This week’s whisky reviews are of a slightly unusual set. This is not just because they’re all reviews of whiskies distilled at Macallan—a distillery I have not covered much on the blog. (Why have I not covered much Macallan on the blog? Well, mostly because the relationship between quality, price and high-concept marketing at Macallan went haywire more than a decade ago.) The set is also unusual as it comprises three independent releases—there’s not so very much indie Macallan out there you see, especially in the US. All of these were bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. What makes them truly unusual is the relationship between them. All originated in a group of 10 yo oloroso sherry butts which were then filled into first-fill ex-bourbon, ex-oloroso and ex-PX casks for a further two years of maturation and bottled at the same time (presumably there have been other releases of the source spirit as well). Now you might think this would be a more striking juxtaposition if the original 10 years of maturation had happened in refill bourbon casks—thus allowing the variations from the subsequent double maturations to present on a more subtle canvas—but it should, at least in theory, be interesting to compare the three anyway. First up is the ex-bourbon cask which for some reason was given the name “Albino Rhino”.
Macallan 12, 2008 (63.4%; SMWS 24.152; oloroso + ex-bourbon casks; from a bottle split)
Nose: Quite a bit of oak (fresh lumber) along with quite a bit of alcohol burn, but also a fair bit of fruit to go with it—lemon first and then sweeter muskier notes (pineapple, apricot); some honey in there too. That said it’s the oak that’s in the lead. Let’s see if it dissipates a bit as the alcohol (hopefully) burns off a bit. Yes, it backs off a bit letting more of the musky fruit out (apricot) along with softer notes of toffee/butterscotch. Ah yes, water pushes the oak back and lets the fruit and the softer notes out more fully; and the wood turns more resinous. A slight cereal note too now.
Palate: Hot, hot, hot at first sip with not much registering beyond the alcohol and the oak. After 10-15 minutes of breathing the alcohol allows a bit of the fruit through and the oak gets dustier. I’ll give it a few more minutes but I think this needs water in a big way. With more time there’s more citrus here (lemon zest) and then a faintly herbal/vegetal note. Okay, time for water. Just a few drops and it opens up nicely—pretty much as it does on the nose. And the texture feels much richer now. Gets spicier as it sits.
Finish: Long. Not much to speak of at first beyond the double burn of alcohol and oak. As on the palate with water and time.
Comments: This is just stupidly hot at full strength. The nose settles down with time but it’s pretty pointless on the palate. Water opens things up nicely and reveals subtler charms—but the palate never quite gets very interesting; I much prefer the nose, both neat and with water. Interesting to try but I can’t help thinking it would have been better vatted down to the mid-50% range. Okay, let’s see what the oloroso iteration is like.
Rating: 84 points.