The Macallan 1824 Series
A couple months back I received an invite to an Edrington event for the Macallan. Unfortunately, however, scheduling conflicts kept me from attending this gala. By this point, rumour had been rampant for some time that Macallan was about to strip away the numbers from the bottles of their core range and introduce a new series free of the shackles of age statements. An industry mate and I shared some interesting discussion on this revamp, and when I asked if he’d be attending, his response was something along the lines of ‘yes…I can’t miss the chance to see Macallan put a gun to their head and pull the trigger’. My paraphrasing, not his exact words.
This malt whisky equivalent of the Budd Dwyer effect was inexplicable as far as both he and I were concerned. We both understood the effect those numbers (or lack thereof) could have on an entity such as Macallan.
Several months later I can finally brush aside speculation in favor of honest observation. Forget the bias. Let’s use our senses to weigh in.
A few thoughts first, though…
Apparently the new 1824 series is built from malts matured in both Spanish and American oak. This would mean that Macallan have effectively combined the Fine Oak and Sherry Oak ranges, I think. This last statement is purely subjecture however, as I’ve also heard there is no influence from ex-bourbon casks. Either way…they now not only have more flexibility in terms of which casks they can bury in their whisky vattings, but also in terms of cask quality management and/or costs. All, of course, without bowing to the inflexibility of an age statement. Call it what you like, but ultimately…it’s a form of blank cheque for the Edrington Group to bottle whatever they like, so long as the color stays consistent.
Color. Yep. The new range is built primarily on aesthetics. Hue. Tint. Shade. Call it what you like. Macallan is building malts to adhere to the colors they label the bottle as (Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby). Of course the inherent age of the whisky in the casks does, to a degree, help determine the final color (ergo equation, right or wrong, is darker = older = better), but really? Really? This is utterly absurd. And for that reason…we’re gonna dig in and suss out some truth.
Honestly. I am 100% behind this enterprise as it stands. Conditionally. As long as the whisky in the jar stays uniform in terms of quality…give ‘er hell, Macallan. I’ll climb on board. In fact, I’m already singing the praises of a couple of these new endeavours.
A bit of editorializing though: I’ll go on record here as saying I do expect quality slippage. It’s just the nature of a the beast. Huge demand in a booming whisky market…no regulation in terms of age requirements or cask quality…and, let’s be honest, desire for profit margin. All of these are factors that could lead to an eventual decline in what is, out of the gates, a great dram. I hope I’m wrong. Please, Macallan…prove me wrong.
As a final note…apparently the blending team sampled an absolutely mindboggling 30,000 casks to ultimately reach the final components that would comprise this new quartet of whiskies. Wow. Think I need a career change.
Alright. Is it just me, or is it getting awful thirsty in here? Let’s have a drink.
Nose: Malty, creamy and just slightly feinty (smells familiar to anyone who has stood close to a spirit safe in a distillery). Not a lot of sherry influence showing yet, but it is there in a distant dry fruitcake manner. Citrus and vanilla. A little bit of mint. Salty uncooked pastry dough. A touch of over-toasted oak and pepper.
Palate: Almost immediately drying. Apple skins. Grains and toothpicks. Deep threads of thick pure honey. Orange.
Thoughts: Pleasantly sippable. Though something of a lightweight. Not bad for the entry-level consumer. Should note…no off notes, just youth holding this one back.
Nose: Creamy. Still slightly malty. Much more sherry to speak of now, as we’d expect from Macallan. Some orange rind, or good marmalade. Coffee and chocolate…maybe a creamy mocha. Cinnamon. A little caramel, pepper and ginger…each in dribs and drabs. Malteasers.
Palate: Matches (just a far off touch though). Sweetness develops nicely over the first few seconds. Raisins. Citrus furniture polish. Pleasant, but mild, spiciness.
Thoughts: Not too far removed from the Gold, but a little sweeter and more ’rounded’. All in all…quite good. Not to sound like that one sulphur-obsessed whisky writer we all know, but there is an off butt or two in here. It’s effect is minimal, and unless you’re sensitive, you likely won’t even notice.
Nose: Now we’re getting sweeter and some of those more sassy mature sherry tones. Nice jammy Oloroso high notes here. Chocolate and a slight smokiness. Raspberry and orange (yum!). Marzipan. Some mint or eucalyptus now too.
Palate: Here is that jam-like sweetness again. Love it. Spicy. Eucalyptus here too. Very nice full arrival with a smooth development from scotch/sherry immediacy into a refined chocolate ganache and red fruit crescendo. Very drinkable. Ahem…very.
