[Ed. note: Our intrepid contributor Patrick Gary was invited to a tasting of The Macallan’s premium expressions with the label’s Ambassador, Jeremy Fonicello. Enjoy Pat’s delicious musings!]
In general, it’s been a good time to be a whiskey drinker recently. In the past few years, consumers have been introduced to innovative bourbons like Ranger Creek’s small-caliber series, Corsair distillery’s Triple Smoke Whiskey and Quinoa Whiskey, High West 36th Vote, Balcones Baby Blue, and even Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut. Japanese whiskey, especially Suntory Yamazaki, started to gain a reputation as one of the best in the world. Then recently, Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye was rated the best that this planet has to offer in 2016. All the while, Scotch was standing on the sidelines, sticking with making the same things that their patrons love, but holding to tradition instead of innovation.
Seeing their competition gaining on their reputation, The Macallan decided to respond to the myriad challenges with some distinctive, rare, and rather beautiful offerings. No longer resting on their laurels, The Macallan is releasing a collection of new items aimed at different kinds of whiskey and whisky fans.
Interestingly, The Macallan is also making a statement by not releasing an age statement on these new items. In the Scotch whisky world this normally indicates that these are either blends or younger items produced to turn a quick profit while the finer casks age. Let us be clear: This is not what The Macallan was doing with these offerings. These are premium offerings, in many cases superior to The Macallan’s classic, age-driven fare.
Starting with the Edition No. 1, the first in an annual series of limited editions, this whisky is all about pushing Macallan’s obsession with wood casks to a new level. The Macallan has long been known for its sherried whisky, aging in specially made casks that were previously used to age sherry. For the No. 1, the brand combines eight different barrels to age the spirit before being served: first-fill Gonzalez Byass butts from Spain, second-fill Europena sherry hogsheads, and first-fill American made Vasyman puncheons all lend different flavors to create a very distinct and complex whisky. The nose is amazing, with honey, potpourri, spices, vanilla and tropical fruits all combining to lend a distinctive experience before it even touches your tongue. Once it does, the taste is just as complex, with caramel and vanilla unfolding to dark fruits and citrus.
Considering that it’s nearly 100 proof, the most remarkable thing is how easy this is to drink, even without adding water. At around $100 a bottle, this is a real steal. If you happen to spot one, be sure to pick it up, as there were only around 130 casks made. There is no danger of this lingering in the stores until the Edition No. 2 comes out in the fall of 2016.
The Rare Cask, which is actually more plentiful than the Edition No. 1 with around 2000 casks made, is more in keeping with the standard Macallan fare. The nose is rich and complex, with a strong vanilla scent mingling with milk chocolate, toffee and wood spice flavors. Evidently, with that combination, a broad collection of ages was blended to create this dram. The flavor is rich and has a very long finish. As it hits your tongue, you should taste more of the chocolates, toffee, plums, raisin and apricots, finishing with a hint of walnut and citris zest. It is full-bodied and smooth as butter, although, with a $300 price point and The Macallan on the label, you would expect no less.
The next item in the new lineup from The Macallan is Reflexion. This is clearly one of their premium offerings, with a price point around $1,200. For this offering, The Macallan selected mostly whiskies matured in hogshead casks, a cask around half the size of what is normally used to age whisky and which imparts a much stronger flavor. The nose on this is huge, imparting orange and citrus on the front and, as you hold off on tasting, you experience green apples, plums apricots, and eventually even some fudge. The flavor is just as formidable, with the light zest from the new oak giving way to more citrus, especially lemon and orange, coupled with raisin and apple flavors. It finishes with cinnamon and ginger, and the finish is minutes long.
Finally the No. 6 must be mentioned. Before you ever even open the bottle, this is an experience. The No. 6 is sold in a hand-blown, individually signed, crystal decanter. The bottle is definitely part of the experience, a true work of art, and a large portion of the roughly $4,000 price tag. Keeping with the innovation theme, this is the first offering by The Macallan to have a single cooperage.
Those Spanish barrels impart a dark mahogany color and distinctive flavor and nose, leading with milk chocolate, vanilla and caramel. The flavor reminds you of fruitcake and orange, turning into brown sugar. The flavor is a bit thin for the price point, but remarkable in its smoothness. The finish again is minutes long, passing through caramel, dark fruits, pepper and finally dark chocolate.
So while conventional wisdom may still be that Scotch is not on the forefront of innovation in whiskey at the moment, let it be known that The Macallan is stepping up to the plate with some remarkable whisky. It will be very interesting to see what they come up with next.