The Macallan Rare Cask is a Yuletide trio of apples, lemons, and oranges.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY ADRIAN TECSON
I couldn’t smooth talk my way out of this one. Nothing made sense. I couldn’t put my finger on what made you so different.
Sitting at a bar cloaked in shadows, I found myself alone with my thoughts of you — how one moment you were there on my lips, and the next moment, gone, leaving only a heady perfume of sherry and sweetness. The haunting whiffs of silky vanilla and balanced spice kept me wondering and wanting. I’m here with you tonight, and I plan to keep you for as long as I can. Who knows if there will be a next time.
A STRONG SENSE OF PLACE AND HEART
One of several expressions for the Macallan 1824 Master’s Series, The Macallan Rare Cask is a complex dram that’s savored and sought after. But before delving into this lovely expression, one needs to know what The Macallan as a distillery represents. The Macallan believes there are six pillars that serve as foundations for its distinct fame and character. They include the strong sense of place at the heart of both the distillery and the estate, along with their extensive experience of distilling and maturing a single-malt whisky, finished with a reputation for excellence and distinctive character. These, in combination, contribute to the essential character of The Macallan.
First is the distillery’s spiritual home. The ancestral Easter Elchies House, built in 1700, lies at the heart of 390-acres of The Macallan. Second are the curiously small stills that contribute greatly to the distinctively rich, fruity “new make” spirit from which every Macallan expression is derived. Third is the finest cut, which means Macallan takes only 16%, or “the heart of the run,” of the final distillation from the spirit stills to place into its oak casks. This is the reason behind the full-bodied richness of the new make spirit. Fourth are the exceptional oak casks. The Macallan’s oak maturation casks are the single greatest contributors to the outstanding quality, natural colors and distinctive aromas and flavors of The Macallan. Hence, the distillery spends more time and resources on its wood than any other single malt whisky in the world. Fifth is the natural color. The Macallan takes prides in the fact that the color in all the whiskies that come out of The Macallan distillery are natural. Only the interaction of the “new make” spirit with the oak of the maturation casks delivers the rich and natural diversity of color throughout the wide range of The Macallan’s expressions, from light oak through to darkest mahogany. And finally, the sixth foundation is The Macallan itself and its peerless spirit. Since it’s beginnings in 1824, The Macallan has grown from a small local distillery to a globally recognized spirit. It is aspirational. Single-malt whisky drinkers all over the world love it. And many other single-malt whiskies aspire to be like it.
SIXTEEN RARE OAK CASKS
Now, back to the bottle at hand: The Macallan Rare Cask. It is an orchestra of 16 different and rare oak casks, hand picked by Master Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno. Less than 1% of the casks maturing at the distillery are identified and branded fit to age the new make spirit that will become The Macallan Rare Cask. A combination of Spanish and American, mostly first fill, sherry seasoned oak casks make for a beautifully aged whisky, imbued with a deep rich hue of clay red amber. Explains Bob Dalgarno, “Around 80% of the character of The Macallan is derived from the oak cask in which it ages, and each individual cask and cask style imparts a specific influence on the whisky; each brings a different and distinctive character.”
To better understand the significance of the wood and its influence on The Macallan Rare Cask, we turn to Stuart MacPherson, Macallan’s Master of Wood, who heads a team of 23 experts in charge of constructing new barrels and repairing broken ones. The meticulous process starts with The Macallan’s own forests in Spain, with oak trees that are, on the average, around 150 years old. They are felled and brought to its cooperages in the Andalusian city of Jerez de la Frontera. Here, they are carefully crafted into oak casks and seasoned with sherry wine for a minimum of 18 months. Only then are they turned over to The Macallan Distillery to be filled with the new make spirit and aged to maturation.
“Sherry seasoned casks are at the very heart of The Macallan and this defining factor has contributed to the fame of the brand today,” shares Mr. MacPherson. “Each expression has its own profile and character taken from the type of wood and time of maturation to allow us to create our 100% naturally colored products.”
A SINFONIETTA OF VANILLA
As I pour my first dram into a tulip glass, a great sense of anticipation fills my heart. I have read and heard much about this expression, and the excitement inside me has really built up to the point of salivation.
I bring it up into the light, and the rich color of mahogany breaks the rays into a prism of amber shades, just like a vintage chandelier. This signifies that the expression was aged mostly in precious European sherry seasoned oak casks. I slowly swirl the liquid around and the legs start to drip, taking its sweet time in caressing the glass that holds it. I take a whiff, and a sinfonietta of vanilla, raisin, dried fruits and chocolate whisks me away to thoughts of a warm fireplace enveloped in the sweet smell of a Yuletide trio of apples, lemons, and oranges married to a quartet of root ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and spices. The whisky hasn’t even reached my palate and I already fall for the promise of a lovely Christmas evening.
I take my first sip, and full-bodied flavors fill my mouth: vanilla, dark chocolate, toffee and sherry sweetness all come together in a silky smooth serenade. A multitude of oaky intensities presents itself and I immediately taste the genius of The Macallan’s Master Whisky Maker and his exquisite choice of 16 different oak casks. Pleasantly different, yet distinctly Macallan, the same flavor profile I have come to love after all these years of drinking single-malt scotch whisky. And finally, the long and warming finish ends in a bright, light and citrusy zest.
The Macallan Rare Cask is elusive. It is hard to find, and even harder to procure, both because of its limited release and steep price point. But if you get a chance to enjoy it, it’ll surely be an enigmatic experience.
(Adrian Tecson is the founder of The Malting Pot, the Philippines’ first single malt whisky tasting club. The Macallan provided a bottle for review.)