Back in December 2017, I had plans to meet up with my friend Raquel Raies, US Ambassador for The Macallan. Our agenda was a simple one: to taste a few expressions of The Macallan while having a proper nerd-out session about the distillery and the art it is creating. What I didn’t realize, or should I say, what we didn’t realize is that this brief hangout would eventually become something more. Just a few hours prior to meeting up, Raquel received a special package in the mail from her employer. In that package was a bottle of none other than The Macallan Exceptional Single Cask No. 04. It was one of seven single cask expressions scheduled for release the following year.
As whisky enthusiasts and a fans of The Macallan, tasting this whisky for the first time was a special moment. Not because we were some of the first people to try it but because of what it was: a rare single cask, cask strength bottling from The Macallan. I was ecstatic and for those of you interested in hearing more about this moment, feel free to check out my previous blog post.
When the Macallan finally released the Exceptional Single Cask range the following month, people went a little crazy. And by “a little” I mean I have never witnessed hysteria like this in all of the years I have been a whisky enthusiast. Nearly every bottle of all seven casks was purchased within the first 24 hours and my inbox was flooded with 100+ messages from people all over the world asking where they could find one.
And now I know why. Today Cask No. 04, originally priced at $300 USD is being sold at auction for up to $5,000. Other bottlings originally offered for $1,200 are now selling for almost $9,000. There is an unprecedented degree of ridiculousness in the demand for these whiskies. Or is there?
Earlier this week, I had a chance to try six of the seven Exceptional single Casks from The Macallan. The vertical tasting was as unexpected as the first taste of Cask 04 but be it fatigue from a long day of work or just plain shock that it was actually happening, I did a better job of playing it cool this time around. On the inside, not so much.
So with that said, here are my initial impression of six of the seven casks from The Macallan Exceptional Single Cask range. It’s important to note that all of these casks were actually made by The Macallan at their cooperage in Jerez, Spain. They are each cut from European oak and seasoned with dry Oloroso sherry for up to 2 years prior to filling. In the case of almost every whisky in this tasting, I found that water was essential for unlocking the full aromatic and flavor potential. I made a point to taste everything at its natural cask strength but I found that the gradual addition of water offered another experience; the opportunity to experience what whisky maker Bob Dalgarno gets to work with when he creates the distillery’s commercial expressions.
Cask 04 (European Oak Sherry Butt, 12 years, 63.8%): Wonderfully aromatic; raw, floral and exotic. This is not a luxury whisky but a fire-breathing dragon! Quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had with a dram of The Macallan. A real enthusiast’s whisky. [Ranking: 3/6]
Cask 02 (European Oak Sherry Butt, 12 years, 65.2%): A bit more developed and not quite in-your-face as the previous first 12 year old. On one hand, it’s a bit more thought-provoking but on the other, it’s not as exciting. A beautiful whisky who’s only fault is the company it keeps. [Ranking: 6/6]
Cask 03 (European Oak Sherry Butt, 14 years, 60.8%): A very dry and spicy aroma, more so than any other in this range. The texture is brilliant and surprisingly palatable for a whisky bottled above 60.8%. Things are really beginning to evolve here. I think I can see where this is going… [Ranking: 5/6]
Cask 05 (European Oak Sherry Butt, 15 years, 58.5%): Oh my! A rich and meaty aroma with incredible depth. Remarkably complex for a whisky drawn from a single cask. The spirit, oak and Oloroso influence are in perfect harmony on the palate. This one has a bit of a personality, similar to Cask 04. I can’t stop grinning right now. What a stunner. [Ranking: 2/6]
Cask 07 (European Oak Sherry Hogshead, 20 Years, 54.6%) There’s a bit of a psychological aura surrounding this one. It’s not every day you find a dram of The Macallan older than two decades in your glass, nevermind that this one happens to be cask strength. While all of these whiskies in this range are ridiculously rare, the tone has shifted. We’ve now entered “Serious Macallan” territory and I realize I need to slow down a bit. 20 years in a European Oak Hogshead has given this whisky an intense profile; one of fresh pine, clove and cinnamon. The oak influence is strong but beyond that, this is arguably the most thought-provoking dram in this vertical. [Ranking: 4/6]
Cask 06 (European Oak Sherry Hogshead, 22 Years, 52.7%) And then we have this. Everything I would ever dream of in a single glass. Dark and complex flavors suggesting old leather, walnut and winter spice have come together in a silky smooth yet powerful delivery. If you were to ask The Macallan why they bottled the younger Cask 04, I suppose they would answer, “Because it was fun”. Ask them why they bottled this and I have a feeling they would say, “Because we can.” Timeless in every sense of the world. [Ranking: 1/6]
A very special thank you to Raquel and The Macallan for the opportunity to taste these remarkable whiskies. I realize that given the value and limited quantity produced, very few people in this world will ever do so. If any of you are lucky to own one of these bottings, I would highly encourage you to go on and enjoy it. I realize the secondary market can be alluring but at the end of the day, what good is art if it is never experienced. And that is exactly what this is: Art.