In an era where marketing usually gives the consumer a preconception toward the marketed product, blind tastings are underutilized.
Just in case you’re not familiar with what a blind tasting is: it’s a tasting wherein what you’re drinking isn’t identified. At most, you can tell if it’s aged or not. One of the goals is to remove any bias. There’s usually a theme and a progression. You can get creative with themes. For example: if you can, do a line-up of NAS Arrans aged or finished in different ex-wine casks. I know they’ve released different expressions finished in ex-Port, Sherry, Madeira, Amarone and Sauternes casks. With this, the distillery DNA is consistent, so that’s one less variable to worry about. At the same time, you’re learning what flavors each type of ex-wine cask lends to Arran, and possibly to other single malts of the same style.
Progression usually goes from lightest (in flavor) and lowest in ABV to heaviest (in flavor) and highest in ABV. For Scotch, the peated ones go in the middle to last, depending on what’s in your line up.
I first learned of this from the wine industry. In the movie Somm about sommeliers and what it takes to become a master (wine) sommelier (a.k.a. M.S.), it was shown that a blind tasting is a part of the test. If I recall correctly, a few things the test takers have to guess are the wine’s origin, vintage, and grape varietal(s). This part of the exam, I think, encourages aspiring M.S. to remove any type of bias towards wine and just take in each wine’s characteristics. It also forces the test takers to keep on trying and going back to different kinds of wine.
In case you might be thinking “But sommelier is about wines; wine is not a spirit,” let me tell you who else uses blind tastings: The WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) Spirits Level 3 exam and two of the most respected spirits competitions in the world, the ISC (International Spirits Competition) and the IWSC (International Wine & Spirits Competition). My memory is hazy, but I recall WSET requiring the test taker to correctly guess the spirit and give tasting notes to justify the guess.
If you’re wondering why I mentioned competitions: a lot of other competitions are “pay to win,” meaning certain brands pay to get their gold and double gold medals. A lot of the judges also, often, don’t have the right credentials.
A lot of people are still skeptical towards blind tastings. But, let me say if blind tastings weren’t used in competitions, then the French and the rest of the world might still look down on American wine. Read The Judgment of Paris or watch the movie Bottle Shock for more context. Also, Kavalan wouldn’t be this big now if they didn’t enter a whisky competition that judged the samples blind. I think this was in 2015, wherein they won a gold or best in the competition.
Years before COVID, I occasionally hosted blind spirit tastings with friends and/or acquaintances who were curious about spirits. The line-ups would range from just whisk(e)y to being rum, agave spirits, and brandy. They all enjoyed judging and guessing what was in their glass without any prejudice. It even led to them appreciating other spirits more. As a result, I started wondering why brands didn’t host blind tastings.
Being cautious that asking this from a big brand wouldn’t give me a reliable answer, I once asked a brand ambassador who used to work for a medium-sized company. The answer I got was that blind tastings don’t work.
At this time, this medium-sized company was still well-liked. It’s a different story now with them showing a willingness to do anything to get their way. I get along well with this brand ambassador, but the company’s ethical issues made me doubt any answer coming from them.
I unintentionally learned of another answer when I recently hosted a blind tasting. This tasting consisted of six samples, all of which were from one distillery. They were a mix of basic expressions to limited releases. Let me add that this is a really popular and well-liked brand. I went from regular expressions, which have a lower ABV, to limited releases bottled at cask strength.
As expected, the results were varied. But, more importantly, the different tasters all had similar comments after we went through the line-up. Each of them found certain expressions to be faulty when they went back to the other samples.
It’s obvious that without marketing, brands are unable to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Most likely, if they did blind tastings, it’s possible that some of their brands will lose fans after seeing their products through a clearer lens. Also, blind tastings would render marketing useless, which would be like them throwing away money. We all know that they love money. It would also mean that it would be harder for the blind tasting’s host to stick to a script, since the questions might be more varied and could lead to them giving bullshit answers or saying they don’t know.
This topic came about because I was recently sent a blind sample of Macallan’s new The Harmony Collection Rich Cacao. It seems that after their Teletubby editions, they’re now starting with another series of shenanigans.
When I tasted the sample blind, I immediately thought this was a shell & tube-condensed Speyside or Highland Scotch, something that’s similar to the profile and lightness of Glengoyne or Glenlivet. The flavors I got were dried apricots, honey, apples, honeydew melons, grapes, hay, and orange cough syrup. I had a laugh when this was revealed to me, mainly because the sender knows I detest Macallan. The other reason is: for something with Rich Cacao on the label, I didn’t get any noticeable cacao notes in it. This added another surprise since, like most Macallans, this is a blend of whisky aged in European and American oak seasoned with sherry.
