Last week I attended a tasting event hosted by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers that focused on Macallan Single Malt Whisky. Also included in the tasting were samples from Highland Park and Black Grouse.
The Macallan was established in 1824 when a farmer, named Alexander Reid, obtained one of the earliest licences to distil whisky. Over the years he became known for the superior quality of his whisky. Throughout the next several generations, The Macallan has changed hands several times, but luckily all owners were dedicated to producing a whisky of high quality and character. In 1996, Highland Distillers gained stewardship of The Macallan, and in 1999, the Ederington Group bought a majority shareholding in partnership with Suntory, who own a minor stake.
The Macallan is located in the region of Speyside which is said to be the heartland of malt whisky distillation. Speyside single malts are known for their elegance, complexity, and refined smokiness. The Macallan fits the bill perfectly.
Macallan whisky is made with the upmost of care with specific production methods that give it its distinctive character. The distillery’s very small and uniquely shaped copper stills are the smallest in Speyside and help to concentrate the flavours giving a spirit that is rich, fruity, characterful, and full-bodied. Macallan also takes one of the finest cuts of any distillery in Scotland – just 16% is used to go into the oak casks for ageing and turning into Scotch whisky. No caramel is added to enhance the colour of the whisky. The dark colour is a result of the interaction between the spirit and the specific types of casks they use. The casks are hand-crafted in Spain, or carefully selected Bourbon barrels from the USA. American oak is dense and very hard and imparts flavours of vanilla, fresh pear and other fresh fruit, while Sherry casks, made from European oak, are less dense with bigger and more open pores, giving a rich, dark colour with flavours and aromas of spice and dried fruit. Macallan does not use peat.
The Macallan is bottled at a higher alcohol strength than most Scotch whiskies – typically at 43% abv as opposed to 40% abv for most others. The water used to dilute the whisky from the cask strength of about 60% is added in two batches. The whisky is left to marry in cask with the first batch of water for about 8 months before the second batch of water is added. This allows for a fully integrated whisky.
If you want to learn more, please go to the Macallan website , where there’s a ton of information about The Macallan and its whiskies.
The Macallan Fine Oak 15 Years Old: Matured in a combination of Bourbon and Sherry oak casks. A medium straw coloured whisky with intense aromas of flowers, spice (cinnamon), caramel, vanilla, and creamy oatmeal. On the palate it has a very smooth texture with flavours of chocolate, orange rind, and a floral note on the finish. It has a long and very pleasant length.
The Macallan 12 Year Old: Exclusively matured in ex-Sherry casks from Jerez in Spain. This whisky has a deep gold colour imparted from the Spanish oak. There are aromas of dried fruit (orange peel), caramel, and ginger with a bit of smokiness. On the palate, it is very rich and concentrated, with flavours of smoky tobacco, spice, dried fruit, and caramel. A delicious dram!
The Macallan Cask Strength: This whisky was not diluted before bottling and is an impressive 58% alcohol. There is no indication of age on the label but it is about 10 to 12 years old. On the nose, it has very powerful aromas of dried fruit, dark chocolate, and smoke. Although the alcohol level is very high it is still quite balanced on the palate with a full, smooth texture and rich flavours of dark chocolate, pear, and orange peel. Incidentally, this whisky was delicious with a square of dark chocolate.
Highland Park 18 Years Old: This whisky was made with peat, but it is definitely not a peat monster. Very floral aromas are evident on the nose along with vanilla, honey, and some smoky peat. It has a very creamy texture with concentrated flavours of honey, peat, dried fruit, and a bit of spice.
The Macallan 18 Years Old: This is a beautiful whisky with quite a hefty price tag at $230/bottle. Intense aromas of butterscotch, toffee, honey and spice are evident. It has an incredibly silky smooth texture with flavours of butterscotch, honey, dried fruit, and a floral note. A very long and pleasant finish lingers seemingly forever.
Black Grouse: This was the only blended Scotch of the tasting – 51% grain whisky with some Famous Grouse and Laphroig added. There are aromas of oatmeal, vanilla, and some subtle smoky peat. It has a very smooth texture with complex flavours of chocolate, fruit and spice with a peaty finish. A very nice Scotch indeed!