There were any number of ways to begin this review, of another Macallan buried deep in a series, no longer available and lost in collector land.
But perhaps most pertinent of late is to touch on The Macallan’s brand, as it moves into a new phase of its long life as a single malt brand. Its much-publicised revamped distillery, which seems to have split opinion, has started to bed in. And now comes a big new push. It’s clearly trying to go somewhere different.
The interesting thing about The Macallan’s position is that yes, it’s lost the core drinkers, which was only ever a small market. Those drinkers have moved on, they don’t really care, they’re happily chugging Glendronach, we all know that; save for some stirring from yesteryear, a twinge when they remember how things used to be. But Edrington, the Macallan’s owners, probably don’t care about a small niche of drinkers, and why would they? They’re trying to grow a luxury product into a mass market product.
And that’s an interesting thing in itself, because if everyone jumps on board, then something no longer is considered to be a luxury. Luxury is elitist, keeping people’s at arm’s length – that’s the point; very easy to achieve by price, as any new distillery that doesn’t know what they’re doing will tell you, but very hard to do with anything else. It’s why no one really believes any of the hammed-up headlines for the next high-end whisky that comes along, because every producer is saying the same thing – no one feels it is a luxury, even though they’re paying luxury prices. That disconnect will resonate down the years.
Shall we look at the new and curious creative campaign?
Aw, that would be too cruel – and besides, most people are already chuckling at it. (Don’t forget, it’s just a brief from Macallan, over to some new creative ad agency in London – it’s not really coming from the whisky producer.) Yes, I personally feel it’s poor on a number of levels: the messaging that sounds like it’s for a charity helpline, simply the way it’s put together, the weirdness and confusion, the creators’ optimism that people will wait over a minute for the pay-off, if indeed it can be called a pay-off, when digital retention rates collapse after a few seconds if there’s nothing really happening on-screen. The only way this will increase sales is because it will be accompanied by a big sales push, not because of the marketing. (Also wasting money on making adverts for digital platforms is a common sin of most big marketing agencies, but it seems to prop the ad industry up somehow, like a pyramid scheme.) But that’s all I want to say: it’s silly, most people think it’s silly, and it’ll be dusted away in a year or two when it’s replaced by a new one.
I’m genuinely fascinated from a brand perspective to see what happens with the distillery over the coming years. Ken Grier, the former creative director at Macallan, and who I actually quite admired for the way he slowly elevated the brand, has recently left the company. So this is firmly in the territory of a ‘new creative era’, you might say.
Another common Edrington trait of late is to spaff out new releases. Highland Park is all over the place, a new, dreary release every day, and soon to be banned from Malt if we can stop Jason from giving them oxygen. Macallan, too, has many releases, but the issue is there’s no real structure, there’s no real information. A brightly coloured label here, some puffed up marketing copy there, every whisky sounds the same. Something about wood, definitely not telling you how old it is, buy it. And people will because it’s being forced down their throats by enormous sales budgets. It’s becoming very aggressive because it has to be at that level – a lot of money is on the table.
Now, on the one hand, will this bring new drinkers into the industry? Sure, one can only hope, and if it does, then marvellous. Because I don’t believe whisky brands actually compete with each other – rather they mostly support a culture, and the more happy people in that culture, talking, tasting, the better for everyone. A thriving whisky culture gave birth to the current boom, don’t forget.
But on the other hand, at what cost? The distillery’s soul – and I view this agnostically – has long since gone. For me, I ask simply, what’s left? Where’s the integrity of the brand? What is The Macallan of the future – perhaps the equivalent of a lonely millionaire living in a shell of a mansion scrolling through their Instagram feed to avoid confronting the emptiness of life?
Maybe we should have a dram. It’s the Edition No. 4, fourth in what has so far been a very good series of whiskies, well-priced upon release, but now you’d expect to say three or four times the original price online, as it has sold out.
The Macallan Edition No. 4 – Review
On the nose: Dried oranges, cinnamon, ginger; quite Christmassy. Not unlike the old Glenfarclas 15. Coffee. Tiramisu. It’s a lot like the others but doesn’t quite have the bass. Side by side with Edition No. 2, it’s notably fresher. Baked pears, dried apricots. Lime marmalade. Tomato sauce. Sponge cake. Very nice indeed.
In the mouth: doesn’t have as nice a texture; it isn’t as mouth-filling, but it’s still nice, still echoes the nose. Not as much breadth to the profile, but there’s a lot to enjoy. Spicy, with ginger, coriander, tempered by golden syrup. Pouring honey. The baked fruits at the fore: dried apricots, sultanas, oranges, a nice tomato-y tartness. Dried cranberries. A touch of grapefruit.
You’re going to have to fork out crazy money at auction for any of these – almost £200, which is absolutely not worth it, don’t even think about it – but I’d always plump for the Edition 2 over this any day.
Anyway, here’s my point: this is a solid whisky. Yet I don’t feel how I used to. I don’t feel as though I can ever love a Macallan anymore. Its integrity has been compromised, Icarus style, in pursuit of the dream.
Because this is the real issue with branding, so pay close attention: a brand is not what the Macallan says it is, nor what an advertising agency says on its behalf.
To quote Jeff Bezos: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Thanks so much to Paul @thewhiskyshare for the sample!
