A Macallan review on MALT. You know why you’re here. You know why I’m here. Or do you? Indeed, do I?
I’m reviewing a whisky which is both limited and omnipresent; you have seen it, but you cannot find it. It was clearly made—nay, dreamed—into existence by the type of creature who would jump shirtless from a mountaintop before his arms transformed into the beautifully-plumed wings of a bird. As he soars above the jagged peaks, the clouds rain down golden tears upon his handsome face. He gazes out on an undulating sea which is as green as money because it is, in fact, a sea of actual money.
That intro was my (poor) attempt at surrealism prompted by the Macallan Concept Number 1, which is “inspired by the world of surreal art.” This is perfectly appropriate for Macallan circa 2019, as – from the point of view of a normal whisky drinker – this distillery feels increasingly conceptual and confusingly surreal.
In fairness to my colleagues, it’s not as though we hate Macallan here at MALT. Compared to the way we delight in trashing, say, Highland Park or Jura, Macallan gets relatively clement treatment. The 5 official bottlings reviewed by the team with numerical scores have averaged a 7.2, which is a respectable mark from this infamously grumpy bunch.
Rather, it’s everything outside the bottle that mars the “taste” of Macallan for the MALT crew. Most of our reviews of this distillery end with some version of “nice whisky, probably a bit overpriced, but then again that’s the point for those folks who post photos of their bottles instead of opening them.” Increasingly, this latter group seems to be the target audience for Macallan.
In his review of the latest in Macallan’s annual Edition series, Mark neatly encapsulated the evolution of this distillery into a “brand” and “luxury product.” I could go on, but we’ve wrung our hands enough about the metamorphosis of whisky (this one and others) into a Ferrari, a Birkin bag, a Patek Philippe, or whatever else the top 1% of the top 1% of the top 1% buy.
Also, as noted by Mark, Macallan has a sprawling array of expressions that seems to metastasize daily. How many, you might ask? 34, officially, requiring nine separate categories. How do I know? I counted them. Don’t believe me? Sherry Oak 12, Sherry Oak 18, Sherry Oak 25, Sherry Oak 30, Sherry Oak 40, Double Cask Gold, Double Cask 12, Triple Cask 12, Triple Cask 15, Triple Cask 18, Quest, Lumina, Terra, Enigma, Rare Cask, Masters Decanter Reflexion, Masters Decanter No. 6, Masters Decanter M, Masters Decanter M Black, Fine and Rare, Masters of Photography, 50 Year Old, Archival, Classic Cut, Golden Age of Travel, Exceptional Single Cask, Edition, Gran Reserva, Six Pillars, Easter Elchies Black, 72 Year Old, Rare Cask Black, Oscuro, and, finally… Concept.
Having had success with its annual “Edition” series (at least in the UK; in the States, the bottles tended to hang around on store shelves), Macallan decided to launch the travel retail exclusive Concept this past October. The text on the box is a perfect summation of Macallan more generally: it is dense but insubstantial; it is pompous and self-congratulatory; it gorges itself on an all-you-can-eat buffet of adjectives which have almost nothing to do with the whisky. Here’s the entirety of it, with my footnotes:
“The Macallan Concept Series is a collection of limited annual release whiskies¹ that combines our passion for whisky making with the passion of visionaries – bold, confident individuals who have positively disrupted the status quo² with fresh perspectives and innovative ideas.
The first in the series, The Macallan Concept Number 1 has been inspired by the world of surreal art. Envisioned through the lens of The Macallan Six Pillars³, our interpretation of the surreal brings together imagination and idealism to create a fantastical, sensorial world of whisky where anything and everything is possible.⁴ The Macallan Concept Number 1 makes manifest our continuous search of excellence – one that pushes beyond the traditional boundaries of process and cask selection.⁵
Created from whiskies matured first in sherry-seasoned oak casks and then for an equal time in ex-bourbon casks⁶, The Macallan Concept Number 1 is a whisky crafted to explore maturation more imaginatively⁷. Displaying characteristic notes of citrus fruits and ginger⁸, it is a spirit that combines an unwavering passion for whisky with an unfailing mastery driven by bold and brave choices.
