Macallan Gran Reserva – Its Creation and Collectability

The 1979 18 year old Macallan Gran Reserva – The Birth and Growth of an Iconic Whisky.

David talks through the creation of the Macallan Gran Reserva then Andy looks at its collectors credentials.

DAVID – It was summer of 1996 and Macallan was under new management. As a result of the take-over by Highland Distillers the challenge we were presented with was to develop a heart-n-mind capturing new release for the global markets. Having had experience and a good understanding of the stocks since joining Macallan in 1994, I knew that 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983 were halcyon years.  After conducting an extensive cask sampling and assessment programme we landed on creating a vintage first fill Spanish oak release – like the usual Macallan … but on steroids!  Gran Reserva was 100% first fill whereas our usual 18 year old was a mix of first and second fill.

Macallan Gran Reserva

To get the balance we wanted, we used casks which had previously contained a broad range of different sherries (dry oloroso, sweet oloroso, amontillados).  We also did some wood analysis at the time and discovered that Eugenol, a clove like tannin, was a key marker for ‘high tannin potential’ oak and was correlated with the deep rich red colour, aromatic spices and syrupy textures/mouth feel we wanted.

From memory, for the first release – a 1979 18 year old –  We selected around 50 first fill sherry butts and released somewhere in the region of 3,000 (12 bottle equivalent) cases – mixed between 75 cl and 70 cl.

Personally I loved the whisky, it was my first real ‘white space’ creation so I bought 8 cases – In staff sales it was selling for around £45 per bottle and was launched with a suggested retail price point of £65. Of these, I only have a few bottles left and they will now be saved for very special occasions.

My friends and family were gifted many bottles in the late 1990s and I recall consuming a couple with my father at the ghillies cottage at Macallan when we watched Hearts thrash Rangers two – one in the Scottish cup. We got off to a flying start as Cameron scored a penalty after the first two minutes. That marked the opening of the first bottle and I very quickly had one less in my collection. Poor Rothes was the town we chose to celebrate in after the win!

Not only was the Gran Reserva one of my favourite all time whiskies, I was also forcibly made to travel the world launching the Gran Reserva 1979 to a global audience. Imagine the utter hardship as I had to endure drinking this stuff morning, noon, afternoon and night as we travelled throughout USA, Canada, Europe and Asia showcasing it to my fellow whisky fans. A complete nightmare of a time in my life, as I’m sure you’ll agree!!!

Over the years I think I’ve drunk maybe 60 or so bottles but my favourite memory was developing a perfect end to a perfect meal in perfect company. Our dark chocolate mousse dessert was accompanied by a ‘dessert’ dram as well as a drinking dram. The dessert dram was poured over the mousse before we ate it… just delicious. It’s one of those small things but it became a real standout moment for me.

As would be expected, and for so many reasons, the 1979 Gran Reserva still sits in my top 10 whiskies. Others include the Caol Ila Managers Dram, Macallan 30 yo Blue Box, Brora 30, Dalmore 1973 Cab Sauvignon.

Sadly but inevitably, all good things have to come to an end. The Gran Reserva was discontinued once we ran out of stock from that first and only 1979 vintage.  Given it was such a success we were asked to repeat the feat and subsequently released the 1980, 1981 and 1982 vintages. I obviously enjoyed these other vintages but the 1979 just edges it for me. Being the first release it’s also hugely sought after – a bit like Balvenie Tun 1401 batch one.

In terms of what it’s like? While I haven’t had a tot of this for a wee while, I know the liquid intimately. My lasting memory is one of rich dried fruits, raisins, dates and prunes to the fore. The fruits are set against an intense background of tannic spice majoring on cloves, cinnamon, ginger and some cracked black pepper. This is then balanced with dark chocolate, citrus orange peel and sweet hints of red fruits and vanillin.

Now where are my last few bottles!?…..

Macallan Gran Reserva Box

ANDY – 1970’s distillate, first release, heavily sherried and from The Macallan… Let’s be fair, this was never destined to be left languishing on shelves gathering eons of dust like a Mannochmore Managers Choice. With a relatively small number of bottles released, of those 36,000ish bottles there will now be a tiny fraction left (Snow Phoenix had just over 60,000 bottles released)….. My esteemed colleague gave it a good go to remove as much as he could from the market, so many more will have done so too.

It’s scant surprise this bottle’s seen massive demand and steep price increases over the past few years. Its appearance at auction in comparison to the market in general is declining. Broad-based supply (the number of ALL collectable bottles hitting the UK auction market) is increasing at around 50% per year and has done for the last 5 years. The number of Gran Reserva 1979’s seeing the market is in decline, relatively speaking. In 2011 there were 19 sold at auction, 2012 saw 25, 2013 saw 33 and so far this year we’ve seen 25 (so we’re on track for 33 again this year). If general market increase dynamics are applied to this release then we should have seen – 40 in 2012, 60 in 2013 and around 90 bottles already in 2014…. Similar to, but not as severe as Black Bowmore – Bottled stocks are declining.

Values have increased rapidly in positive correlation to diminishing open market supply. The index below shows the growth in value of the 1979 vintage compared to all Gran Reserva vintages from the end of 2008 to September this year (the ‘All Gran Reserva’ index still includes the 1979 too).

Gran Reserva Index

While the 1979 is somewhat spikey, it’s still outpaced the general growth of all Gran Reserva’s by over 100%.

Current values place the 1979 at around £800 to £1,000 at auction with a 12 month low of £500 in February this year and a 12 month high of £1,300 in June this year. The 12 month average is £817. Good growth when you look at the 2008 12 month average which was £220. Taken in comparison to the standard 1979 18 year old Macallan it seems like ‘Macallan on Steroids’ has a significant lead. The current 12 month average of the standard 1979 18 year old is £401, leaving the Gran Reserva at more than double the standard bottles performance.

While it’s impossible to forecast forward what will happen to the value of anything, let alone just one bottle variant of Scotch; when you look at the diminishing supply relative to the rest of the market coupled with the exceptional quality of the liquid, The Macallan Gran Reserva looks like it still has legs.

This is undoubtedly one of the iconic collectibles; the only question is how far can it go?

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