Thoughts: With the Sienna, we’ve now moved into the high end. This is classic and exceptional Macallan. Hopefully they can maintain this level of quality.
Nose: Awwww…hell, yes! Cinnamon, orange and dark cherry (my favorite fruit!). Great jam/jelly sweetness. Candle wax notes, showing some maturity and nice old casks buried in here. Nice smells of home baking and spiced stewed fruit. Chocolate again, but much more ‘high end’ and expensive chocolate. Heavy toffee, which is gorgeous.
Palate: Sweet and fruity. Orange lifesavers. Cinnamon and slightly over-baked pie crust. More of those deep, dark dried fruit notes. Mouthwatering, before slowly drying on the tannins. An absolutely great oral experience (shhh…keep you comments to yourself).
Thoughts: Mature and awesome. Not quite a 93, this is definitely a 92+
I’ll take a little salt, please. Something to help me swallow my words. The new Macallan line-up is good. Better than good, actually. Particularly the latter two.
– Words, Tasting Notes, Thoughts: Curt
– Photos: Curt
So you’re 100% behind this, on condition that quality doesn’t slip and you already anticipate that it will slip? The proof’s in the pudding, but it kind of says it all doesn’t it? NAS is all about being able to make future bottle contents younger (and yes, worse), without having to answer embarrassing questions about age. Concerns about colour and wood management (and was supposedly no one looking at the barrels before… I mean at all?) are largely a distraction from the fact that these bottles can’t merit premium pricing based on their age, so, predictably, Macallan decided to proclaim age irrelevant – but not when you take that Macallan 18, 25 or 30 to the checkout, when somehow age matters very much and no one, much less Macallan, worries about the whisky’s colour at that point. Yet if age is no indication of quality (except, evidently, in the case of Macallan’s age statements), colour is even less so, even if producers DON’T avail themselves of the still legal cheat of adding E150. Sorry, I just can’t embrace the absurdity. Honestly, who’s going to be able to tell in 5 years whether the 2013 Sienna was two shades lighter or darker than the 2018 and why would it matter anyway? As they are the self-proclaimed experts of what “good colour” (whatever that means) is, and this de facto declaration has largely passed without comment, Macallan can just say it’s “an improvement in shading” – who’s to gainsay them?
It’s true “the shackles of age statements” do keep many producers from doing what they want to do with new expressions (which is why they are being done away with), but what exactly do they want to do and who does it serve? I was glad to see “desire for profit margin” at least mentioned here, but let’s be even more honest – the trending toward NAS is not just to make young whiskies marketable, it’s to turn UNPRECEDENTED profits on product previously judged (and certainly not always wrongly) to be substandard and actually unsellable in immature form. As you point out, this is about “which casks they can bury in their whisky vattings” and, yes, they do want to bury some younger ones deep, at least for now. Because, just as Macallan is redefining at least part of its operation along colour lines, a new generation of whisky drinkers is also having to redefine, or even worse, define for the first time, just what quality whisky is. So, in a few years, who knows what young malt will be convincingly promoted as shaking the world? My problem with the whole process is that it likely WILL be a case of promotion, not one of actual achievement in terms of absolute quality. It may well be the nature of the beast, but I won’t agree with it, simply because it’s both illogical and greedy (which tells you something about the beast).
As for the whisky itself, I do trust your appraisal of its current quality. The LCBO hasn’t brought this series in yet, but I doubt I’ll ever buy it after they price it – converting prices from the Whiskey Exchange (VAT included) to Canadian, you’re looking at $57 and $71 for the Gold and Amber and $103 and $184 for the Sienna and Ruby – all before exorbitant provincial mark-up. Given that the LCBO currently believes that $174.95 is fair pricing on Talisker’s NAS 57 North (only a converted $93 at the Whisky Exchange), I doubt I’ll pay their price for the 80-class performance of the first two, or shoot the moon for the lower 90-class performance of the last two which can easily be had more cheaply elsewhere. Sour grapes? You be the judge, but I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. If you’re in Ontario, buy the Cask Strength now before it’s gone forever.
All the above said, I honestly did enjoy the reviews and they helped to satisfy a curiosity that I’ll probably never sate firsthand. Cheers!
What Jeff said … my feelings exactly.
With so many better whiskies on the market at lower prices, and with the 2 bottles of CS and one 12 yo purchased in New Brunswick at 25% discounts to the crazy LCBO prices, I have no need to buy Macallan for a long time.
