Macallan (Pronounced: Mac-ALLEN)
57°29'5.0028 N, 3°12'25.0596 W
Aberlour, Glenrothes, Glen Spey, Craigallachie
9 Wash stills, 18 Spirit stills
8,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Edrington / WM Grant > Highland Distillers (since 1999)
Craigellachie, Banffshire AB38 9RX
Yes - loads of them
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
EDITOR'S NOTE: You may have noticed some heavy emotions seeping through the lines of this Distillery profile - but that's just because I used to love the Macallan brand so much. In my emotional state I may have failed to explain the entire chain of events accurately and /or completely, despite my best efforts to do so. That's why I'm very happy that The Macallan's David Cox took the trouble of replying to some of my criticisms in the Spring of 2009. Did he manage to convince me of Macallan's noble intentions? Why don't you check out my Liquid Log and find out for yourself?
2001 - Macallan distillery opens a new visitor centre and the first 'replica' bottling (the '1861') is released.
2002 - The '1841' replica is launched. Like its '1861' predecessor it's most likely based on a fake whisky...
2003 - The '1876' replica - definitely based on a fake whisky - is released with an ABV of 40.6%.
2004 - The Macallan 'Fine Oak' series is launched, proving that Macallan had been using bourbon casks for at least three decades, although they claimed on their labels that only sherry casks were used for Macallan malt whisky.
In the same year the 'The Macallan 1851 Inspiration' replica is launched in Asia.
2008 - Macallan already used a whopping 21 stills to produce 6,000,000 litres of alcohol in the past, but in September 2008 the old still room with six extra stills is opened up again, increasing capacity to 8,000,000 litres.
2013 - Due to the growing emphasis on 'luxury' and 'lifestyle' in their advertising, the brand perception for Macallan has radically changed over the past decade. Macallan used to be in the top 5 of favourite single malt brands for many connoisseurs, but the gap between the desired image and the actual quality of the product has now grown so wide that many malt whisky enthusiasts have turned their attention to other distilleries that offer better products for better prices. The introduction of the luxurious Oakley flask for 600 Euro's (with a commercial featuring many expensive cars and even a helicopter and a bathing woman) proves that Macallan is a real 'Donald Trump whisky' these days.
Probably much later, actually. A tasting panel that sampled some
of these whiskies guessed they were actually around ten years
old, and possibly not even distilled at the Macallan distillery. One
might imagine that the buyers of one or more of these replica's
would be reimbursed by Macallan for paying a lot of money for
a replica of a fake, but as far as I know this was not the case.
One of the things that attracted me to single malts
in the early 1990's was the (relative) authenticity of
the product in a world where massive corporations
and mass media promote mass consumption. The
entire 'fakes' episode had already stretched the
elastic band between Macallan's brand image and
the cold, hard reality close to it's breaking point.
When the purveyors of some of my favourite malts
in the sherried side of the spectrum released their
Fine Oak range that elastic band finally snapped.
'Big Mac' dropped from my list of Top 10 Distilleries.
That being said - there still are very decent bottlings available.
The Macallan 10yo Cask Strength (also available at some airports) still offers an affordable sherry kick.
That makes it a last refuge for (sherry) Macallan fans in countries like Holland where they discontinued their sherried range altogether and only distribute the 'bourbon' variety of their whisky. Fortunately, a few other Speyside distilleries like Aberlour and Glenfarclas still provide a healthy range of sherried expressions in their core single malts portfolio.
When Macallan managed to release an extensive range of (partly) bourbon matured malts in their brand new 'Fine Oak ' series in 2004 it turned out that they had been maturing whisky in those crappy bourbon casks all along. Or at least since the early 1970's, because the range included a 25yo and a 30yo Macallan. I might have been able to wash away the sense of betrayal with a few good drams, but compared to the affordable sherried marvels they released in the 1990's these Fine Oak bottlings didn't really tickle my fancy. Granted, the design of the new bottles (shown at the left) was even nicer than the old one (shown at the right) - but the whisky inside the bottle wasn't...
