I was with some friends recently and over a few festive drams, we discussed the 'aesthetic' of the whisky bottle. I don't know if this is just me, (or if i'm just plain weird) but every time I see a new bottle design, I kind of see the shape of a person in it.
Ardbeg, with its slightly bulbous shoulders and rounded neck, makes me think of some of the more fuller-figured ladies depicted in Botticelli's masterpieces. If i'm feeling particularly playful, a bottle of Dalwhinnie makes me think of the combined works of Beryl Cook.
A Lagavulin bottle seems to have a more statuesque presence, perhaps resembling Rodin's 'The Thinker' or Myron's iconic Greek sculpture 'Discobolos'.
At the other extreme, Joel always thinks of John Cleese, every time he sees a Fettercairn bottle.
Perhaps the beauty of a whisky bottle is truly in the beholder. But perhaps it should merely act as a vessel for the inner beauty- ie, the liquid? Which ever way you see it, Bottle shape and label design are big business. A few distilleries are going to great lengths to reinforce this aspect, arguably none more so than The Macallan, whose Masters Of Photography project has been greeted with an equal measure of praise and criticism. The Rankin Edition, a 30 year old Fine Oak bottling came with a series of polaroid pictures, featuring Rankin's beautiful blonde muse, Tuuli Shipster. Some were strikingly eye catching, (as above) creating a stark feminine contrast to the masculine machinery within the distillery. But some were... to be honest, a bit 'Readers Wives' in our opinion. Put it this way, you'd probably be a bit disappointed if you got the bottle with a close up of some charred staves, wouldn't you... ;-)
The Macallan's new project features the work of another internationally renowned snapper, Albert Watson. Watson has shot countless celebrities across his career, including Hitchcock, Bill Clinton and even the Queen. His work with the second Macallan Master's of Photography bottling tracks a series of images, backdropping the production of a 20 yo whisky, made from 2 first fill sherry seasoned oak casks. As you'd expect, there are shots taken in Jerez, including those seen here, as well as the arresting scenic beauty of Speyside. The release is limited to 1000 bottles, each featuring a unique label using Watson's images and a series of 10 prints. All very nice and highly in keeping with the 'aesthetic' we disussed above.
But strip this away and what is the actual whisky like? 20 year old sherry casked whiskies do not usually cost £700, so this is going to have to be exceptional.
Macallan - Masters Of Photography - Albert Watson Edition- 20 yo- 43%
Nose: Hello, this is very interesting. Beautifully fragrant, no notes of dryness, just bags of cedar wood, all-spice, dates, prunes, juicy raisins and cola notes. Dig deeper and you'll find some dark chocolate covered hazelnuts, hints of aniseed and some softer vanilla notes. Terrifically complex and beautifully balanced.
Palate: An initial sweet vanilla'y note leads to some overripe bananas, more dried prunes, liquorice, sugary malt cereal (Shreddies) chocolate orange, with a return of the all-spice from the nose.
Finish: Lengthy and developed, with some cinnamon stewed apples lingering on the palate. Again, no oaky dryness or bitterness.
Overall: Quite a tough one really. This really is an excellent whisky, with a nose to die for. If you'd discovered it by accident without the benefit of seeing the bottle, you'd be very quickly hooked, reaching for your wallet. You almost don't want to think about the bottle, the photos and all the stuff surrounding the release.
If you are a collector, art lover or someone with £700 to burn, Macallan have really thought about this release and the liquid absolutely sells itself. You'll either love the concept of packaging it with the work of a seminal photographer, or dislike it intensely. That much we'll leave up to you.