Valid perspectives and well put together thoughts. I simply haven’t had time to articulate a proper reply. Much work and prepping for next whisky club meet tomorrow eve. I’ll be back to weigh in. 😉
As always…thanks, gents. Appreciate the dialogue.
I do not like to be pushed into void. For me the 1824 Series is like stepping from an open plane door into thin air.
As colour does tell you nothing about the quality of any whisky you do not have a meassure at hand with which the new whiskies to judge. You have the price and the abv strength but otherwise no hard data. Say what you will an age statement gives you something to work from in judging if you are prepared to spend money.
Here in Germany the Gold is not officially introduced so the entry level Macallan OB is now Sienna at round 50.- €.
The 10 and 12 yo sherry oaks were at about 30.- to 35.- € and if you want to have a Macallan OB with an age statement you have to buy a 18 yo at ridiculous prices.
And by the way American oak with the Macallans which claim to be bottled from sherry casks alone means nowadays the fact that more and more Spanish sherry producers buy cheap American white oak barrels from distilleries to mature their sherries in instead of using Spanish or even European oak which is much more expensive.
We will have to get used to the American oak sherry casks.
Although I haven’t really put my finger right on it yet, I think at least part of the genius of NAS marketing is exactly what you’re talking about: removal of a frame of reference. There’s no saying what these whiskies really are, aren’t, or will be in five years, so there’s no basis of direct comparison and they can only be judged on their own terms. Consumers never benefit from an absence of product information, especially any absence which is intentionally created by the manufacturer.
I get it, but here’s the flipside…who cares about comparison? If the senses say it’s good…it’s good. If/when quality does indeed slip and we are finding the product is not good…then we vote with our dollars.
Fair enough, but if I know that A’Bunadh is generally good, I can buy a bottle without tasting. It has a track record.
Macallan 25 is generally of a certain quality. Same with Laga 16. If I don’t know what I’m going to get, I am less likely to buy on spec.
With age statements, you don’t know about the wood but you DO know about the time. A 12 YO has a MINIMUM 12 year old whisky. NAS can get younger and younger, so less reliable.
Hmmm…think I need an a’bunadh now. ‘Scuse me for a moment…
To be fair, these new Macallans haven’t had any time yet, like A’Bunadh (although batches do vary), to establish a track record. And, as noted, my reservations about the current bottles lie in anticipated pricing vs. performance, which is the foundation for the idea of voting with dollars, something every enthusiast must do individually.Yet, even within these labels, track records might become as fragile as the products are flexible. Announce a change in the wood, composition, ABV, the heroic back-story (or now, even the colour, for crying out loud), and it’s a whole new game isn’t it? “Oh, yeah, but that was the old Sienna, this is the new BURNT Sienna”.
But beyond Macallan’s colour silliness (which, as noted, is absurd) and its obvious double standard with regard to pricing and age, the far more serious issue is that a major industry leader has embraced a label type (NAS) that allows age to change without notice, much less comment. Despite your enthusiasm for the bottles at hand, this is what has, quite legitimately, already set off your whisky spider sense. So who cares about comparison? Just about anyone who, like yourself, can already see the NAS quality slippage problem coming. To state the obvious (while stealing from Nancy Sinatra): “These bottles are MADE for slippin’, and that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these bottles ARE gonna slip way down on you.” With NAS and the “young whisky is great” PR machine now firmly in place, cask time becomes an unnecessary obstruction to profit maximization, and what happens to unnecessary obstructions?
There’s going to be a race in the industry to see just how much can be charged for just how little quality, and I think a lot of people already know this and are getting ready to turn to bunkered bottles to wait it out. I also think that many, on principle or out of necessity, will switch to other spirits, which will end up proving that the industry IS becoming too greedy for its own good. In the meantime, and it may take a while (boiling a frog usually does), even as they intentionally move to make this NAS stuff significantly worse than it is today, Edrington and others will have, at least, done it in the cheapest way possible: they won’t even have to change the label.
The man who initially sparked my interest in Scotch gave me, among other things, a bottle of 25 Year old Macallan (which my Uncle and brother really appreciated if I did not). He told me that at that time he was not impressed with the newer Macallan product.
Now I think I know what he was talking about. He correctly anticipated the boom in the single malt industry (this is a man who bought at least 9 bottles of Black Bowmore (30 YO) when they were released at $100 each…), and saw the changes that would occur as volume has replaced quality as an emphasis.
Ralfy has remarked on this as well.
I agree that it may be time to sit back and enjoy the quality stock we have (subject, of course, to the limits recommended by our “Skeptic”, whose numbers I have studied and are quite accurate). There will come a time when the boom will fizzle and distillers will have to put forward quality to tempt the anoraks.
