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Macallan Edition No. 5

Macallan Edition 5

Four releases into the Edition series, so I might as well continue with No. 5. And, indeed, I’ve enjoyed them all so far, so for me to splurge £100 on this – well, it’s already a safe bet.

So, I have bought – and opened – a bottle of Macallan, which is a rarity these days I suppose. But whilst that is a drum that can be banged elsewhere, tonight I want to focus on colour. Which is to say, Macallan’s marketing. Whilst some might want to whip out the usual negative clichés, I’m not actually going to do that. Instead, I’m going to praise Macallan’s marketing.

Whilst there are undoubtedly some quarters who would like all whisky to be made in a bothy and sold in brown paper bags, that doesn’t really pay people’s wages. Indeed, it doesn’t do much at all; doesn’t create an industry; doesn’t engage new people. In fact, a world without… branding, which is to say, things that create the desire to buy a product, nothing dirtier than that, would mean whisky confined to a few elderly men in need of a wash.

Now, I might not agree with the overall thing that the Macallan does sometimes, and the whisky can be hit and miss at each respective price point, but on the whole, it is good. Yet the whisky community tends to look down upon it quite heavily – yes, the glorious 18 year olds of yesteryear are no longer upon us, and yes they do sell for quite a worrying amount at auction. And yes, their recent brand campaign was some bizarre joke on the industry, surely. But the immense dislike in some quarters is quite unusual.

So, the concept of colour. What do you do? Get your own Pantone – team up with that brand who pretty much own the concept of colour – and put that partnership out there to the world. Colour and Macallan become synonymous, or that’s the plan – it’s what they’d say in those dreaded marketing meetings where people conspire to see how they can sell products. The very thought of making a living! How dare they.

Perhaps Macallan’s advantage, in general, is the sherry wood emphasis, their style I suppose, which enables them to make more of a thing of colour than most brands. And a natural colour is pretty much what everyone expects in a whisky these days – E150 being dumped into things seems less of a thing in whisky geek circles. So by announcing this partnership, they stake a claim as the whisky with good colour. There’s nothing complicated about these sorts of activities – it’s simple, probably quite expensive in this case, but it is the sort of thing that when shouted loudly and regularly enough tends to cut through into public consciousness.

There are lots of ridiculous details on the packaging, with Macallan suggesting a whisky’s story starts from the “acorn” – in which case, why not dump vodka in the barrels to begin with? – and lots of hyperbole, smoke and mirrors, which we can all safely ignore. But despite the ridiculousness on the box, it also tells us quite clearly what the cask breakdown is; which offers a shade more transparency than most other producers.

And there’s the irony: all this nonsense aimed at people who don’t really drink whisky, and then that breakdown to tick some boxes for the nerds. That cask breakdown is first-fill bourbon barrels, second-fill hogsheads/butts, first-fill Tevasa Cooperage hogsheads/butts, first-fill Vasyma Cooperage butts, and first-fill Hudosa Cooperage hogsheads/butts. As you can see, lots of fresh wood, with an almost undead zombie barrel thrown in. Now I’m not completely dazzled by all of this – there’s nothing about barley and I don’t even know whether or not the liquid is fermented in someone’s lunch hour and then rushed through the stills, but I am merely being fair.

Which is to say, I still don’t understand why half of you lot hate the Macallan.

Macallan Edition 5

Macallan Edition No. 5 – Review

Colour: russet.

On the nose: salted caramel chocolate – a slightly briny sweetness, if that makes sense. A certain freshness to the dried fruits – sultanas, apricots, then dried oranges and cinnamon. Sandalwood and jasmine. Woody perfume, amber, tea pots – all of which opens up splendidly as time progresses. A hint of pressed apple juice.

In the mouth: silky delivery. Coffee, cloves, allspice, ginger and lovely salted caramel sweetness. White pepper. Plenty of dried fruits, as expected, raisins, with dried cranberries too. A rich damson chutney (I imagine this goes very well with cheese). That salted note returns late on – and it balances out that sweetness effectively. Bitter dark chocolate, tobacco and a hint of charcoal. But that silkiness!

