The Macallan unearths its Rare Cask expression

The Macallan has unveiled its latest whisky, the Macallan Rare Cask, which sits as its gateway expression to its luxury 1824 Masters Series that also includes the No.6, M, as well as the recently introduced Reflexion.

Whisky brand The Macallan, by virtue of its global position in the single malt Scotch whisky market and its relentless marketing, is oft the target of many an accusation by critics of over-glorifying the whisky lifestyle. Consider the campaigns it runs with the world’s leading photographers such as Annie Leibowitz, Elliott Erwitt, and Mario Testino, or the repackaging of vintage whiskies to sell off as with its Sir Peter Blake collection – sheer combustible fuel for such criticism.

Its latest expression the Macallan Rare Cask, unveiled to the public just days ago in Singapore, is likely to be yet another contentious bone for its critics. The Macallan Rare Cask sits as the gateway expression to the brand’s premium 1824 Masters Series, which means it straddles that unenviable position where while it’s possibly the most affordable among that luxury range it’s still pricier than much of The Macallan’s core range, and especially when compared to the much sought-after Macallan 18YO (and its peers). So while the more benevolent among us can look upon the Rare Cask as making arguably premium whisky more affordable to the wider audience, those with a bone to pick are likely to lambast the new expression as another SKU that’s unlikely to be value for money.

So who is right?

“The Rare Cask represents the gateway to our highly prestigious and inspirational range – The Macallan 1824 Master Series. This new release mirrors the solid foundations that make up The Macallan, with our exceptional mastery of wood reflected through the outstanding quality of our casks and our range of natural colour,” shares Geoff Kirk, Edrington’s Managing Director, South East Asia.

One common misperception about the seasoning of casks, where oak casks are washed and seasoned with sherry to be later used for aging whisky, is that it’s a form of “cheating” – in fact this process has become somewhat of an industry standard as the demand for sherried whiskies skyrocket while the demand for sherry correspondingly falls. For The Macallan, the distillery purchases raw wood that’s sent to different cooperages to be made into casks, then sends them to various sherry bodegas where they are seasoned with sherry for up to 18 months and later emptied and shipped to the distillery. The process is overseen by its Master of Wood, Stuart MacPherson.

The non-age statement Macallan Rare Cask, according to its makers, is blended with spirit specially selected from 256 of The Macallan’s over 200,000 casks in its dunnage warehouses. The Macallan’s master whisky blender Bob Dalgarno has attempted to draw from the broadest spectrum of cask profiles – at a total of 16 different cask styles – ranging from different wood species such as Spanish and American oak, from different cask manufacturers including Tevasa, Vasyma and Hudosa, and using established bodegas such as Gonzalez Byass and Williams & Humbert, as well as incorporating different cask sizes including puncheons, butts and hogsheads.

“Rare Cask is about firstly identifying a selection of casks which can truly be called rare. Each of the cask styles result in different character, so each imparts its own distinct influence on the final whisky,” says Bob Dalgarno, The Macallan’s master whisky maker.

The Macallan Rare Cask has been crafted with spirit from sherry seasoned Spanish and American oak casks, a high proportion of them being first-fill, including some of its most precious and scarce casks. In fact, according to The Macallan, some of the casks used hail from the time before it altered its wood policy when the brand changed hands to current owner Edrington in the late 1990s. The age of whiskies used from these 256 casks range from 13 to 30 years old.

Stuart Macpherson - Cooperage Manager, Master of Wood

“Wood sits at the very heart of what we do at The Macallan, and Rare Cask embodies our unquestionable commitment to exceptional wood management, demonstrating the vital role of our casks in the production of superb whiskies. Rare Cask is a culmination of our knowledge, skill, passion, commitment and creativity, showcasing The Macallan at its very best,” asserts Stuart MacPherson (pictured above), the whisky brand’s Master of Wood, whose team of 25 oversees the entire process from selecting the wood that goes to cooperages to be made into casks, to maintaining the casks as they age in the dunnage warehouses.

But how does that translate into the quality of the whisky that would retail in Singapore at a recommended retail price of S$525? Therein lies the crux of the debate. Incidentally SpiritedSG co-editor Justin Choo and I will be at The Macallan Rare Cask Experience where we will be guiding a few tasting sessions from a third-party perspective. We’ll let you decide for yourself.

The Macallan Rare Cask with glass

Official tasting notes

NOSE Soft notes of opulent vanilla and raisin pique the nose, giving way to a sweet ensemble of apple, lemon, and orange. All balanced by a spicy quartet of root ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

PALATE On the palate, this spicy quartet are unwavering. Oak resonates, timeless, polished and rich. Vanilla and chocolate lead the finale along with a light citrus zest.

FINISH The finish of this naturally occurring mahogany-red spirit is full, warming and woody.

 

Daniel says

An interesting counterplay between the sweet notes of vanilla associated with American oak, and the rich ripe red fruit of sherry on the nose.  On the palate it’s initially a chewy mouthful of gingerbread snaps that evolves into the citrus burst and cocoa richness of a chocolate orange cookie. A warm, oaky finish, if somewhat short.

Justin says

A whisky that demands patience and time to open up – the finish gets longer when you do so as well. Instead of a sherry punch you would expect from a typical sherried whisky, the dominance of fruit has been tempered and is lighter and less intense with a wide palette of fruit flavours complemented by spices and completed with a dash of vanilla sweetness.