The Macallan is one of the most recognizable single malt whisky brands among non-whisky geeks, and the owners have spent a lot of money and time building up the name recognition and the premium associations. It is partly for this reason that many whisky geeks recoil from the Macallan, I think. I know I feel a kind of reverse snobbery about the distillery that Michael Jackson described as “the Rolls Royce of single malts”, but which has come to be more like the Lexus of single malts. But just as Lexus actually makes fine cars, Macallan makes fine sherried whisky. If I am to be honest I have to admit that the Macallan 12 of the early-mid 2000s was one of the malts that made me fall in love with single malt whisky, and I do enjoy the (fast-disappearing) Macallan CS as well, which is perhaps the rare Macallan which can be described as a good value these days. The older Macallans I cannot afford, and the reports I have of them do not make me aspire to afford them.
The larger reasons that a lot of whisky geeks are down on Macallan are due to related aspects of their approach to brand building. The Edrington Group that owns Macallan (and also Highland Park) are, on the one hand, pioneers of the idea of whisky as a luxury good–and as such appear as the model for every contemporary distillery that slaps a fancy label on their bottles and a fanciful story in their press releases and raises prices without seeming to pay quite as much attention to improving the actual whisky in the bottles. On the other hand, as the Macallan’s stock of aged sherried whisky have come under stress, the company which for years and years has tried very hard to convince people that age matters, and that there is no substitute for long maturation in sherry casks, is now peddling a line based not on the age of the whisky but on its colour (!), perhaps the least interesting attribute of a whisky. As a number of people have pointed out, while at the low end of their range they’re now insisting that age does not matter, they continue to raise prices dramatically on their 18 and 25 yo releases (which continue to be bottled at 43%). The takeaway, I guess, is that age doesn’t matter and that age matters.
The Macallan I am reviewing tonight is a 18 yo at 43%, but not the spectacularly over-priced distillery bottling (now pushing $200 in the US). This is bottled by Speciality Drinks (from the Whisky Exchange) under the Whisky Trail label (though this label doesn’t seem to be used very much by them). At the time of purchase (a couple of years ago) this ran about $80, which is entirely unobjectionable. The whisky itself is better than unobjectionable.
Macallan 18, 1990-2009 (43%, Speciality Drinks; from my own bottle)
Nose: Roasted malt, cocoa powder, coffee, milk chocolate. Something earthy and the tiniest bit rooty as well. Quite sweet–brown sugar. The fruit takes a little longer to appear on the nose but it eventually shows up there too.
Palate: Burnt sugar (no, not E150), more of that coffee/cocoa mix. Pretty much as on the nose. Not much by way of fruit. Very smooth. With more time, a fruity note does develop: oranges? apricot?
Finish: Medium; roasted malt and cocoa–a touch bitter. A little bit spicy too at the end–white pepper.
Comments: Not a terribly complex whisky, but highly pleasurable. I’m not sure why this was not bottled at 46% (which seems to be the minimum for all of Speciality Drinks’ other labels), but, frankly, it’s quite nice as what it is: a pleasant, warming, easy drinking malt for the evening of a rainy day (as this is), full of character but not very demanding. One to have within reach while reading or watching a movie.
Rating: 86 points.