In fact, Macallan's focus seems to have been slowly drifting from whisky
to PR and promotion since the early noughties. When Macallan distillery
acquired a few antique bottles of Macallan from a dubious source around
the year 2000, they didn't waste a lot of time checking the authenticity of
these bottles. They claimed 'tests' of the glass and label had proven that
the bottles were genuine, so Macallan proceeded to release a string of
so-called 'replica's' of botlles from 1841, 1851, 1861, 1874 and 1876.
Too bad the 'antiques' they based those on turned out to be fakes...
Actually, the people of Macallan could and should have known better, but
they didn't check too carefully. After all, the 'raison d'etre' for the release
of these replica's of bottles of Macallan from the 19th century bottles was
the acquisition of these supposedly antique bottles. As soon as Macallan
would admit the antiques had been fakes, they would have to discontinue
their (commercially very successful) range of replica's. So, the longer they
could put off knowing for certain the bottles were fakes, the more money
they would make. It's hardly surprising that the growing chorus of doubts
and warnings from the circles of Macallan fans and malt whisky anoraks
around the world was politely ignored for as long as possible.
Only after fellow malt maniac Dave Broom had published a string of articles about the concerns about the authenticity of the 19th century bottles in Whisky Magazine, Macallan had the contents of the antique bottles carbon dated. The tests proved that the whisky contained a certain carbon isotope that only occurred in our atmosphere after the first large scale nuclear tests were done. This proved that the whiskies had actually been bottled after circa 1950...
The people behind The Macallan
have managed to cultivate an 'exclusive'
and luxurious brand perception, even though the distillery actually has the
2nd or 3d largest production capacity in Scotland, right behind Glenfiddich
and Glenlivet. In the 1990's it used to be one of my favourite brands on
the shelves, but that was when they still matured all malts in sherry casks.
Or at least that's what they claimed. The back label of an 18yo expression
from 1982 proudly boasts: 'For reasons not even science can wholly explain,
whisky has always matured best in oak casks that have contained sherry. Due
to increasing expense and scarcity, other distilleries no longer insist on sherry
casks. THE MACALLAN DIRECTORS DO.' Yep, it's printed in massive capitals
just like this on the label. Well, perhaps that's because it's a BIG FAT LIE.
1) Even though Macallan is located smack in the middle of the Speyside region, it's labeled as a Highland malt.
2) When the distillery was founded in 1824 the name was 'Elchies Distillery'. In 1892 the new owner Roderick Kemp changed the name to Macallan-Glenlivet. The Kemp family would remain shareholders until 1996.
3) During the first decade of the 3d millennium Macallan was the 3d biggest selling Scotch single malt whisky - right after Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. In the Scotch malt whisky industry, quality and quantity are often at odds...
4) The provenance of most 'antique' bottles that Macallan used to design their replica's is dubious to say the least,
but according to fellow malt maniac Charles MacLean their first replica (the 1874) could actually be based on an authentic bottle: "The first replica was the 1874, made by Frank Newlands, under the Willie Phillips/Alan Shiach regime and
launched at Searcey's, London in 1996. Frank told me they had bought the bottle at auction and extracted a sample by
hypodermic. He exclaimed that he reckoned he could replicate the whisky from some of their maturing casks, and the
directors got wildly excited at the possibility of demonstrating that Macallan was 'the same as it had been in the 19th C'.
When he went back to the sample next day, its aroma had vanished, so he had to put the 'replica' together by memory. I
tasted both original & replica at the launch. Replica a pretty good copy, but original more delicate. The cork was drawn with
due solemnity - I remember it was very short and stubby and manky. I reckon this bottle was probably genuine."
Macallan 14yo 1995/2010 (57%, Adelphi, C#10450, 268 Bts.)
Nose: Polished. Pleasant but not terribly expressive. Cassis. Faintly and little development. A little perfumy?
Taste: Sweet and fruity. Just like the nose, there is little development over time. Pleasant but a little dumb.
Score: 84 points - there is some development over time, but not a really great deal.
