Last night I had a chance to sit down with Raquel Raies, US National Brand Ambassador for The Macallan. It was an incredible evening that included an in-depth discussion all things Macallan, a tasting of their core expressions, and a first look into the distillery’s latest, and in my opinion, most exciting project to date. Raquel is undoubtedly one of the best in the industry, equally passionate about whisky as anyone I have ever met. Many of you joined in for our live discussion and by now I’m sure you’ve seen my Instagram stories if not the picture above. Before I get into a recap this exciting new release, I thought I’d share my take on The Macallan itself.
The Macallan has become one of the more iconic Scotch whisky distilleries in recent years. More than just a distillery, it’s become a global luxury brand recognized by whisky enthusiasts and non-whisky drinkers alike. If you’re reading this, I suspect you enjoy whisky to a certain extent but even if you don’t, it’s highly probable that you’ve heard the name “The Macallan”.
As a bit of a traditional whisky enthusiast myself, I must admit I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with The Macallan in recent years. On one hand, I have always found their whisky to be quite delicious. Come to think of it, it’s rare that I will ever come across a Macallan I don’t actually like. The distillery’s remarkably painstaking approach to whisky making is nothing short of inspiring. The Macallan controls almost every part of the production process internally from cask creation (yes, they actually make their own casks) and have adopted incredibly strict quality controls to determine which casks will be bottled for their finished product. This does not go unnoticed when you sip their whisky. (Continued in comments below)
On the other hand, I’ve also felt that The Macallan has shifted away from what made it so great to begin with. The love-it-or-hate-it Fine Oak Collection was a bit of a departure from The Macallan’s core character, adopting the use of American oak ex-Bourbon casks to produce a lighter, more approachable whisky. Meanwhile, prices for the traditionally richer, more intense, European-oak matured Macallan have continued to climb, putting the brand virtually out-of-reach for many of its life-long loyalists. Recognizing that much of this simply has to do with basic economics and a brand’s ambition to reach more whisky drinkers (not a bad thing), I still came to feel that the distillery could be doing a bit ‘more’ for those who have been left longing for The Macallan of yesteryear.
Suddenly, however, it feels like things are beginning to change. Just over two years ago the distillery introduced the Edition line; a beautiful series of unique, high-ABV whiskies offered at a reasonable price. While the Editions themselves have varied from the more traditional to the new-age styles of The Macallan, I find all of them to be fantastic and of really great value. Then just a few months ago, The Macallan releases the new Classic Cut. This is a lively cask strength bottling that, while available to anyone, was undoubtedly crafted with the enthusiast in mind. Both the Editions and the Classic Cut were priced at under $100 USD, a premium but reasonable price considering the quality of the whisky and the experience to be had.
And just when I was beginning to wonder, “is The Macallan…back?”, they went on and did this: the brand new Exceptional Single Cask range. This, my friends, is what whisky love looks like!
Each of the unique casks vary in both type and age, chosen solely for their distinctive characteristics. With the Exceptional Single Cask range, The Macallan wants to give whisky appreciators the opportunity to experience the building blocks used for each blend, as chosen by Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno. Every whisky in the Exceptional Single Cask range is completely raw, unfiltered, naturally colored and bottled straight from the cask without dilution. It is whisky as any true whisky enthusiast would want it: real.
The initial 7 casks are all made from European Sherry-seasoned Oak (Butts and Hogsheads) and vary from 12 years to over 22. Estimated retail prices range from approximately $290-$1,300, which is expensive for a whisky but quite reasonable when you consider what is being offered here. Currently, the only other way to experience a single cask from The Macallan is through their Fine & Rare Collection, which unless you are James Bond in the movie ‘Skyfall’, will cost anywhere from $8,000 – $35,000 for a single bottle.
The bottle we opened last night was from Exceptional Single Cask #ESB-5235/04, a 12-year-old European Oak Sherry Butt bottled at a mind-blowing 63.8% ABV. It was one of the very first to enter the US, arriving just that afternoon. Neither I nor Raquel had tried anything from the new Exceptional Single Cask range until we opened the bottle last night, making for a rather memorable whisky moment for both of us. In a word, this was a stunner. Wild and floral at first with a beautiful, bright aroma of rose pedals, evergreen and dark cherries. The palate was intense but supple, evolving from a rather exotic experience to a more traditional Sherry bomb through the slow addition of natural spring water. The finish was long and beautiful, one that draws tears upon completion. It’s no surprise that one day later, I’m still nosing my empty glass.
The Exclusive Single Cask range will be available this month albeit in very limited quantities. Thank you to Raquel and The Macallan for the opportunity to be one of the first in the world to taste such an amazing creation. It was an experience I will never forget. I have always dreamt of visiting The Macallan distillery, venturing behind the scenes and pulling the whisky straight from the cask. It seems like that dream has managed to find its way over to my side of the pond. While I still hope to visit the distillery one day, I will happily wait for that time while sipping this. Slàinte mhath.