Conclusions

Much in the same style as the rest of the series – indeed, though much of these are confined to memory, I feel it’s rather similar in taste, even if my notes vary slightly. If you liked the others, as they say, then you’ll… You get the idea. But it’s still good – still about £15 to much, but if people keep buying it then what are they to do?

I always feel like an apologist for Macallan when I write something positive about them. I don’t have to be. I bought this with my own money. Haters gonna hate. I like this and I am glad I bought it. (And I didn’t even make a reference to the Purple Teletubby and the new distillery looking like Teletubbyland, which would have been what Jason would have done.)

Score: 7/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. John
    John says:

    Which is to say, I still don’t understand why half of you lot hate the Macallan.

    You have one less person to wonder about after you read my piece!

  2. Avatar
    Matthew says:

    Hi Mark, enjoyed reading the article.

    I have two questions

    1. Has Macallan grown as a brand over the last few years due to marketing, rebranding and storytelling? Most likely yes.
    2. Has Macallan delivered the type of quality and consistency of product, that in turn created its great reputation in the first place? Most likely no.

    My answer most likely as I have no hard evidence but from my own perspective and from a lot of folks I’ve talked to this is their beef with Macallan ( hate is mabye too strong a word). Throw into the mix the premium aspect and the bullshit story telling then its no wonder people are” scunnered”. I dont hate Macallan but for me they price themselves out of my bracket anyway and for the expressions Ive tried and tasted this is no loss to myself .

    Cheers.

    1. Avatar
      Mark says:

      Perhaps this is the problem with being liked too much. Too much demand. Too little whisky left around. They need to make it faster or sell it at a higher price. Perhaps, therefore, the whisky community spoiled things?

  3. Graham
    Graham says:

    Your message ‘marketing and branding; if you don’t like it ignore it’ is fair enough to a point. But sometimes it completely interferes with our ability to select our next bottle. You really need some integrity to come along with all that branding. So Macallan having kept price and quality consistent across the Editions is a good thing. We know marketing is it’s also used to create ‘series’ with astronomical price hikes on each release or rebranding used hide a poorer quality product.

    So I would say we don’t hate marketing but we are wary of it, and Macallan invest a lot in it. But overall I agree that their whisky is pleasant enough.

    1. Avatar
      Mark says:

      To be fair, compared to the other big brands – let’s put out there Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. Where would they stand in comparison? I’d say many would put them higher?

      1. Graham
        Graham says:

        The Global Mass Market Arms race! I don’t have a very strong opinion on either Glenfiddich or Glenlivet really so it’s difficult to compare. I guess all 3 are on the same strategy and I would always choose Macallan over them. Highland Park marketing is of course a good example of a similar approach but with a good deal more bollocks thrown in. Dalmore again with the lovely stag motif but with less editions. It certainly feels like regular drinkers are rather treated like insurance renewers; with indifference and irrelevance in the pursuit of new customers.

  4. Avatar
    Greg B. says:

    Disdain for Macallan is a better word these days than “hate”, but the disdain is well-deserved. I suppose one cannot blame them for wanting to respond to spiking demand from newly emerging markets and trying to maximize the profits from such an opportunity. But in doing so they turned their back on their longtime customers and did some serious damage to their brand in the minds of those people. First was the Fine Oak series which actually wasn’t bad whisky, but not the expected sherry-forward Macallan presentation we had come to expect from the brand. Yet it was priced as though it was. But the unforgivable move to NAS offerings with their 1824 series, with 4 offerings of indeterminate age meant to mimic their previous age-statement products that had been diverted to more lucrative markets and yet were offered at price points that were about the same, was unforgivable and did much damage to their brand. Not much transparency with those. Customers (at least in my region) wisely responded by letting them gather dust on the shelves.

    Part of all of this is having to accept the reality that the Macallan we once knew is no more. Now it is a brand packaging products in Lalique crystal and wooden boxes, intended more for showing off how much you can afford to spend rather than actually drinking it. It is for customers who are (or aspire to be) part of the new gilded age. It is a status symbol more than a whisky. Looking at their products now is for many of us like looking in the showroom window of a Rolls-Royce dealer. Interesting and perhaps even impressive, but not something we could realistically purchase. In that context, some disdain is understandable, especially when one wonders how their products could possibly be good enough to command such a price point. But that matters little for their intended market, who are buying an image, and as long as the whisky is “good enough”, that’s all that matters.

