Recently, I was on Speyside for a coming magazine article, I didn’t step into a distillery for a tour. A first in many ways, but also reflective of the New Year whisky monotony that many seem to have currently. We’re all a little frazzled from whisky: a hectic 2019 and chasing bottles.
We drove past the new Macallan several times without even considering turning off and going up that ferocious hill, towards the bling distillery with the floor to ceiling parade of bottles. The only distillery I did make it to – albeit very briefly – was Benromach to witness the warehouse improvements and in addition, we managed 5 minutes to see their perfectly formed gin still, for their Red Door gin product. Please note: no gin was consumed during this visit.
A newly converted area now played host to the still, an assortment of interactive displays and a bar area were visitors could relax and enjoy a gin, or gin-based creation. This got me thinking that such an addition to a distillery is a good thing. From this vantage point, gin visitors could, in turn, see some similarities with whisky and perhaps begin their exploration of Scotland’s other great drink, after Irn Bru.
Then, I started to think about Macallan again with all its majesty, might and pulling power.
Is there a colder environment to actually have a distillery experience? From the hotel receptionist desk, to the lack of foresight across the tour itself? Guides armed with devices and speakers that attempt to overcome the bangs, thuds and hisses of a distillery in full production? The difficulties of having everything in a single room, temperature consistency and amongst it all, a parade of visitors seeking solace within an iconic brand today?
It is a very different experience. Yes, perhaps brave in some respects, but also flawed and aloof.
The Macallan brand nowadays is almost untouchable and in the eyes of many, unquestionable. From hashtag Macallan Mondays (suitably the most boring day of the week), to pimped Ambassadors and releases such as the Macallan CONcept that showcase a distillery, which we all know can do a better whisky. I feel and it is just my feeling after all, that Macallan and the brand has lost its way. In doing so, throwing aside any sense of direction and moral compass.
There is a sense of space at the distillery and a finite judgement of detail. The art of the finish. And yet you can buff, spit and polish from here to eternity and if you don’t have soul then as the Killers once sang, if you can hold on. Because Macallan is as time shows us, a truly great whisky. If feels torn between the luxury, blue-chip catwalk fetish and just doing a solid whisky that we can all enjoy. I sense a torn mindset and in doing so, a haphazard approach.
Which takes me back to doing more than just a whisky. BenRomach has the aforementioned gin area and Deanston has a great café and all the history about the site as a cotton mill. Other distilleries have their unique pitches as well and different aspects. At Glen Grant, you can go for a walk through those fabulous gardens for instance. But what does the Macallan have? A poor excuse for a visitor café stuck around the back? Seemingly an afterthought, or at least it feels that way. A sacrifcial altar where influencers can pledge their allegiance? A parade of bottles and a smug attitude? I’m just not feeling it whatsoever.
A distillery is very much a working environment and that’s its principal focus. It should also be a welcoming one, amongst all the dangers of hot stills, alcohol and stacked casks. I’m just not finding Macallan relevant, loving or welcoming nowadays. Mark loves a bit of luxury and is a self-proclaimed fan. They are the whisky masters of getting you to pay more for less: hopefully not a template for Waterford. I do like the old stuff, but that’s an over abused viewpoint, which we’ve heard from so many sources nowadays. Macallan has met its devil at the crossroads and made its choice seemingly.
The final nail in the coffin for many would be distilling gin. I’m not saying to do that whatsoever, although given it is 1st April, it could be an outlet. The twist has always been the whisky. Even in the stark cold light of the distillery, the corporate greed for profit and treating its regulars with disdain. Macallan is capable of producing a dram that makes you reconnect, sit up and take notice once again. That is the true power of Macallan and not the bling, investment values, status symbols or packaging. Many in social media want to be seen with a Macallan – mostly unopened it must be said – but very few engage truly, with the appropriate glassware and appreciation for the liquid gold itself.
I suppose, what I’m saying, looking back on the above, is I want Macallan to be more relevant to me. Ideally, being able to purchase a bottle that isn’t ‘limited’ or whatever. The initial principles of the Edition range were wholesome. Now that bear has broken out of its cage, Macallan has taken advantage with a lack of information. Sure, the cask details are great, but why not give us the outturn number? Same with the Folio? How many were released this year? I’d wager even more than the previous release. Let’s get back to the whisky and not the commodity.
Thankfully, it is time to take in the essence of Macallan in liquid form. This 15-year-old Fine Oak is bottled at 43% strength and was replaced by the Macallan Triple Cask Matured, as of April 2018. You can still pick up the original 15-year-old via the Whisky Exchange for £150, or take a punt on its triple cask replacement for a more palatable £105 from the same retailer, or via Amazon for £114.95.
I enjoyed the 18-year-old Macallan Fine Oak, yes a 6/10 means it is enjoyable and I’m looking forward to seeing how this delivers.
Macallan Fine Oak 15 year old – review
On the nose: vanilla and honey combine well with orange peel and soft wood spice. Very delicate but a rewarding nose. Nougat, polished oak, camphor, cold butter, sawdust and cloves.
In the mouth: toffee, vanilla, drop scones and a pleasant mix of oakiness and varnish. A touch of smoke lingers into the finish. Inoffensive. Some ginger, green peppercorns, dry in places and also bitter with dark chocolate.
This particular version we believe was bottled in 2011, or 2012. It’s nice and that pretty sums up the experience. Gentle, pleasant, refined and inoffensive. A very easy, drinkable Macallan that doesn’t tax the mind or demand your fullest attention. Nor is it a £100 or £150 whisky. That whole paying more for less gig again. Try around £70 and you’d be reasonably happy with proceedings.
If the price had been more realistic then I’d have considered notching up the score by 1. However, as it stands, it is enjoyable, if pedestrian on the palate and very overpriced. There is some good blending on show here, but it leaves you demanding a higher strength and less chill-filtration. Does Macallan add colouring? I’ve heard mixed comments from various sources on this over the years. I’m sure it sells well, or at least its replacement does and as long as that continues, Edrington won’t consider improving the presentation.
My thanks to Coldorak from MoreDramsLessDrama for the opportunity to try this whisky and the excellent photograph. There are commission links above for your convenience and to support what we do. Such links don’t influence our opinion.