallan in 1998 as Marketing Controller. Subsequently two years later, David joined the board of The Macallan Distillers Ltd.
Over the ensuing years David took responsibility for developing The Macallan's 'super-premium' business, including The Macallan Fine & Rare range, and visitor experience both on The Macallan Estate and distillery, before his retiral in 2016.
There are few brands as iconic and coveted as The Macallan, with multiple record breaking bottles to their name and the most sought-after expressions on the secondary market. To understand what led to this status we asked David why he believes The Macallan is held in such high levels of esteem.
The Macallan earned a reputation for producing top quality whiskies from the late 19th century, initially among the blenders then with a growing number of private customers as the 20th century progressed. The Macallan was consistently viewed as a "top dressing" malt by the blending trade and external references to its quality pepper the records over the years. A belief in the merits of small spirit stills, giving a more flavourful spirit, drawing on the fine reputation of the old Highland whiskies distilled in small stills, and insistence over many years of maturing in oak sherry casks from Spain, combined to produce an exceptional whisky, with great mouthfeel, deep colour and a full, rich flavour.
Although The Macallan has a history which traces back to 1824, it was not until relatively recently that the brand started marketing The Macallan in bottle, with its very first advert appearing in “The Times” newspaper in the early 1980s. Hugh Mitcalfe had recently been brought on board to build the reputation of The Macallan from blenders malt to a fully-fledged single malt whisky brand, taking advantage of the wealth of maturing stocks that The Macallan had secreted away in their warehouse.
There are exceptional casks from The Macallan, and then there is cask #263. Filled almost 100 years ago in 1926, the liquid drawn from this hallowed cask is a testament to the mastery of those who have gone before and an inspiration for those that will follow.
Could you provide an overview of the ‘fundamentals’ of Cask #263? The defining characteristics?
It was a Spanish oak sherry hogshead, chosen by Hugh Mitcalfe, The Macallan's first Marketing Director, after sifting through the cask inventory in the early 1980's. He was surprised to find such an old cask and I think everyone was surprised by how well such an old whisky "nosed" when put to the nosing panel before being released into bottle for release in 1986. Fortunately, its strength had held above the 40% abv, and it was bottled at natural cask strength of 42.6%. The natural colour was wonderfully dark, almost a polished mahogany, with typical rich, dark fruits and spices in aroma and flavour, and with a dry finish.”
According to David, the casks in 1926 were mostly sourced from George Gorrod, a cooperage in Aberdeen, also known to have supplied some of the exceptional casks which delivered the famed 1964 vintages, namely the Fino Cask expression, from the renowned Bowmore distillery on Islay.
Just a minute forty bottles were drawn from ex-sherry hogshead #263, David provided us with some interesting details around the creation of the three bottlings taken from Cask #263.
[The bespoke 1926 bottlings] were devised by the team back in 1985/86. Peter Blake was introduced by Allan Shiach, the then chairman, and David Holmes, the creative genius behind the early, famous ad campaign of the 1980's and early 1990's, who were both acquainted with him.
Valerio Adami was introduced by Armando Giovinetti, The Macallan's importer and distributor in Italy. At that time, Italy was The Macallan's biggest export market.
The Fine and Rare 1926 simply slotted into the Fine and Rare vintage range when we launched it in the autumn of 2002. At that time, I think there were some twelve bottles left from the original 40 derived from the cask.
So what does a million pound whisky taste like? We asked David,
Have you tried the liquid yourself and if so, can you share anything about it and the experience surrounding the tasting?
Yes, I once had the opportunity to try a small residue sample. It was incredibly rich and deep on the nose, with all the classic aromas of classic Macallan long matures in sherry casks. I recall the taste and finish were dry and quite woody, unsurprising given the sixty years the whisky has lain in the cask.
What inspired such a unique an exclusive range of bottlings from Cask #263?
The Macallan 1926, and other rare, vintage bottlings such as the 1928, the 1946/1948 and the Millennium Decanter, all released before the Fine and Rare range came to fruition, were all designed to build upon the reputation of The Macallan for producing exceptional old and fine whiskies, and most critically to cast a beneficial halo over the entire Macallan range. They were not sold simply for profit, as the volumes were so small, but for the prestige they conferred on The Macallan, building further on the unsurpassed reputation of The Macallan for consumers, collectors and, increasingly, for investors alike.
The Macallan 1926 Fine & Rare 60 Year Old currently holds the world record for the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold. It is widely regarded as the pinnacle in rare whisky collecting, with scarcely any having experienced the satisfaction and pleasure of owning a bottle so unique and of unparalleled reputation. Today this bottle is an iconic representation of The Macallan and their exacting quality. We asked David,
In your opinion what makes The Macallan 1926 vintage so irresistible to collectors that it has become a record-breaking bottle in several of its varying forms?
Very simply the long-standing reputation of The Macallan for producing quite outstanding whisky, the age of the whisky (sixty years old in this case), and its rarity. Such attributes underpin the value of all great collectibles, be they Old Masters, classic cars, complicated watches or fine wines!
THE MACALLAN FINE & RARE COLLECTION
During David’s tenure at The Macallan, he launched the Fine & Rare range of vintage Macallan. The Fine & Rare collection currently holds over fifty vintages to date – the greatest collection of vintage single malt ever released direct from a distillery. We asked David Cox about the aim of the revered series and its conceptualization.
The concept came from the success of The Macallan among collectors and connoisseurs from the earliest auctions for whiskies dating back to the late 1980's. That in turn rested on the ability of The Macallan to introduce wonderfully old whiskies drawn from stocks built up since the end of the Second World War. As I said earlier, The Macallan ages especially well, given the marriage of its heavier, flavourful spirit with the assertive tannins and other colour/flavour compounds extracted from the Spanish sherry casks. Lighter styles of spirit from taller stills would not be able to sustain such long maturation in these casks without being overwhelmed by woody notes. Like the finest Bordeaux wines, classic Macallan develops with age much longer than most.
The concept was simply to introduce a new “vintage” each year, continuing to build a vintage range unsurpassed in the industry. That is still the objective and The Macallan now has a “library” of old and rare vintage releases to match some of the finest wines.
Why was it decided to include the 1926 expression in the series?
The remaining 1926 bottles comprised the oldest vintage Macallan left when we introduced Fine and Rare in 2002. It was the obvious and logical thing to do, anchoring the whole vintage range with the oldest, rarest and most valuable we still had in stock.
The Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare 60 Year Old features in the second part sale of The Perfect Collection by Mr. Gooding along with an incredible selection of sought-after vintages from the wider Fine & Rare Collection. The Perfect Collection: Part Two will be exclusively offered through Whisky Auctioneer from 12 - 22 February.