I told myself I was done being a pawn in the whiskey industry’s silly games.
I was done writing about insane age statements, 55-year-old this, 60-year-old that.
Done covering clickbait Scotch in Lalique crystal decanters that would never be opened by any buyer.
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And I certainly was not going to give any press to whatever the fuck the latest Macallan release — a hand-blown bottle of 81-year-old single malt nestled in three bronze-sculpted hands and literally called “The Reach” — was supposed to be.
But then something came along so completely bonkers, so seemingly a meta commentary on modern whiskey collecting, so downright hilarious, that I had no choice. I am nothing if not human.
Later this year, luxury boutique brand The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. will release 12 bottles of 33-year-old Irish single malt, each coming with its own security detail.
Yes, you heard me correctly.
Your $5 million purchase (at a minimum!) will come with two security guards trading 12-hour shifts at your house, bar, or basement man cave, protecting the rare bottle every single day for the next two years.
The Reason for the Roadster
After trying to track down Jay Bradley for weeks, I finally catch up with the jet-setter via a WhatsApp call on a mundane (for me) Wednesday morning. He’s in Monaco, however, just about to have lunch, even though I calculate it’s past 4 p.m. local time. He had just decamped from a yacht he’d been on for the previous four days, schmoozing “billionaires and celebrities,” trying to find buyers for his extraordinarily expensive and jaw-droppingly out-there whiskey releases.
“It’s exhausting,” he tells me, before quickly launching into a story about Michael Flatley of “Riverdance” fame wanting to bring him back to his castle so he could meet up with Prince Albert of Monaco before another unnamed billionaire spent seven figures on a bottle of The Emerald Isle, a whiskey he made in partnership with Fabergé. The stories always get a little fantastical when you’re talking to Bradley.
He claims he came from humble beginnings, though everything he tells me seems to be a bit of his own myth-making.
The 41-year-old was born and raised in a working-class neighborhood in Dublin. He left school at 14 to build furniture with his father, Shay. He was working at bars in Australia by 19, eventually moving his way up to owning one in New Zealand. He dabbled in real estate, wealth management, software sales, and sports arbitrage betting. Fascinated by how flavors are created, he took up competitive barbecue, becoming a champion.
By his mid-30s, though, with three children already and a fourth on the way, he was reportedly living on the dole, taking 200 pounds a week from the Irish government. He had returned to Ireland in 2018 to take care of his dad who was dying of cancer, something that inspired Bradley to finally follow his true passion and get into the whiskey business, despite, what he claims, was a severe lack of funds.
“When Tesla first brought out the [$112,000] Roadster, there was a reason for that, of course,” says Bradley, who loves to reference Elon Musk in conversation. “They didn’t have the factory capacity to do something mainstream. When I started, I didn’t have the money to do something mainstream — 8-, 9-year-old liquid, 700,000 bottles — but I could do something expensive in 200 to 300 bottles.”
Intrigued by his vision, investors gave him a little seed money to start sourcing the best Irish whiskey barrels he could find. Bradley, however, knew he would need to come up with some insane packaging ideas to put his little Irish whiskey company on the map.
In his mind, The Macallan No. 6 was the best high-end whiskey packaging out there, so he tracked down one of its creators, Tiago Russo, a Portuguese designer who had also worked on British supercars, Swiss timepieces, and bottles for a French luxury perfume. He was impressed by Bradley and quickly became his business partner; he now designs everything for the company.
“The luxury market always tends to have a very classical vision about it,” says Russo. “My approach is to try and implement new technologies, new ideas, new visions, and different ways to do things.”
First released at the end of 2020, The Devil’s Keep was triple-distilled, triple-casked, and presented in 333 bottles packaged in a dark oak chest with a bottle “stage” made of “leather as soft of silk.” Each sold for $10,000.
There was the aforementioned The Emerald Isle, packaged with a bespoke Fabergé Celtic Egg — bottles sold at auction for $2 to $3 million in early 2021.
While Bradley calls The Aodh a “technological innovation” and a “feat of engineering” for which Russo spent a half-year figuring out how to make the exoskeleton-like bottle display complete with a fingerprint sensor that would sequentially open six different claw-like clasps to release each of the 88 bottles.
“Anything I create has to be something that people have never seen before, something almost supernatural,” says Russo, who is also currently designing a supercar that will be made from old whiskey substrate.
A Seed or a Troll?
“The Crypto Collection” will be sold exclusively by auction later this year via 12 different crypto-currencies, from Bitcoin and Ethereum to more niche ones. Crypto enthusiasts are, no surprise, already collectors of Bradley’s previous releases and he believes they will gladly shell out to get their preferred currency’s sole bottle.
“Lot of people made money on Cardano,” says Bradley. “‘I only rep Cardano, I bought my house with Cardano, I want that Cardano bottle.’ There are massive loyalties [to these currencies] so I don’t think there will be an issue selling them.”