Macallan 1970/2010 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail for LMdW, 1st Fill Sherry Hogshead, C#10031)
Nose: Sweet and classically sherried. Mint and some spices and organics. Old fashioned cinnamon sweets.
A whiff of ginger? Quite fantastic. In fact, it would have earned more points if it wasn't for the woody palate.
Taste: Starts off surprisingly light. Woody, fruity and very pleasant. A whiff of smoke in the background.
Over time the wood takes over the palate - but as far as I'm concerned that's not a big problem. It's great!
Score: 90 points - maybe not overly surprising, but just a perfectly matured whisky that shows the wood.
Macallan 1970/2009 (46%, G&M Speymalt for La Maison du Whisky, First Fill sherry cask #8326)
Nose: Big, woody and sherried. Wonderful balance. A hint of organics (or antiquity) beneath the surface.
Delicious fruits. Hints of marzipan. Perhaps the faintest hint of sulphur, but it never reaches disturbing levels.
Continuous development, with lots of unique fragrances. Seaweed. Japanse crackers.
Taste: Fruit sweets, followed by some organics. Heavy wood (the good kind) comes to the surface in the centre.
Light but persistent finish with gentle tannins and smoke. Just like the nose, the balance is beautiful.
Score: 92 points - the very best Macallan I've tried in a long time; more 'Macallanish' than most recent OB's.
Macallan 25yo 1981/2006 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, 357 Bts.)
Nose: Fairly restrained nose at first. It didn't really make a big impact on the nose at first. Bad nose day?
Taste: Oooh... A lovely combination of sweet fruits and wood on the palate - after a very smooth start.
Faintest hint of peat? Beautiful balance & smoothness. Fruits & just enough tannins without getting bitter.
Score: 85 points - but you have to give it enough time in the glass.
Macallan 30yo 1976/2006 (45,3%, Adelphi, C#2749, 206 Bts.)
Nose: Roasted, opening up quickly. Toffee. Loads of furniture polish and old wood. Great development.
Taste: Polished wood here too. Wonderful combination of wood & fruits - and some beautiful (tea) tannins.
Perhaps just lacks a shred of cohesion and depth. At a slightly higher proof it might have worked even better.
Score: 92 points - the developing nose and brilliant tannins finally gave it that little extra push into the 90's.
Macallan 14yo 1991/2005 (46%, The Alchemist)
Nose: Very light & fruity. Subtle and surprisingly pleasant. Hardly recognisable as a Macallan. Back-prickle.
Taste: Hmmm.... Not quite as endearing here. Young, 'sappy' wood. One for the wine lovers? Woody finish.
Score: 78 points - I'm sure Serge will love it but for me it's not quite what I'm looking for on the palate.
Macallan 15yo 1989/2005 (57.2%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society 24.82)
Nose: Light and a tad grainy. A little malty. Faint fruits. Not very expressive, but solid and enjoyable.
Gooseberries. There seems to be something going on in the background but I can't quite make out what it is.
Taste: Sweet with a hint of liquorice root. Grows much bigger in the centre. Hot and cold. Dry finish. Woody.
Not that endearing in the nose (too subtle for me?), but it peforms very well on the palate.
Score: 82 points - a solid, 'bourbony' malt. Something reminds me of Glenmorangie or Glenlivet.
Macallan 10yo 'Fine Oak' (40%, OB, Bottled in 2004)
Nose: Sweet and mellow. Dried barley. Very pleasant and accessible, but not complex.
Lemon drops? Apple? After a minute some smoke emerges, but a splash of water killed it.
The nose starts out very promising, but I'm afraid in the end it just doesn't really deliver.
Taste: Not as sweet as the nose would suggest. Starts out smooth but ends flat and dry.
Adding water didn't help this one - it seems flatter and, strangely enough, even drier.
Score: 72 points - a decent and unoffensive whisky, but a sub-standard single malt.
Macallan 12yo 'Fine Oak' (40%, OB, Bottled in 2004)
Nose: This is another light one - clearly from bourbon casks. Hints of mint and menthol.
