If you’re passionate about photography and whisky, the latest limited edition of the Macallan Masters of Photography artist collaboration should get your heart racing. For this sixth edition, photographer Steven Klein has been enlisted to join the likes of world-famous artists such as Rankin, Annie Leibovitz and Elliott Erwitt to present an artistic work inspired by the whisky brand. After we got a glimpse of the ultimate Macallan party atmosphere via the last collaboration with Vogue regular Mario Testino, this sixth edition features a dark, glamorous would captured by Steven Klein.
Klein is perhaps best known for photographing celebrities such as Madonna, Brad Pitt and Rihanna in subversive stylings that cross the worlds of boudoir and steampunk, with some post-apocalyptic eeriness thrown in between. For Macallan, he’s created a sexy, dark and almost sinister limited edition pack featuring a bottle of rare cask with the artist’s initials cut into the bottle in gold; a limited edition signed print; and a set of barware tools by the Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca — one of the best restaurants in the world — all designed in Steven Klein’s distinct style. The pack also comes with a cocktail recipe booklet, with Scotch-based drinks designed by the Rocas. All of it is wrapped up in a matching pitch-black motif, and encased in a handsome gentleman’s leather case.
Retailing for just under US$3,000 (HK$23,398), there are only 1,000 editions available in the world, and only 32 sets released for Hong Kong. Even Ken Grier himself, Macallan’s Creative Director, has found it difficult to get his hands on one. “I’ve been trying to buy one myself for three months, there’s so much demand that I’m trying to negotiate buying one — and I’m still trying to convince my wife that it’s a good idea. I have all the other five,” he tells us.
It’s undeniably a collectible item, especially with the brand’s history of setting world records for the prices achieved at auction — take the Macallan in Lalique Imperiale decanter, for instance, which sold for US$628,000 at a 2014 Sotheby’s auction. Macallan currently accounts for about 22% of all whiskies sold at auction globally, and are regarded as a top dog brand in terms of investment-grade liquor.
Grier suspects that many lucky buyers will end up keeping this Steven Klein edition as an investment. “My investment pieces are kept pristine, and so much blood, sweat and tears has gone into it, that I would never want to part with it. I would never sell it,” he says.
It’s Macallan’s most subversive artistic collaboration yet, and one that Grier, the founder of the Masters of Photography concept, is incredibly proud of. “We’ve never produced anything quite like this, nor have I seen it in the world of drinks. There’s so many dimensions. You can keep it and display it, you can mount the print, you can drink the liquid, you can use the cocktail set to make drinks, I think it’s the finest thing we’ve ever done. I can’t think of another single malt or other whisky that would be brave enough to do what we’ve done here.”
Steven Klein came on board for the collaboration purely by chance and chemistry. He and Grier had met for a drink, and chatted for hours about film, television and his background in fine art. “The thing we say is that we meet people and we look at the chemistry that comes through. We want to work with people where there’s a mutual respect, people who emote with the brand and then we give them creative freedom.” Grier says. “He’s a truly talented guy. He specialises in a kind of dark glamour. He’s got a real empathy for bringing together contradiction, for making things which are intriguing and slightly dark really, really sexy. The work he did with Rihanna for the Dior piece in Versailles was one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
The theme for this edition was chosen completely by Klein, and it’s the first time Macallan has incorporated moving image into the project. “My intention was to examine a world standing still through a moving camera,” Steven Klein explained at a recent press event. “Typically with consumption of alcohol, there is always an abundance of movement. I thought what if it had all stopped for a moment and I could take a closer look at it? The idea is the perception of time.”
Officially themed “Time Captured,” the art is about distilling a single moment in time — “just like we distill whisky,” Ken Grier tells us. “So much about the drinks business is fun, upbeat and dynamic — this one is about picking that one fantastic moment that is as good as it gets.” The film is a minute-and-a-half-long panorama of a cast of seductive characters dressed in Thom Browne. Steven Klein remarked that he was drawn by the timelessness of the designer’s clothing, bridging the past and future. It’s shot on set in Brooklyn in an old abandoned manufacturing plant, and took hours of exhaustive and fastidious shooting, but the team ended up picking the very first take for the final product, which you can watch below.
While previous Masters of Photography editions have focused mainly on the artwork and rare whisky itself, this collab with Steven Klein emphasises the emerging way of drinking single malt mixed in a cocktail. “It was based on the work we’ve been doing with the Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, who we have been partners with for a few years now,” Grier explains. For the pack, Josep Roca, the sommelier of the three brothers, specially devised craft cocktails using Macallan Rare Cask, pairing the liquid with interesting wines and bitters from Barolo Chinato to Tokay to Pedro Gimenez sherry.
The Roca brothers barware slides out from a separate compartment, and features specialised glasses, a dropper, an aroma atomiser, as well as a horse-head bottle stopper. Everything was influenced by the look, feel and concept of the film, including the whisky itself. For this particular edition, Macallan whisky maker Bob Dalgarno has found a forgotten single cask of Rioja, a trial cask that “got lost in corporate lore,” which delivers a slight reddish, pink tone to the whisky — thus fitting perfectly with the artwork stills and its red smoky horizons.
Grier guides us through the tasting notes: “You get a whiff of peat, a little chalkiness, soft berries towards the front. Going towards dry fruit, into a sort of old oak before going into ginger at the back end of this. On the palate, you get soft fruit, dark chocolate, orange, and a hint of wood smoke breaking through into some old oak notes. It’s a really beautiful whisky in its own right — I’ve only tried it once, and it was exceptional.”
For Grier’s 18-year-old career at Macallan, the Steve Klein edition can be said to be a major turning point for him. “I don’t know what direction my successors will take the brand in, but for my time, it’s been my interpretation and direction. I’ve been incredibly lucky that the company has given me so much creative freedom,” he says.
As for what’s next with the brand, Grier looks forward to the brand’s new distillery, currently in the works on its 290-acre Scottish estate in Craigellachie, Moray. It’s being constructed by renowned architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and is set to be one of the most aesthetically beautiful distilleries in the world, the perfect home to create Macallan’s world-class whisky.
The Macallan Masters of Photography: Steven Klein Edition is available in Hong Kong from June 2017 in premium wine shops. If you missed the limited edition set, but are still curious about the whisky itself, a limited edition standalone bottle is also available here.