There are still some affordable solid whiskies out there whose scores (in the 90s in my opinion) are higher than their prices. A’Bunadh (anywhere but Ontario), Amrut (some of them), and Bladnoch. If only the last one could be bought here!
Between the good stuff out there and my “cellar”, I think I’m good for the next decade or so. SO if anyone runs out….just let me know. I find it tastes better when I share.
I entered the Macallan Masters of Photography Series contest this year with of series of grainy avant-garde style pictures using my state of the art I-phone to best capture The Six Pillars of Macallan. The subject I chose for my photographic interpretation was a brutish hipster that I call “Napoleon Crossing the Rockies”, posing him with six young pillar dancers named: Misti Gold, Bambi Amber, Candi Sienna, Sparkle Ruby, Mercedes M and Jade Rare. I had concerns over the age of the dancers, but was told by Macallan age is not an issue. Upon reflexion, I guess the realism was too much for Macallan, as I lost out to a fellow photographer, Mario Testosterone.
You’re a right raving lunatic, mate. Glad we share an asylum.
Rant…I’m still upset over the current issue of Whisky Magazine, where they did a split front cover, really, just f-ing really. Worst sell out of 2014, maybe we should start annual award, worst sell out for the world whisky, , worst sell out for Canada, worst sell out for Scottish Lowlands. Had to tape the front cover to be able to read it. But what was more upsetting was it was an incredibly pretentious two page fold out of Macallan models, that most likely don’t even drink whisky, posing like there part of something we the unwashed will never have. I know a lot of whisky drinkers and they don’t look like that picture. I’m not renewing with Whisky Magazine, wonder if they will miss me? Maybe I’ll get a subscription with the Bourbon Advocate…. End of rant
I’ve not seen it.
Reaching for bourbon? Let’s not get THAT desperate yet. 😉
Did I really say Bourbon Advocate instead of Whiskey Advocate. Maybe since they love Bourbon so much, they should just call it Bourbon Advocate, would make it easier to believe some the scores they hand out.
Man…how times have changed. A year and a half down the road now.
While I initially said I was ok with this move (in some respects), I have to concede misplaced trust in the industry to govern itself according to the rules of the game. In short…respect your opponent. Unfortunately the Scotch whisky industry has done anything but that in the time since these whiskies were released. We’ve seen more and more age statements disappear (Laddie, Ardmore, Highland Park, Glenfarclas, etc).
I stand behind the scores above…and the tasting notes (both in respect to the first releases of these malts; though not in relation to subsequent batches, which I’ve yet to try), but sheepishly backtrack from any other support of this inane concept. I will though, happily stand behind all of the criticisms I levied above.
Sometimes you just gotta man up and eat your words. Forgive me my transgressions, friends? In penance I’ll not buy another NAS Macallan.
If it’s really about the lack of reasoning behind NAS marketing (and at least Macallan offers some made-up malarky about colour, where others offer nothing at all beyond the need for “flexibility” and running out of numbers) and the industry’s proven inability to govern itself, then, logically, that should extend to not buying any more NAS at all. I really enjoyed MM’s rant and would love to see more of them, but Hansell taught me all I needed to know about what WA was “advocating” some time ago, and it’s not consumer interests. Roskrow had it right years ago: professional whisky writers are whisky industry marketers.
MM has more rants in him than you can possibly imagine. I can guarantee you’ll see more.
Damn. You’re feisty today, Irish. Duck and swing! Duck and swing!
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength rating 93………I totally get that. The reviewer must have dipped his tongue in the hot wax before he tasted it
I won’t buy any of these, as Macallan has lost me as a customer with the 50+ % increasing prices recently. I don’t even look at HP anymore, even though their price increases have been much less (and I do miss the HP18 greatly!). There is too much good malt out there for much less, and definitely much more great bourbon and rye to be had for $20-$40. (I know you guys turn your. noses up at bourbon, but there is much of high quality for reasonable prices.)
Also, I can get Glenmorangie and Ardmore for $30 and Ardbeg 10 for $40. Compass Box whiskies are very reasonable ($32 for GKSAB to $55 for Peat Monster). JW Double Black is $33. Buchanan SR18 is $58. Corry and Oogie are $65-$70. GD 15 is $75. I’m not gonna pay $150 or more just to have Macallan! They can kiss my ass! Not meaning to rant, but the upcoming crash in scotch will be deserved!