Macallan must’ve exported a shit ton of this to the US, it’s readily available over here. But of course every Edition release has increased in price, to the point where it’s a hard purchase to justify. That ad though… wow, it seemed like it was gonna be for the newest iPhone or other such device (I kinda liked it to be honest, even if it doesn’t make any sense, it’s better than the celebrity endorsed bourbon ads we see over here).
It’s just so poorly ‘just out of art college’ put together. Hey let’s rip off Friedrich’s paintings, stick a bit of unfortunately appropriate Icarus imagery in, and we’re HIGH BROW.
Haha, true. I’m just tired of Mila Kunis trying to sell me Jim Beam, so anything would be better. Good read as always.
Very stupid advertisement.
Are they encouraging people to fly over cliffs…
And strange that they portray the eagle, the same bird which is killed alot in the highlands…
I am not bothering with Macallan or similar brands. My main focus is only bottlings from specific bottlers.
You would have thought that ‘jumping off a cliff’ imagery in the current climate of mental health awareness would have seen the idea shelved long before it got out of the pitch stage…
“But Mum, I only paid vastly over the odds for a coloured, chill filtered, overhyped bottling because Macallan told me to!”
“And if Macallan told you to jump of a cliff would you do that too?”
Ha! Maybe it’s genius after all…
A good review. I think Macallan are at the vanguard of where more than a few whisky brands are likely to go or want to go over the coming years. Few names have been so well curated over the past 50+ years in the whisky market. None have done it as successfully. Highland park have ‘screwed the pooch’ in my book.
The Luxury goods / elitist thing is very interesting. Just like Rolex, another brand which has created it’s own reality better than most, have spent inordinate amounts of time, money, creative thinking and positioning to make their product both (and this is the weird bit) exclusive and yet ubiquitous. It’s a very, very hard line to tread. Overexpose the brand too much and it dilutes the top end. Don’t have accessible, lower tier offerings and you fail to pull in the customer who will stay with the brand throughout their life. It’s a tough nut to crack.
I always think about the arc of Pierre Cardin when thinking about these modern juggernaut brands which come from similar, luxury backgrounds. He was an amazing designer, as good as any of the best the world has see but now, his name is emblazoned on cheap pens, crap umbrellas and a million other things you can find in TKMAXX. The brand is no longer a valuable entity. And that’s the challenge.
So far I think Macallan is doing it right, the product is still (mostly) very good. The edition range is, for the RRP a steal (not so much on the second hand market) and offers a really good whisky experience for the money (ed.02 – amazing agreed!). There’s better for the same cash, but, just like Rolex, you’re getting something that can make you feel like you have something a little special for the money. And sometimes that can make all the difference.
Let’s just home they don’t spend too much time chasing the Asian markets (that’s really what the ads are aimed at) and pulling up the drawbridge for us lowly drinkers.
Lots of good points there, Gareth. I agree a lot of other brands are going to follow; one or two are marginally ahead (Glenfiddich?) in trying to create this sort of ad agency perfume advert. But then they’ve always been the mass product and were never revered by fans in quite the same way. I think Macallan did do a good job under their previous creative guy, Grier, but this new era has already gone down a strange route. Pierre Cardin is an excellent example by the way! I remember wanting a PC shirt as a kid…
Good review Mark. I’m old enough to have drunk Macallan in the late 1980’s (I was young and sales reps gave bottles to our company). It was luxurious back then. I agree with you, it isn’t any more. It’s just expensive. Edrington seem to have a vision (forgive me) of where they want to be but a confused idea how to get there. Highland Park is all over the place, as you say, and it must be plain confusing for new whisky enthusiasts to hear how great it is only to discover overpriced mediocrity. I use the word ‘mediocrity’ in relation to the quality in the bottle compared to the expectation provided by the marketing and price. It’s obvious that Edrington don’t give a damn about the U.K anymore. It’s the U.S and Asian markets where most of their bottles end up with higher ABV and lower prices.
We all know Macallan are on that road too. The advert is a joke but I expect nothing else. That’s where Macallan is now. It’s been apparent for too long that the quality of the whisky has been going downhill disguised with revamped expressions and overpriced expectation. There’s so many of them I loose track. Just compare a bottle of 10 year old from the 80s to anything in their range below £200 now. I never thought I’d flip anything but if someone was daft enough to offer £500 for my Mac 18 (1994) I’d take it. I had a bottle of the ED2 and enjoyed it but that’s it for me. I can’t bare to take part in the Macallan fiasco any longer. The ED3 spin with the Roca brothers made me feel they were taking us for punters and couldn’t even care that we knew it. It sold out, naturally.
So, good luck to them and Highland Park. I hope they enjoy their success. They might as well be selling toothpaste. Maybe they will, why not? Macallan toothpaste, better than regular toothpaste and costs no more than 10 year Mac thirty years ago.
Part of the issue is, as you point out, the fact that they’re growing abroad. But then, so is just about every whisky company. They’re possibly mistaking a natural boom for the industry as a signal that their decisions have been good ones. How will that play out in 10 years? Who knows.
I quite agree. I think what has happened with Japanese whisky might give us a warning.
Guess Macallan has already exploited its brand by releasing tons of NAS/double cask/triple cask productiong lines. One would simply assume that a bottle of under $300 Macallan being trash and undrinkable. So the cost is a bit high for trying any.
I had a bottle of NO. 2 and half dozen of my friend did not bother to drink twice, it’s not that bad, people just don’t trust this brand any more.
Nice and very clarifiyng article.