Again a hint of apple. The nose dies quickly and water doesn't help. However, time does.
After fifteen minutes I got some organics, lifting it into the 70's. Then some very faint spices.
Taste: Oy... Flat and dull at first, growing a little 'mealy' like an old Golden Delicious.
It's light and fruity (and maybe slightly nutty), but ultimately a little too dull for me.
This Macallan feels fairly uneven on the palate. A little gritty. Dry, bitter finish. Beer. Aspirin?
Score: 74 points - I had it in the upper 70's for the first five minutes before it fell apart.
Macallan 12yo 'Sherry' (40%, OB, Bottled in 2004)
Nose: Aaaah! Rich and sherried. Pipe tobacco. Overripe peaches? Curry ketchup?
It skims along the edges of oily and perfumy. Rubber. More organics and spices.
Quite massive. Now I get fried onions. Sweat. Clay? The most entertaining nose so far.
Taste: Ooh, not as big and bold as I suspected - and ever so slightly perfumy.
After a few minutes it appears much, much woodier - and maybe slightly smoky.
Over time it shows a lingering fruity sweetness that finally lifts it into the 80's.
Score: 82 points - there's a lot to enjoy here but the palate disappoints in the end.
Hardly subtle, this one - looking over my notes it could almost be a Bowmore or Edradour. This puts me in an emotional limbo - I don't know if I should be happy or sad; happy that I like it more than the 12yo Fine Oak, or sad that it doesn't match the old 12. Well, I feel somewhere in-between sad and happy; let's say I feel 'sappy'...
Macallan 15yo 'Fine Oak' (43%, OB, Bottled in 2004)
Nose: Hey, interesting. Light and fruity with the faintest hint of oil in the background.
More organics over time. Sweaty socks. Dentist. Drops off rather quickly. Hint of smoke?
After some more breathing I got string beans and mayonaise. Mind and menthol as well.
I didn't like it a lot at first, but I can't deny this has personality. Cool; mid-80's, I'd say.
The nose really becomes quite entertaining - it shows a lot of development over time.
Taste: Strange chemical fruitiness. Gin? Blue Curacao? Rum? No winner on the palate.
Quite dry, hot and flat. Could this be a rum finish? In the end this is just a little too dull.
That being said, it clearly mellows out after some five minutes, lifting it from the 70's.
Score: 80 points - the nose is very endearing, but I can't say the same about the palate.
It's very dry and winy, athough it grows a little friendlier after I put it aside for five minutes.
Macallan 18yo 'Fine Oak' (43%, OB, Bottled in 2004)
Let's check out how it stands up under closer scrutiny - using my own fishbowls this time.
Nose: Sherried with some organics, but a tad lighter than the 15yo. Ah - now it explodes!
Light fruits. Still, not extremely expressive, but it feels natural and well integrated.
Taste: Again, a light and fairly subtle sherry character. Nice, but all-in-all a tad MOTR.
It grows fruitier towards the finish - and increasingly dry. It loses some points here.
Not very sweet. However, just like the 15yo this grows easier on the palate with time.
Score: 81 points - Nice, but for a long time I couldn't find a real reason to recommend it.
Some elements reminded me of Springbank but the palate leaves me underwhelmed.
Macallan 18yo 1986 & Earlier 'Sherry' (43%, OB, Bottled in 2004) was a real disappointment.
Nose: Well, that's something else! Soy sauce? Hot milk? Cake? Very peculiar.
Very slick and polished in the nose, slowly sweetening out. Is this a Macallan?
Restrained. Warm milk. I still find it a weird whisky, but I like it much more this time.
Taste: Oooh. Oily start. Very weak. Watery. Sweetish. Fruity. Winey towards the finish.
This really reminds me of Jura or Tobermory. It feels out of balance somehow. Too freaky.
It needs time (at least ten minutes) to open up. Big difference between nose and taste.