There are only a dozen bottles available because 12 is a critical number in the crypto universe — most crypto wallets use a 12-word phrase, also known as the 12-word seed or seed phrase, to open it. Thus, the back of The Crypto Collection’s 100-pound, triangular box has 12 fingerprint sensors; in order to open the box its owner needs to enter the correct 12-button sequence.
From there, the box goes from looking like a piece of minimalistic modern art to transforming. The front piece of black “smart” glass slides to the left and the LED-lit bottle — made of glass, obsidian, and titanium — slides out on a platform. Behind the bottle, a hidden atomizer concurrently expels the scent of “angel’s share” — a perfume created to mimic the aroma of the whiskey — as plumes of dry ice smoke are released.
The box houses six metallic coasters that emit a light beam when one of the six included tasting glasses is set atop them. There are also etched, gold-plated pipettes for carefully adding spring water taken from the same region as the whiskey — Bradley believes it’ll remain potable in the box for at least 20 years. That’s because the entire contraption is climate-controlled. There’s even a small freezer at the bottom housing two satchels of whiskey stones made of pure obsidian — a semi-precious gemstone sourced from the foothills of a mountain range in Armenia — that Bradley believes are the most ideal way to chill down his whiskey without dilution.
“It cost over seven figures to build each box,” claims Bradley. “There are so many moving parts. It comes on a stand, and can exist as a piece of art on its own.”
Talking to Bradley, I couldn’t help thinking: Was this some troll? Some Duchampian satire on the insanity of the modern whiskey industry? Tater bait par excellence?
“Having a guard at your house for two years seems less like a perk and more like a potential threat, because [people will] know you’re the sort of dipshit who has $5 million lying around to spend on a single bottle of whiskey,” says Dave Infante, author of the Fingers newsletter and VinePair’s resident web3 expert. Infante further wonders about the financial acumen in using inherently volatile cryptocurrencies — many of which have been tanking of late — to buy an illiquid asset. “This sounds needlessly complicated and designed to harness attention by incorporating cryptocurrency.”
Admittedly, Bradley seems somewhat self-aware and even earnest when I speak to him. (And, he’ll gladly give you your bottle in a biometric safe if you want to pass on the security team.) Still, you have to acknowledge that he comes from a family of pranksters (and some have even claimed fraudsters). His late father Shay went internationally viral after his death in 2019 by tricking mourners at his very own funeral with a pre-recorded message meant to sound as if he was buried alive inside his coffin.
At the same time, it’s clear that Bradley unquestionably cares about the quality of the $5 million whiskey that’ll be guarded by some rent-a-cop. A proud Irishman, he aspires to one day see his homeland’s native spirit be considered as top-shelf as the best Scotches or Japanese whiskies. And, he feels the one way to do that is with this big idea.
“I want to build a luxury brand,” says Bradley. “And sure, some will call it gimmicky.”
That Dipshit Who Has $5 Million Lying Around
“Seriously, though, who do you think is going to buy this?” I ask Bradley.
“I think it’s going to sell to crypto geeks,” he tells me. “The Bitcoin bottle, all the Bitcoin whales will look to own that bottle, the world’s most expensive whiskey, that looks like it’s from “TRON: Legacy.” But, the whiskey holds up for itself.”
The Crypto Collection will be one of the oldest Irish single malts ever released, at 33 years of age. (In 2020, Teeling released a 37-year-old and Midleton a 45-year-old.) Bradley readily admits that its provenance is from Bushmills Distillery, though he purchased it on the secondary market. That means it was triple-distilled in traditional copper pot stills.
But Bradley doesn’t believe the distillate matters that much or that lengthy age statements are necessary (he doesn’t even include them on his bottles). He believes the ultimate flavor comes from what you do to the whiskey as it ages and he has a ton of thoughts on the matter.
He’s had this particular barrel in his hands for the last five years and done “16 different things to it” over that term. He’ll talk to you for hours on the subject, I can tell you first hand.
He adds water to any barrel immediately upon getting one, thinking it integrates better as it ages; he likewise never proofs down a whiskey right before bottling. When he wanted more humidity around the barrel, he sent it to one of his warehouses up in Northern Ireland where the climate is muggier. He exclusively uses heavily toasted — not charred — casks, feeling he can manipulate how much he caramelizes the wood sugars.
With any of his whiskeys, he’ll shift the liquid from bigger to smaller barrels and back again, changing the head space to create oxidation and mellow things out or to gain more oak contact to inject more flavor. He monitors the liquid on a near-daily basis, trying to pull it when it has fully peaked. He claims he’ll only sell a whiskey that he rates a 9.1 out of a 10 or higher on his personal scale, a score no other brand’s whiskeys have ever reached in his humble opinion.
All this work is why he thinks he can take the same Bushmills distillate that plenty of other companies have sourced, too, and turn it into something much better and much more worth your Dogecoin.
“When Michaelangelo was painting his masterpieces, a lot of people were buying the same paints as him,” says Bradley. “But what did they create?”
And just like the Sistine Chapel ceiling or Doni Tondo, a guard will stand nearby Bradley’s little work of art, watching over it forevermore.
Or until you finally drink it.