With every sip, The Macallan Concept Number 1 will transport you to a world reimagined.⁹
¹. They’re threatening more of these.
². Mate, you ARE the status quo.
³. The “Six Pillars” are “spiritual home,” “curiously small stills,” “finest cut,” “exceptional oak casks,” “natural colour,” and “peerless spirit.” The middle four make sense in the context of whisky-making, though how these constitute a “lense” through which to “envision” surrealism, I haven’t got a clue.
⁴. Anything. Everything. All the things. If they’re trying to channel the disorienting, slightly queasy feeling I get from gazing too deeply into a Yves Tanguy painting, they’re doing it masterfully.
⁵. Ooh! This is going to be eye opening!
⁶. Oh, wait. They made some whisky and then they popped it into sherry casks and then into ex-bourbon casks for roughly equal (undisclosed) amounts of time. So, like, an inversion of the normal bourbon-cask-with-sherry-finish maturation? My mind remains unblown.
⁷. Maybe my imagination is more vivid than theirs, but I don’t think that maturing a whisky in two casks (in whatever order) really constitutes a radical innovation.
⁸. That’s it?!? Citrus fruits and ginger?!? All the “bold,” “confident,” “fresh,” “innovative,” “inspired,” “brave choices” resulted in a vague flavor that could be found in almost any single malt, as well as something very slightly exotic? Brava, gentlemen.
⁹. Please, sir, I’d like to go back to my world now.
So why am I reviewing this? Doing so combines my confident passion for masterful writing with the innovative spirit of idealistic geniuses who boldly push the envelope to challenge your senses through the lens of inspiration and excellence to transport you to a world of magical imagination.
Actually, it’s because I have to. Turns out MALT’s board of directors has been pushing the CEO to enhance our “influencer” status and to get more advertising dollars, free samples, and all-expenses-paid private jet trips. In a naked grab for page views, the finance department concocted a list of the most click-baity drams; this Macallan topped that list. My direct supervisor Mr. Rover handed down the assignment with a stern warning: “We need that Edrington money. It’s a score of 10 for the Concept or else, laddie, ye’ll be out on yer arse.”
Come to think of it, that would be appropriately Macallan-esque. In reality, I was stuck in the Cancun airport for seven hours with two children under the age of five. In an attempt to transport myself to a world re-imagined, I took leave of my family for a stroll through the Duty Free shop. Noticing Concept and Lumina on the shelf, I snapped a photo and asked the Twitterverse which one they’d like to see reviewed on MALT. After one vote for “both,” one vote for “neither” and two votes for “Concept,” I declared a landslide victory and picked up a 750 ml of this for $90. It is bottled at a pitiful 40%.
Macallan Concept Number 1 – Review
Color: Pale gold with a faintly rosy hue.
On the nose: This has a classically Macallan profile; it is meaty, with a woody richness throughout. Sticky-sweet aroma of caramel bundt cake. Nutty scent of cashews; mocha, and a slightly chalky chocolate note of Sno-Caps. Heavy waves of vanilla periodically wash over this. None of the promised ginger, but there are two distinct off notes: a rubbery overlay (like a freshly opened bag of balloons), and a whiff of struck match. Whether these issues come from the renowned heft of the distillate (and, I’m guessing, a briefer than normal maturation) or the influence of a dodgy cask is hard to discern.
In the mouth: Starts thin and tart, with only the vaguest citric fruit juice nuance. This becomes the faintest approximation of the nose at midpalate, with aggressive woodiness. Lingers with another savory note of salted nuts and the thin residual flavor of chocolate milk. Texturally, this has a lot of high notes of wood and alcohol, but no real depth of flavor or weight of spirit to anchor it. Again, hard to tell if this could have been remedied with a more comprehensive maturation.
