Whisky Advocate

Do you like The Macallan “Fine Oak” bottlings?

June 29th, 2009

A whisky enthusiast recently told me that the only people who like the Macallan Fine Oak bottlings are the whisky writers. Okay, I am a whisky writer, but like them. Particularly the 15 and 17 year old expressions, which I rated in the 90s.

I have not tasted them since they first came out, so I can’t comment on recent releases. I assume (and hope) they are the same.

What are your thoughts on the Fine Oak series?

(For those of you who are unfamiliar with the history here, all Macallan bottlings were aged exclusively in sherry casks until a few years back when they came out with a new “Fine Oak” line which includes Macallan whisky aged in boubon casks. It produces a lighter whisky, with less sherry influence.)

30 Responses to “Do you like The Macallan “Fine Oak” bottlings?”

  1. Matt G says:

    I felt the same way about the Uigeadail for a long time. I’ve since come around.

    The Fine Oak 15yo is great and I recommend it quite often. No one I know has been disappointed with it so far. Maybe your whisky enthusiast is just wild about Sherry.

  2. Chap says:

    I only tried the Fine Oak expression that came out at Trader Joe’s. It was about what you’d expect.

  3. Jun N says:

    I am a Macallan Collector and although I am a big fan of heavily sherried whiskies I find the the Fine Oak range very refresshing. It’s just a different taste for the Macallan.
    I have tried the whole range from the 8yo to the 30yo and find that I like the 15yo and 30yo the most. But having said that I still prefer the sherried Mac 18yo and 25yo.

  4. David says:

    It tastes like thinner entry level Macallan.

    I’d take the G&M Speymalt Macallans with similar age statements any day.

  5. Hal WOlin says:

    The 18 Year was astonishing,and a favorite of the whole range. It managed to achieve the right balance of sweetness, and flavor without being too overpowering. Oddily I found it superior to the 21.

  6. Louis says:

    While I bought a bottle of the 15 back in 2005, it was OK as a summer dram. Not worth replacing the when it was finished though, as it is easy to find cask strength independent bottlings of malts in the same style at that price range.

    I initially ignored the 10, as it cost the same as the 12 year old ‘Sherry Oak’ when the FO line was introduced. I finally sampled the 10 last summer, and found it to be quite pleasant, even at the younger age and 40% ABV. As the price has stayed in the $35-40 range while the 12 SO is around $50, the 10 is a good value as an entry level dram.

    Sorry to harp on price, but some distilleries (and importers/distributers) seem not to have noticed that the economy is lousy now. I would imagine that most people are price sensitive for the ‘everyday drams’ nowadays.



  7. Price definitely is an important aspect and one of the reasons I leave my high-end purchases for special occasions. In this case the 17yr would be my high-end occasion purchase. I find it so versatile, while not backing down from boldly flavored foods I prefer. Of all of the fine oak years, it was my favorite. I also thoroughly enjoyed the 15yr.

  8. B.J. Reed says:

    Not a huge fan, especially at the price but I will go back and revisit them – Only fair to give it another try – just for you John 🙂

  9. Red_Arremer says:

    I haven’t tried the Fine Oak yet, but when I saw a bottle of the Fine Oak 17 selling for 72.99 yesterday and I picked it right up.

    Generally, I’m not a fan of heavy sherry. Refill buts for single cask or a little first fill can be great though. So, I’m looking forward to opening it.

    What level of sherry doe the Fine Oak have anyway– just if any of you were to compare it to something I might already have tasted? Is it like the old Laphroaig 15?

  10. B.J. Reed says:

    I do remember visiting Macallan in 2001 and having a tasting in their backroom – They had a few oak (non sherry) samples that they allowed us to taste. We raised the issue at the time about the fact that Macallan never had indicated they were aging in Oak or were going to produce Oak aged products but we knew then they were experimenting with bourbon casks back then.

  11. Adam Hirsch says:

    At a recent tasting, we were able to tasted the full range of Macallan. Each was distinct and enjoyable, but the Macallan 17 was by far my favorite. Smooth, rich and flavorful (hints of cigar box, vanilla, oak).

  12. Ethan says:

    Indeed the Fine Oak is a nice addition to whiskies available to us.

