Saturday 18th November 2023 saw the latest appearance of a Macallan 1926 at auction. Once more, it drew the attention of the world's media, the disdain of grumpy whisky folk and the same lazy quips from wannabe social media comedians that it "tastes better with Coke and ice". You could be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu about the whole occasion.

The whisky is undeniably spectacular - produced at the 'Rolls Royce' of distilleries, matured for six decades in desirable European oak and one of only 40 bottled from the legendary cask #263. These 40 have been split across various labellings; 12 Blake, 12 Adami, 12 Fine & Rare plus a handful of extras.

The well-heeled clientele of Sotheby's guarantee that auctions featuring bottles of this stature will have an exciting and unpredictable edge. And so it proved, with the invoice of the lucky buyer totalling over £2m. A magnificent outcome for which everyone involved should be applauded.

An interesting sub-plot of the day - understandably not highlighted by Sotheby's - is that the bottle in question is number 12; the exact bottle which formed the centrepiece of Whisky Auctioneer's 'The Perfect Collection' in Feburary 2020. However, the hammer price at the Perth-based online auction was 'only' £825,000. So why the huge disparity?

In many ways, The Perfect Collection lived up to its name: 4000 fascinating bottles with fantastic provenance, offered at the leading online platform with comprehensive publicity before and during the auction. Furthermore, early 2020 saw auction prices of old and rare whisky rising at what felt like an exponential rate. Everything was perfect.

Apart from one thing: the capsule. The foil seal was attached by a thread, meaning that one small bump could result in the bottle becoming unsealed and - as the cork could now be removed, liquid decanted elsewhere and the bottle refilled with cold tea - arguably worthless. The fragility of the capsule would also have created nervousness amongst potential bidders about their potential arrangements for receiving and storing the bottle long-term.

The failure to reach the £1m would have been a slight disappointment for the Whisky Auctioneer team. The exceptional provenance of the bottle as coming from the private collection of Richard Gooding led many to feel that the winning bidder had snapped up something of a bargain.

Step forward Sotheby's. In their words:

"Distinguishing this offering even further is the fact that this is the first bottle to have undergone reconditioning by The Macallan Distillery ahead of being presented at auction. This process involved replacing both the capsule and the cork, applying new glue to the corners of the bottle labels and taking a 1ml liquid sample to test against another 1926 bottle at the Edrington offices in Glasgow. The Macallan 1926 Adami bottle to be offered by Sotheby’s is now the foundation for all other 1926 bottles that may undergo testing in the future. In order to recondition the capsule, a sample swatch of the old capsule was used as a material match by a producer in Austria to recreate an identical replacement matching the original."

This level of scientific precision is unprecedented. From the author's personal experience of working in whisky auctions, the archive team of the brand (typically the distillery or bottler) are terrified of providing a definitive answer when asked the blunt question of "is this real or not?", most likely due to the potential embarrassment of them giving the green light, only for the bottle to be opened and for the liquid to clearly not be the genuine article.

One can speculate why the team at The Macallan took the decision to become so involved with the authentication process, which now sets the standard for all future appearances of high-value whisky at auction. Could this be a lucrative (but risky) 'side hustle' for the distillery? As the Sotheby's result shows, having a seal of approval from Macallan is worth its weight in gold.