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'Holy Grail' of whisky sold for US$1.1m

London

IN SCOTLAND, you can buy a 16th-century castle for a little more than US$1 million.

On Wednesday, someone paid a similar amount - a record of just over US$1.1 million - for a 750ml bottle of single-malt whisky described as "the Holy Grail" of the dark alcoholic spirit.

The 60-year-old Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 is "one of the rarest and most desirable bottles ever produced" in the world, said a specialist at Bonhams, the auction house in Scotland that made the sale.

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The price included a bid of £700,000 (S$1.3 million) plus a £148,000 sales premium.

The identity of the private buyer was not revealed. But a Bonhams spokesman said the person was from Asia and had made the bid by phone.

The bottle was put up for sale in Edinburgh, sitting atop a stand covered in tartan and encased in a specially designed cabinet.

Its value emanates in part from its label. The Macallan, a Scottish distillery, commissioned the pop artist Valerio Adami to design a label for the whisky, which was bottled in 1986 after ageing 60 years.

Another factor in the single malt's value is its rarity. Only 24 bottles of the Scotch were produced - 12 with labels by Adami and 12 with labels by English pop artist Peter Blake.

No one knows exactly how many remain in existence.

One of the bottles with Adami's distinctive black-and-white design is rumoured to have been destroyed in an earthquake in Japan in 2011; it is thought that at least one other may have been opened and drunk.

This raises the question: What does a US$1 million bottle of whisky actually taste like?

For one expert, the Macallan Valerio Adami 1926's flavour may not quite match its hefty price tag.

David Robertson, a master distiller at Macallan from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, said: "When I tasted it, the whisky was quite intense, dry, and tasted of dried fruit with some hint of warming spice.

"I have had a lot of whiskies over the years, and in my humble opinion, there were a number that were better.

"It would be great to think that the whisky could be opened by the buyer. That is what it was produced for. But for some people, opening a US$1.1 million bottle of whisky is quite a big decision."

The sale is the second time this year that a bottle of whisky has gone for a record amount. In May, a bottle from the Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 edition fetched HK$8.6 million (S$1.5 million) at Bonhams in Hong Kong.

If the new buyer chooses to preserve the bottle untouched, the fate of the world's most expensive bottle of vodka serves as a cautionary tale.

The gold-and-silver bottle with its diamond-encrusted cap, said to be worth US$1.3 million, was stolen from a bar in Copenhagen in January. After days of searching, police found the bottle dented - and empty. NYTIMES