This has transported me to a world where I’d like my $90 back. Whereas I found Editions 1 and 2 to be well-crafted, if a bit angular (and, of course, overpriced at a similar MSRP), this is disjointed and conspicuously flawed in spots.
The ex-bourbon casks seem to have been the better of the two, as the richly sweet elements of the nose are by far the high point. The sherry casks, on the other hand, seem to have left little of their desirable characteristics, and potentially a fair bit of the bad (funk and sulphur). The palate underwhelms, with no real coalescence of spirit and wood into a cogent totality.
Macallan has proven with their Edition series that they have the integrity of distillate and the choice of matured stocks to provide a fertile playground for experimentation. While they might not choose to price these sensibly, there is at least an underlying quality to those expressions that makes for pleasant drinking. I’d like to see more of that and less of whatever caused this to come off so awkwardly.
This is one solely for the Macallan completists, who have been foolishly paying £170 for bottles at auction recently. For the rest of us, this is an unfortunate example of how a flimsy conceit is constructed around a poorly-conceived and worse-executed experiment, with the substandard result foisted on that segment of the consuming public that values style over substance.
Yep, Taylor opened a bottle and explored the whisky. Lead image from Macallan. We’d link to retailers for this release, but there’s no point. Now sadly appearing at an auction near you.
I got suckered into buying a bottle at the airport on Sunday. I say “suckered” but I’ve only got myself to blame really. I’ve enjoyed the ‘Editions’ bottlings and thought it might be something similar to enjoy on my holiday; but it’s a little thin and (Milsean-y) sweet for my liking.
I’m stuck between feeling annoyed that I spent more than you (£100) and smug that I’ve not stumped up £170 on an auction site; but hey, you live and you learn. At least I won’t be wasting my money on the ‘CON-cept Number 2’.
I’m not going to let it ruin my holiday anyway…
Don’t beat yourself up, Gav. We all make mistakes. Hopefully this review prevents others from making a similar blunder. Enjoy your holiday!
Any whisky drinker with half an ounce of honesty know’s the Concept 1 is an attempt to cash in on Macallan’s new found mainstream popularity. I’m glad they’ve fallen on their sword with this one. Although i do love the classic Macallan 12 as much as the next punter, im a bit sick of them blowing smoke up people’s arse. First we get bottles being made with Chefs and Perfumers, now we’re supposed buy whisky for the packaging. When will distilleries (and their masters) learn it’s not quantity, it’s quality releases we’re after.
Whisky Travellers: in fairness to Macallan, the chefs and perfumers were given more of a blender’s role, with a selection from mature casks of conventional origin. I only tried the first two, but based on Mark’s reviews of numbers 3 and 4, the results were generally successful. This Concept, however, was a clear misfire. As you point out, Macallan is abusing its fan base by putting it out anyway, and at a premium price. As for when they’ll learn: when people stop buying the rubbish! I worry, though, that Macallan has such a diehard following that this day of reckoning will be long in the coming for them. Thanks for stopping by.
It even says “CON” on the bottle in big capital letters!
djrobbo: well spotted. The irony has not been lost on me.
I don’t think Macallan is a drinker’s whisky anymore, since decades actually. It’s the gifting and collecting whisky. It’s the whisky you gift in-laws or a boss. Or it’s the whisky you spot sitting on someone’s shelf, never to be opened. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’ve only had 3 Macallans. My first was a 1982 Gran Reserva, when I was only 18, and my dad got me that (for a mere $100 back then) as a gift when I got a scholarship to UofMichigan. As all 18 year olds heavy on ignorance, I mixed it with a helping of Coke, hated it and spat it out (was my first whisky). More recently, I had their Edition 2 and 4…thought those were finally well priced (<$100) and pretty good VFM. But for Macallan, those two might be outliers than the norm
PB, sadly, that seems to be the conclusion: in going after the luxury consumer set, Macallan has made itself irrelevant to the serious whisky drinking crowd. Jason has remarked a few times that nobody he knows talks about Macallan. For a number of us, it may as well not exist… particularly if it’s going to churn out whisky like this. As always, appreciate the comments and GO BLUE!