    While I generally don’t love Macallan (the reputation and certainly price vastly outpaced their quality over the past decade), I’ve found the Fine Oak line quite excellent. The finish on the 15 and 17 is amazing – goes on forever.

    But the appeal has been a little more “academic” to me. Despite admiring and enjoying them in my head, at “choice time” I find myself skipping over the Fine Oak bottles in favor of drams that tug more at my heart.

  13. Red_Arremer says:

    Sherry and Luxury: the two insperable and mutually reenforcing elements of The Macallan. Forever, that was all that the big M’s marketing people had to say. Maybe they got the market share they asked– a marketing share that could never be happy with anything like Fine Oak.

    Imagine for a second that Fine Oak wasn’t just Macallan’s arguably adroit reaction to depleted supplies of older sherried whisky. Imagine that it was a completely different brand, complete with a made up distillery and no publicly acknowledged relationship to Macallan. Imagine also that it was a just little better priced. Now, granting all that, consider the following questions:

    a) Would you, yourself, like/respected/tolerate this imaginary brand any more than you do Fine Oak?

    b)Could this brand, if effectively marketed, draw any one to it and if so would that crowd be a different crowd than the Macallan crowd?

  14. Neil Fusillo says:

    I quite like them, really. They’re different in flavour profile to the sherried Macallans. But to be honest, so are a lot of whiskies I love. If I did nothing but compare them to other Macallans, nitpicking here and criticizing there — just how different they are in each way, I might be disappointed by them as I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them for what they are — a completely different whisky.

    As such, I find them quite nice. Nicer than any Auchentoshan I’ve had, to be sure, and nicer still than some of the other speysides.

  15. I love the fine oak range, especially the 15 yr old. My only complaint is the price. They are overpricing themselves out of the market. Working in the spirits business, it is a hard sell when the average buyer is comparing age statements against one another. Still, for my money, I thoroughly enjoy the Fine Oak Expressions.

  16. As a beer writer (and admittedly a sometimes whisky writer), I like the 17 yo very much. I find with the Macallan it’s the structure than impresses, whether sherried or not.

  17. Todd says:

    Excellent topic! For years, Macallan has been a reliable good whisky often bought largely by people who know little about whisky (in addition to knowledgeable enthusiasts). For those you offended by this statement, park near the scotch cabinet at your local high end spirits store before Christmas and see who buys Macallan OB. Now Macallan is cashing in on that reputation on an inferior product, but sufficiently differentiated from their main line.

    I’ve tasted the entire Macallan Fine Oak range 8 yo up to 30 yo), and I find the range embodies expensive mediocrity – mid 70 point to low 80 point whisky at best. The kindest thing I can say about the range, including the 17 yo (which is the best of the bunch) is that they are for the most part inoffensive – perhaps approaching nice. I can’t imagine buying any of them and if they were the only single malts available – I’d switch to bourbon and beer. I’ll concede that perhaps this is a style I can’t appreciate. The recent Highland Park Capella bottle about four years ago was quite similar to the Fine Oak profile. And for clarification, I’m the anti-MJ (rest in peace Michael, but you never met an OB Macallan you didn’t like). The pre-1979 vintage Macallan 18 yo bottlings on the other hand ….. now those are magnificent whiskies. The 1979 Macallan Gran Reserva – that is great, great whisky. And there certainly are bourbon cask Macallans that are excellent, the Signatory 5/75-5/95 bottled at 43% shows the best side of un-sherried Macallan. Park Avenue sold an interesting bourbon cask Macallan around 2003-2004. John, I tend to agree with your whisky enthusiast friend regarding the Fine Oaks.

  18. John Hansell says:

    Good comments, everyone. Seems like more of you like the Fine Oak bottlings than dislike them. And those of you who do like them seem to be in line with my thoughts: the sweet spot is in the 15-18 year old range.

    My feeling is that even those who do like the Fine Oak like will never be blown away by it because it is not designed to be that kind of whisky. It’s not a Supernova or Octomore. It’s a nicely balanced, lighter, more subtle expression of Macallan designed to please, not to “wow”.