Score: 79 points - great development in the nose, but the palate really lets me down. It's definitely a very big departure from the 'old' sherried Macallan 18's from the 1990's. This drop in 'quality' proves that they have serious sherry stock problems at 'Big Mac'. The score of 81 points for the 18yo 'Fine Oak' may be not that impressive as the scores in the upper 80's and lower 90's for older, sherried expressions of the 18yo Macallan, but at least the Fine Oak has the excuse that it's a very different type of whisky. This 'sherry' version is a far cry from the 'old' 18yo.
Macallan 21yo 'Fine Oak' (43%, OB, Bottled in 2004)
Nose: Light and a little grainy - good grains. Malted barley? Veggy. Just a tad restrained.
Some intriguing developing organics lift it into the 70's after a while - but just barely.
Hm, wait... It grows on me over time. Maybe a score in the upper-70's is in order?
Taste: Oy. This one starts off shaky and deteriorates along the way. Not my cup of tea.
A tannin dryness in the finish - but none of the fruit or sherry that usually comes with it.
Over time it grows more appealing on the palate - but enough to call it recommendable?
Score: 80 points - after a while the nose had grown on me; but the palate is just too flat.
If this is the best Macallan can do after 21 years they are in big trouble, I'd say...
Macallan 25yo 'Fine Oak' (43%, OB, Bottled in 2004)
Nose: Sweet and polished with a good deal of sherry, it seems. Smoke and organics.
Ah, now I get some fruits in the background. More 'bakery aroma's and 'good grain' later.
A lovely rich fruit cake sweetness fills the room. Next: leather and meat. Quite spectacular.
Then the organics reappear in full force - a nice surprise. Spices. That means extra points.
Taste: Not quite as big and sweet as I expected. Light, dry and ever so slightly fruity.
The palate doesn't really match the nose and I'm afraid it loses one or two points here.
Score: 85 points - I had it in de lower eighties until the nose caught a second wind. Phew, finally a 'Fine Oak' expression that's sort of up to the 'old' quality standards. This was the first in this range of new Macs that really made my heart beat faster. Wonderful complexity - even thought it's definitely not a sherry monster.
Macallan 30yo 'Fine Oak' (43%, OB, Bottled in 2004)
Nose: Lighter than the 25yo, but quite complex as well. Sweet organics here.
Some faint sherry too, if I'm not mistaken. Yeah, Wonderful developement. A fun malt.
It needs some more time than the last one, but in the end there seem to be similarities.
Taste: Much more sherried than the nose suggests. Dry and woody - pretty good wood.
Aspririn? Unfortunately, the palate is a little bit too gritty, especially towards the finish.
Score: 86 points - the nose is really great (although a bit subtle, just like the 25yo, the 30yo isn't particularly big and expressive), but not the taste. At almost 300 pounds (= almost 500 Euro's in real money) it's quite disappointing.
Macallan 'Coilltean' 1992/2004 (55%, Samaroli, New American oak, Cask #8518, 420 Bottles)
Nose: Big and sweet. Late summer fruits and a hint of smoke. Lovely! Developing spices and organics.
I must have another. Again big and sweet. Hint of oil. Smoky, fruity and nutty. Roasted brazil nuts. This is brilliant!
Taste: Sweet start with a hint of herbs. Fruit pie. Lovely tannins! Brilliant mouth feel. I looove this!
Lovely fruits in the centre, followed by lovely tannins. This one kept on growing and growing and growing on me.
Once again the second dram started a little herbal - Jagermeister or cough bonbons - before growing sweeter.
Score: 94 points - and in a way that's a fairly conservative score. It goes higher on the lovability scale. Unique!
What a superb single malt whisky. An adventure - and all that after only 12 years!
Macallan 30yo 1971/2002 'Vintage' (56.4%, OB, Cask #4280)
Nose: Wow! This IS clearly a Macallan, but the style is lighter than I'm used to. Spicy. What a beauty!
Taste: Wonderful chewy fruits from start to finish. Fabulous mouth feel. To busy enjoying to make notes.
Score: 91 points - BANG! The second whisky scoring in the 90's today. One of the best 'post 2000' official Macs.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Macallan Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Macallan page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Macallan expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or