Bit of a ham-handed Compass Box move, if you ask me….
Fine Oak 10 + 12 + 18 + 25 (maybe 30) missing in the list?
I believe that Triple Cask is the whisky formerly known as Fine Oak. The 21 and 30 were discontinued, so only 12, 15, and 18 left. There was also a 10-year-old that didn’t make the cut.
You are probably right. I can’t keep up with – and haven’t bought any Macallan OB since the launch of the Fine Oak Series. Overpriced and mediocre imo.
Seems like there’s a lot of people who share that opinion! Thanks for commenting.
Macallan is a whisky for Americans. It says it all.
Well, I’m an American and I didn’t especially care for this one, so if that’s the case then they’re missing the mark. Interestingly, I was discussing the top 3 single malts with Mr. Rover. In the States, at least, you see far more of #2 (Glenlivet) than you do of either #1 (Glenfiddich) or #3 (Macallan). Would be keen to understand regional areas of strength and weakness for each.
I love Macallan. My first drink of it was the old 10 in the white cartons and I got through a lot of them. I love the edition range (no 2 especially) but Concept is something that leaves me cold. I always think a travel exclusive needs to offer something a little different from the core offering and by different I also mean ‘better’ in some small way of offer an exciting way into a brand for a new drinker, but this is just a cash grab. The review doesn’t help matters either, the contents sound poor at best.
To be fair to Macallan though I think they are operating in a part of the whisky market where there are few contemporaries. The scale of their output paired with the market positioning makes it almost a victim of their own success. They can make small runs but they can’t sell it at reasonable prices (exceptional casks). They can make accessible stuff but the scale they make it at means it has to be seen (see priced) as a premium choice (triple cask). They can do limited editions but the reach of the brand in global markets means they have to have runs that exceed some distilleries yearly output (Edition). They are a weird brand. Operating on their own terms and, essentially making their own markets. Perhaps it’s time to accept that Macallan isn’t really aiming at Europe anymore. Macallan are wholly international and China and India are the markets to aim for to absorb the scale of their ambitions.
Lots there, Gareth, but you hit on an important point that has been echoed by a number of my colleagues here: we don’t connect with Macallan anymore, and we don’t feel like Macallan cares about connecting with us. That’s fine. There’s more whisky out there for us. For Macallan: I wonder if their new friends on Instagram and in Asian Duty-Free shops will remain loyal if and when fashions change?
I like very much
Ravi: you like the whisky, or the review, or (doubtful) both?
Macallan ‘Concept’ – You don’t really need to go further than that. I’m kind of glad you wasted your money though, just for me to confirm my prejudice. Travel retail and 40% too. Taylor, what were you thinking. 34 expressions, dear oh dear, whatever next?
WT: trying to help out my fellow man/woman. Save your pennies for something worthwhile. Thanks again for reading!
Thanks for the review. I’ll be bookmarking your website. I had the good fortune to live near the Spey river while serving in the RAF. Macallan 12 was my go to, but my all time favorite was a sherry cask Macallan 15. With the exception of the 1824 (green label, the current and recent Macallan duty free offerings are horrible. I bought the Terra for a wedding present for a good friend and was horrified when we tasted it. I later got him a Macallan 15. Suffice it to say I’ll be sticking with Balvenie Double Wood 12 and Craigenmore 12 (let’s just say I don’t like peated whisky).
Welcome to the site, Bruce. I think there are a number of people in your position: people looking for a special occasion or gift bottle, who know Macallan by the strength of their reputation and bottlings from years past, and decide to splurge on one of the contemporary expressions. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work out for you and your friend, but hopefully you were able to make amends. If you like the sherried Speryside style, Glenfarclas’ range is worth considering as a new go-to. Thanks for reading!