Spirits: They'll Drink to This

Earlier this year, the Macal­lan released the most aged whisky in the 186-year-old distillery’s history, a single malt drawn from three ex-sherry Spanish-oak casks filled no later than 1946. The largest individual portion of that release is contained in a one-of-a-kind decanter designed and produced by French crystal maker Lalique and called Cire Perdue, French for "lost wax," the name of the method by which the vessel was made.

The decanter and its contents, 1.5 liters of the 64-year-old whisky, are expected to draw bids in the hundreds of thousands of dollars during a November 15 charity auction conducted by Sotheby’s New York. Consider that a standard 700 ml bottle of the Macallan’s second-oldest release, a 60-year-old single malt distilled in 1926 and bottled in 1986, sold at a 2007 auction for $54,000. That bottle was one of 40 in existence. The Cire Perdue decanter is filled with more than twice the volume, and, excluding a small quantity of previously auctioned drams, it contains the only sample of the 64-year-old spirit offered to the public.

The Cire Perdue is no less impressive than its contents. The lost-wax method with which Lalique produced the decanter is a time-consuming, laborious process that involves forming a model of a design from wax and then using that wax model to create a plaster mold into which molten crystal is poured. Company founder René Lalique employed this method until the 1930s, when the arthritis in his fingers forced him to abandon it. (René worked with molten glass, not crystal; the company did not introduce crystal items into its product line until after his death, in 1945.) This year, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of René’s birth (see "Crystal Reve­lations," page 208), Lalique established a workshop at its factory in Wingen-sur-Moder, France, where craftsmen again are using the lost-wax method to produce decanters and other crystal designs. The Cire Perdue is the first product from the workshop—the first surviving product, that is. In succession, Lalique made and destroyed 20 examples of the decanter before achieving what it deemed perfection on its 21st attempt.

Since April, the Cire Perdue, filled with the whisky, has been on a world tour that will culminate with the Sotheby’s sale. At each stop on the tour, drams of the 64-year-old Macallan have been auctioned. Through mid-September, the decanter had visited seven cities—including Paris, London, Moscow, and Hong Kong—and the accompanying auctions had raised more than $83,000. The Macallan and Lalique will donate the money from the dram auctions and the proceeds from the sale of the Cire Perdue to the nonprofit group Charity: Water, an organization with a mission to provide clean drinking water to people in undeveloped nations. The organization plans to use the money to fund at least 17 long-term, sustainable clean-water projects, which, it says, will benefit more than 5,000 people.

The Macallan, www.themacallan.com

Photo by Antoine Bagot
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