Macallan The Harmony Collection Rich Cacao – Review
44% ABV. USD $179.99 from Total Wine. USD $320 locally. €114.5 from Master of Malt.
On the nose: Light, watery, and a bit peppery. I get light aromas of honey, dried apricots, roasted coffee beans, honeydew melons, hay, orange-flavored gummy bears and chocolate barley.
In the mouth: Light but not as watery as on the nose. For something so light, I find the lingering but light ethanol sharpness to be a nuisance. I get light tastes of dried apricots, orange-flavored cough syrup, sulfur, honey, cereals and cantaloupes.
The name “Rich Cacao” is very misleading. As mentioned above, I don’t sense any richness of cacao here. Mind you, my senses aren’t desensitized towards chocolate. I barely eat any in a month.
This is Macallan taking another piss aimed down our throats. Even with the price from Master of Malt, €114.50, this isn’t worth it. SRP here is P13,500 (around USD $270) and HKD $1850 (around USD $260) which makes it comparable to throwing away gold. In no way is this whisky worth that kind of money.
If you’re someone with more sense than money, why support this? Whether you’re buying this for your collection or for an investment, you’re part of the problem that’s plaguing whisky and its prices. Paying for releases like this is like you enabling a junkie family member. Just stop it. Make Macallan stop and think about what they’re doing.
If you think this is a great whisky, then you’re either pandering to Macallan or you need to drink better stuff.
(at the Master of Malt price, 3/10 at local and Total Wine prices)
Thanks to the sender for sending me this, otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten to try this whisky, since I don’t like paying for contemporary Edrington products.
Image courtesy of Macallan.
The truth has been spoken
I’m glad you think so!
Love the end of the review!
Thanks for the compliment!
I want to buy macallan whisky single Malta
When I was growing up in the North East of Scotland in the 90s people used to actually drink macallen because it was very good and reasonably priced. Now I don’t know one person who drinks the stuff but plenty of people must be buying the shite as its in every buggers whisky collection that I know. They covet their macallen bottles more than any other despite me trying to convince them to open and try them.
“This is Macallan taking another piss aimed down our throats” thats some sentence right there 🙂
Thanks for the info, Mark! That’s certainly a bad sign when locals have stopped drinking it.
Ah, you made the fatal error, you opened a bottle! It’s not intended to drink, it’s like a new form of crypto 😉
Ha. I’ll pass the message along to the sample sender, Bifter.
Bifter, and John, I have heard that Macallan will be fixing the liquid flaw that you noted. Sometime in 2023, Macallan will be discontinuing the liquid contained in its current “products.” For 2023 releases, the boxes will be sealed, and will lose all value if opened. According to the press release, the planned product adjustment will be “to further align the product with client desires.”
I have a friend who invests in whisky, namely only Macallan & he’s teetotal, I just don’t get it
J4son, LOL! That is entirely plausible.
I thought the same when the first of the “edition” series was released. Crap whisky punted out to gullible punters that would finally show up whisky investment for the joke that it is. I was very wrong. It’ll collapse at some point but looking at the silly prices even bog standard Springbank is now fetching we’re not there yet as long as producers don’t follow Diageo’s lead and don’t just produce more of a special edition when it sells out initially.
I think the Springbank issue is truly and mainly due to their small production. I’m happy they’re being appreciated but Im not happy about how it’s happening.
Yes, I think this joke brands like Macallan are pulling will collapse soon. We just dont know when it’ll start.
don’t count on it. The next level is on its way.
non fungible tokens are the plan for “rare and collectible” whisky bottles. Just look who is issuing those bottles.
NFTs make counterfeiting hard but they are as yet just a means to drive the prices to unreachable heights.
I would spell out NFT as No! f**ck you, token!
But who am I to think that whisky has chosen a very bad way?
Thanks for the bad news, Kallaskander. I think Dalmore also just got into NFTs. This is a trend I’ll most likely not be looking into.
yeah, the usual suspects calling themselves luxury whisky makers.
Nor should you look into it . But it will stop no one if money can be made.
I have to go against the consensus here and say what I think: this is a very good whisky.
Pricey? – Sure! But so are many good things nowadays.
I tasted it (neck pour) alongside with Macallan 18 sherry oak circa 2008 that I’ve had open for a couple of months now, and I had a hard time to decide which one I liked better: the 18 is good, but I find it too dry, whereas the Rich Cacao is a tasty modern sherry aged whisky that is surprisingly well-balanced.