It’s not so much that I (we) turn my (our) nose(s) up at bourbon as it an overwhelmingly greater appreciate for the complexities of Scottish whisky over that of the US style. Corn is simply too sweet for me, and virgin oak imparts far too much spice and minty notes. Time is the most important factor in whisky, and bourbon simply doesn’t allow it to work that way.
…and yes, the industry DOES deserve what is coming. They’re all embracing the ‘make hay while the sun shines’ philosophy with a ‘damn the torpedoes’ approach and no foresight into how the educated consumer will react.
I always thought you needed sun to make hay…. and isn’t hay important for feeding livestock?
Then again I’m from Ontario…. what do I know?
Apologies for butting in on an excellent series of comments. I just wanted to say that while Robert is right that there is still plenty of decent bourbon/rye to be had (my choice would be Wisers Legacy @ $48; which shows how to do NAS the right way and the right price), I regrettably see these guys also slowing losing their minds to greed along with Scotch. Recently Whistle Pigs Boss Hog showed up on the shelves here in Alberta; it’s a 12.5 year old (because 0.5 makes me OK with the following price) cask strength rye for $299.00.
If someone purchases these bottles, they’ve apparently had a seizure or suffered a traumatic blow to the head. Even more egregious to me is the fact that this is actually juice from Calgary.
I feel the same way about Glen Breton Rare 10; an 80-class, hot, spirity whisky with a (current) $79.80 import-level price tag, which only comes from Nova Scotia. Yes, it was written up in a book by Ian Buxton and it may be North America’s first single malt, but I don’t think it’s significantly better, much less should be significantly more expensive, than Glenlivet 12 (and I’d prefer the latter more in most situations). Premium pricing is, to a degree, a self-justifying confidence game – “if they ask THAT much for it, it MUST be good” – and, often, it’s just more a case of what the traffic will bear in a hot whisky market than any reflection on quality. I think NAS can represent good value at all levels of quality (because price and quality are independent of labeling), but there’s no reason the consumer shouldn’t know what they’re buying.
Wow, you live in a different world than I. At the LCBO the cheapest Ardbeg is over $100. corry $180…
When you can get such good stuff for so little, I agree with you.
The last Macallan I bought was over the summer in Calgary. We found a store that had 8 bottles of the cask strength for $73 a piece. At the same time the Edmonton airport store, in contrast, was selling it for $123, and the whisky exchange for £125.
Needless to say those bottles were rescued (6 for a friend of mine)and are all safely in Ontario.
But that is possibly the last Macallan I will ever purchase.
The price of all things whisky seems to be going up, at least malt whisky. Amrut’s prices have gone up. I don’t see why selling things as limited NAS single casks should be more expensive than the same number of bottles in a vatted expression, but the LCBO has em for $140. They’re good (I tried them, at SOT) but not worth plunking that cask down for.
No maybe it’s time to stop buying anything and spend the next 20 years drinking down my collection.
Drinking it down could be the smart move but, I have to admit, one of the things that really drives me nuts is when I read about professional whisky writers, the same assholes who are busy promoting the generally lack-lustre offerings of today as if they are something special, crow about all of their “bunkered bottles” as they “wait for a market correction” when their overhyping of mediocre whisky is what has contributed to a market that needs correcting in the first place – and I’ve read that on Whisky Advocate and other places more than once.
As always, the most articulate comments are yours.
Except, of course, I’m not a professional whisky writer, and I really do have more bottles than I ought to already.
Perhaps the whisky industry could solve both my problem (too much in the “bunker”) and Jeff’s (NAS) buy bottling age statement whisky in 375 cc bottles. That would allow more people like me ( lightweight drinkers) to buy the same volume but larger variety.
Unfortunately, there is a paucity of such availability. Diego puts out a few 200 cc bottles (CI CS, Talker 10, Lagavulin 16) and Glenlivet has a 375 cc 12 YO, bit not much else available here.
Except, of course, I never said you were a professional whisky writer (so I think we’re on the same page now). My comment was about the hypocrisy of those who overheat the market and then complain that there’s no value for money left in it and so they “have” to return to the bunker until the smoke clears from the fire they helped to start in the first place, not about the wisdom of waiting out the madness in general.
Scotch whisky does have a big comeuppance coming; if one is mostly left with the option of not knowing what they’re drinking anyway and most of it is under 10 years in any case, there’s no reason to drink anything expensive imported from across the Atlantic just for the Gaelic name. Someday we’ll have truth in advertising when they run out of Gaelic words and someone screws up and puts “Deamhsadh” on a label.