    1. Avatar
      Chuck Schmerr says:

      Seconded.

      I attended a brand ambassador-led tasting of the 1824 “colour” series at a local merchant’s store here in Victoria, BC after it was initially released, and after 30 minutes of blather about the colour of the whisky determining everything and the age statement meaning nothing, I asked the ambassador point-blank why (if that were true) certain markets such as Canada and the UK were still entitled to Age-Statement Macallans while others weren’t. After a couple attempts to deflect the question, he gave up and said “the Asian Market pays more”.

      That told me all I needed to hear. If my entire market isn’t deemed worthy of your better whisky, your brand is not worthy of one penny from my pocket.

      I have never purchased another Macallan since that day.

      1. Avatar
        Gareth says:

        I’m a designer and a Macallan fan.

        Pantone I cannot live without. Macallan is, When they get it right (I’m looking at you edition no.2) truly wonderful.

        This edition however, is the bastard child of a marketing team who have started believing their own hype. The 3 min vid to accompany the launch of the 5 was fatuous to say the least. As soon as the bird from Pantone said it was impossible to capture the Macallan colour and then said we created a colour to capture it I checked out. I’m going to be as polite as I can when I say it’s a shameful pile of old bollocks.

        I certainly don’t hate Macallan for doing this though. Everyone works the market and their brand accordingly. Macalln invented the idea of luxury whisky. This is their pitch and they, at least on the balance sheets rarely put a toe wrong. But for the average drinker, of which I find myself, they are slowly leaving the orbit of mere mortals. Yes they do affordable options but for the money there’s better to be had. The scramble for the limited editions is insane and only worth the effort if you’re a fan. The better offerings start at about £200 which is a hell of a price of admission.

        Undoubtedly the Asian market is the great untapped financial wilderness for them. There’s fortunes to be made, but it’s going to come at a cost, the price of their following in the UK and Europe. Sad but that just the way things are going. Gouging is the new norm (Aberlour a’bunadh anyone?). And as for what really matters, is edition 5 any good? I’d honestly say it’s significantly weaker that the previous 4 editions. They need to pull their finger out to finish this on a high note (6 editions in total?!) we’ll see.

      2. Avatar
        Greg B. says:

        I also attended a session hosted by one of their Canadian brand ambassadors on the 1824 – perhaps the same person. I felt badly for him. I had known him for a while and he had always been very up-front and enthused about the products he represented. With the 1824 he tried his best, but it was clear that the audience wasn’t buying what he was trying to sell. And I thought I could tell that his heart wasn’t into it either. To be polite I purchased one bottle of the 1824, found it wretched for the price, and never returned. I’m not sure if he is still an ambassador for them as I have not seen nor heard from him in the last few years. Perhaps it was all too much. The Asian market comment is one which I have heard from a number of their people, spoken quietly and privately, so it is an open secret. A rep told me that they quickly recognized that the 1824 line was a big mistake, and they are still trying to recover. But clearly they have walked away from their former customers.

  5. Avatar
    Darren Linthwaite says:

    A really interesting article Mark. I don’t believe there are Macallan “haters” out there. It is after all simply a business trying to make money to pay working peoples wages and fund pensions. I have been drinking whisky long enough to have enjoyed older expressions and even some pre war (WW2 that is!) and Fine and Rare bottlings. I normally tend to ignore Macallan these days in the same way I do Highland Park as I judge the quality has diminished (it always will when demand is high) whereas the pricing certainly has not. I don’t hate Macallan for this. They have to do what they believe is best for the long term future of the business. Having said this I have actually got myself a bottle of this edition as it is a very long time since I bought a Macallan and I am actually looking forward to try it and compare it with your notes.

    1. Avatar
      Mark says:

      Thanks for the comment, Darren. I think that’s a fair conclusion to draw: victims of their own success, but there are plenty of other brands out there.

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