I love it. It hits cocoa on the nose. The finish is super long and transforms the longer I let it linger. On the mouth, definitely cocoa and the hint of bubblegum that I get from Scotch, but also some orange citrus and a spritz of ginger for a light punch on the tongue. I do honestly like this better than the Sherry cask 18 neat, which is a bit dry by comparison. Perhaps I have a naïve palate, but I’m enjoying this immensely. Will definitely get a 2nd bottle to reminisce again in a few years.
I agree with there being other good and pricey whisky these days. But there are also a lot of better and cheaper whisky than Macallans.
I’ve seen comments saying the US version of Rich Cacao is better than the 700mls. I’m not sure how accurate this is but if it’s true, that’s an odd fact. That modern sherry taste might be the seasoned sherry cask taste. Or the sherry + american oak taste. If you like it good for you!
I had it in the US and was not disappointed. Possibly because I was skeptical from the start so I didn’t have high expectations. It wasn’t outstanding but I thought it was good amd had a nice surprising cocoa flavor. No notion of ethanol, cough syrup or sulfur.
I also got it for $90 USD and drink more bourbon than scotch so it was a fun novelty to break out after Christmas dinner
Macallan lost its way from a whisky standpoint a long time ago, but they discovered that the denizens of the New Gilded Age with more money than sense would allow them to enrich their coffers beyond their wildest dreams by buying hugely overpriced bottles in fancy packaging as long as they spun a good yarn about it in their marketing materials. So the NFT news is not surprising, since for a while now, Macallan products have been like that in spirit (pardon the pun) if not in actual fact, which is to say, something to show off and brag about to your acquaintances but not to actually consume. We are in a crazy world.
wait and see….
“Granting Greater Public Access to High-End, Consumable Collectibles” Who do they think they are fooling??
And only a matter oft time and … ta ta Ardbeg joins the frey.
I’m still hoping the Ardbeg nft is an April fool’s joke they’ve released late.
Hi, James. I hope so too! But Ardbeg IS owned by a luxury brand.
Lol, you failed to realize that this is a first edition release of this collection.And while you think “ it’s comparable to throwing away gold. In no way is this whisky worth that kind of money.” Historically 1st editions rise in value. Look at all of the Mac 1st edition’s of any collection and it’s clear to see that these are investments and worth more than gold to the right buyers. Doesn’t matter what it tastes like.
Hi Michael, perhaps you failed to realize I’m into whisky for drinking and not investing. Seeing limited edition whisky being treated as stock is disheartening. I would mind less if the whisky was actually good. But this is horrible.
Seems to be a lot of anger here, nothing wrong at all with folk collecting whisky, it’s a fairly simple concept to grasp. Getting angry about folk collecting whisky seems a bit strange.
Taste is very subjective so whilst John clearly doesn’t like it, he should be delighted that “horrible” whisky is being collected and not drank.
There are folk who can’t stomach some of the very smoky and peaty whiskies, yet I adore them, Ardbeg Scorch is outstanding in my opinion and I won’t be getting all angry about them doing collectors stuff or NFT’s.
Scorch Whisky is a fantastic spirit with an incredible romance and history and should be enjoyed and savoured in any which way you like, I prefer it neat but I wouldn’t get all upset at folk adding water or mixing it with something.
There’s enough anger in the world without folk losing their balance over whisky and special editions and collectors editions, take a dram and enjoy it with friends and ditch all this anger nonsense.
Hi Brice, the feelings I had writing this were more of frustration and concern.
In what part said there’s anger about collecting whisky? I think you’re missing the point. It’s about continuously releasing poor quality limited edition whisky and passing it off as collectible. It’s fooling gullible consumers out of their money.
I don’t think I am missing the point, some of these quotes below sound a bit angry, especially the bit suggesting people who collect whisky are part of the problem that’s ‘plaguing’ whisky and its prices.
“I detest Macallan”
“This is Macallan taking another piss aimed down our throats.”
“I don’t like paying for contemporary Edrington products”
“If you’re someone with more sense than money, why support this?”
“Whether you’re buying this for your collection or for an investment, you’re part of the problem that’s plaguing whisky and its prices.”
“Paying for releases like this is like you enabling a junkie family member. Just stop it.”
I think we all get you don’t like MacAllan, and that it’s unlikely you will give it any positive reviews given your bias. Some people will love this and some won’t but to say “If you think this is a great whisky, then you’re either pandering to Macallan or you need to drink better stuff.” is again a bit angry and over the top. Taste is very personal, lots of people can’t stand the real smoky/oily/peaty whiskies and lots love them and that’s how things should be with opinions respected, you seem to think not.