Well look what we have here! The Macallan Rare Cask is a premium NAS (No Age Statement) single malt Scotch whisky from the highly popular Speyside distillery. It was released exclusively to the U.S. Market in 2014 and then to Europe and the U.K. In 2015. If The Macallan 18 Year Old is considered to be the Rolls-Royce of Scotch whisky then I suppose this is the Bugatti. It’s crafted using a high proportion of first-fill Spanish oak sherry casks, sixteen types of casks to be exact, all hand-picked from the top 1% of total cask supply by the master distiller.
To make the casks for the Rare Cask, The Macallan begins by carefully selecting quality trees from forests in Northern Spain. They are then cut into staves and air-dried for three years before being shipped to the cooperage in Jerez, Southern Spain where they are hand crafted into casks, doused in flames, and filled with Spanish Oloroso sherry to be seasoned for eighteen to twenty-four months. After the seasoning period is finished, the casks are emptied and shipped up the Western coast of Spain, through the English Channel, all the way to their new home at The Macallan distillery in Scotland. Once these casks arrive at the distillery, Macallan will fill them with only their highest quality new-make spirit. This is roughly 16% of total output and one of the most selective in the industry.
So on to The Rare Cask, this oh-so-heavy glass bottle that exudes confidence while dripping in luxurious refinement. It emerges from it’s ruby-red throne like a king marching into battle. Not dissimilar to Caesar conquering the Germanic ‘barbarians’ at the height of the Roman Empire. By name it is rare, by description is is rare, by price it is rare but is the tasting experience truly rare? Let’s find out.
To fairly judge this whisky we must first strip it of its royal packaging and hefty price tag and approach it like, well, any other malted barley mixed with yeast, distilled and laid to rest in some wood for a long time. On the nose, the sherry impact is immediate with strong notes of dark molasses, toffee and fig in full bloom. Yep, this is what first-fill sherry taste like. The whisky that goes into this bottling is a blend of what we are told ranges in age from 13-30 years. To a trained nose, yeah, I’d say it’s detectible. It is bottled at 43% ABV, not as high I’d like personally but the peppery spice and overall impact of this whisky is more than enough for what it’s meant to be.
On the palate, a lush array of dark fruits, cinnamon spice, clove and a slightly bitter chocolate note. There’s a hint of fig and almond and a sweet undertone that pulls it all together. All in all its a very sweet, luxurious whisky. Dilute it down to 40% and the aromas and flavors begin to mellow. The lush sweetness makes way for the addition of freshly cut oak, which is most apparent during the long and lingering finish. A hint of wood smoke is present but ever so slightly. The flavor is full and anything but subtle. Those of you who prefer The Macallan’s Fine Oak collection may want to stay there. This is a big, bold whisky whose outer appearance reflects its true character. The finish is long and lingering as rich baking spices cling to the palate for as long as you so desire. Overall, a delicious whisky that I suspect most will enjoy.
I know what you’re thinking, “Ok so it’s good but is it worth $300”? Yes and no. I think there are a lot of people (more than we realize) who want to spend $300 USD on a nice bottle. Be it as a gift for a friend or a rare treat-yourself sort of thing, they naturally feel that this is an amount of money that needs to be spent in order to have something truly special. In that case, give someone a bottle of The Macallan 18 Year Old and they will say “thank you” (some may be more grateful than others). Give someone a bottle of The Macallan Rare Cask and they will say “Holy mother of god what is this fancy thing?”. For most people, the look and feel of the bottle itself is half the experience. And I’ll tell you what, The Rare Cask certainly delivers. I mean just look at it. Scroll up. Right now. Just look at the thing. It is absolutely beautiful.
When it comes to the whisky itself, I personally find it a bit more difficult to justify the $300 price tag. I think it’s a delicious whisky and one that I would gladly enjoy any day of the year but it’s missing some of the old world mystique that I enjoy in the 18 Year Old. Tasting the 18 Year Old is like peeling back an onion, and a rich, spicy, fruity onion at that. There are layers upon layers to be discovered, each offering a new experience for the drinker. That’s the sort of experience I personally look for in a whisky. For me, the Rare Cask starts off big and fruity and then sort of just continues along the old sherry road. A real what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of dram. A beautiful one, yes, but one without any real surprises. For $300, I’d like a bit of mystery and I think that’s just what the 18 Year Old has to offer.
With all that said, one of the most important lessons I have learned along this whisky journey is that no two palates are alike. To take it even further, no two wallets are alike. If you can swing it, try the Rare Cask and see for yourself. While some of you will agree with my preference, I’m sure others will not. But, if there is one thing we can agree on it’s that price aside, this is one delicious whisky.