    (A slight diversion here: when the line first came out in the U.S., it included the 17 yr. old. An 18 yr. old was released outside the U.S. Well, the brand manager at the time informed me that the 17 yr. old release was actually an 18 year old. They didn’t want to confuse people by calling it an 18 yr. old because there was already an 18 yr. old sherry version being sold in the U.S.)

  19. H.Diaz/Texas says:

    For many years the Mcallan ruined me for sherried whiskies. Anything else was watered down. Having tried the 15, 17 and 18 fine oak (18 readily available duty free along the Texas/Mexico border at $95 US) I prefer the 15. At nearly twice the price, the 17 was not twice as better. Same for the duty free 18.

    After a few years of sleeping in a dark corner, I’m still waiting for the right moment to awake my 1979 Grand Reserva I found at a rinky dinky liquor store here in Central Texas at the original retail price of $150. Should have seen the smile on my face, from ear to ear.

  20. […] Tasting in reverse?  John Hansell of Malt Advocate wants your thoughts on Macallan’s “Fine Oak” line. […]

  21. monique at the dell says:

    When the Fine Oak series came out, it served to confuse Macallan fans everywhere. They have had the virtue of being known as a premium single malt for years, the 18 year old in particular the one single malt that most whisky and non-whisky consumers alike can name. Then there were label changes a year back that served to confound a bit more.
    I agree that the best of the range is the 17 year old, but what most Macallan seekers are still expecting are the sherried expressions.

  22. John Hansell says:

    H Diaz: Great find!

  23. Ambu says:

    Well, I dislike them. Maybe ‘dislike’ is a heavy word. I mean I find them quite mediocre and overpriced. I would prefer the old Macallans any day. It is not that they are bad whiskies. They are just overpriced (in Greece) and in my mind inferior to their old style.

    Just my 2cc.

  24. AVB says:

    Not a big fan of any that I have tried which is all except the 30. There are many other lighter drams sherried or otherwise that I find have a better value and for me, flavor.

  25. Lawrence says:

    I recently tried the FO 10 at the Spirit of Toronto and was quite surprised; it has changed a lot since the intial introduction. At first I found it a bit thin.

    The 25 is a cracker..

    I think Macallan have ‘jazzed’ up the line in the last few years. It would be interesting to do a head to head with the launch bottlings vs. the current bottlings.

  26. Kyle Nadeau says:

    So as a started reading the replies to this I glanced to my left where a 3/4 full bottle of Macallan 15 FO was looking back at me. I figured I’d read along and enjoy a glass and I have to agree with you John while not wowed by this whisky I do believe it does have its time and place. I’m not a huge fan of Macallan or heavily sherried whisky in general, with the occasional 37yr Glen Grant aside, I tend to stick to what I find to be a more interesting whisky. And now that you mention Octomore and Supernova, I’ll have another of my favorite peaty scotches, Ballechin #3 The Port Casks from Edradour. Cheers

  27. Red_Arremer says:

    Sure I’m posting this a little after the death of this thread, but I’ve been real busy with work lately and I don’t care.

    I opened that FO 17 a bit ago and I like it very much. Considering how light and straightforwardly enjoyable it is, its profile is surprisingly deep and nuanced. I was also caught off gaurd by how much its character changed with the addition of a little water– a lot, almost like a cask strength whisky, but it’s only 43 apv.

    So I think it’s very good. What about the price? Well, I bought it for 72.99 and I have no regrets. If I was going to get it again, I wouldn’t pay more than 80, though. The usual price is a bit of a rip off, which is typical of Macallan.

  28. Frank M says:

    I picked up a couple of bottles of the Fine Oak 18 that is sold at duty free shops. They were reduced from $90 to $60, how could I not?

    The FO 18 is good, very good, but not close to the 18 sherried. When I drink a Macallan it is because I am in the mood for the Macallan sherried flavor. The bourbon casking gives this FO breed a bit of an edge that is not in the all-sherry cask version.

    It is very good overall, but I will refill with the more expensive sherried Mac 18

  29. Rich M says:

    We all know that Macallan is overpriced and has been for a long time, but that should not interfere with objective critique of the “fine oak” offerings. I personally like the 15 yr. and equate it to a Glenlivet 18 yr. in quality and character, and the 21 yr. most assuredly has the signature Christmas cake, toffee, and spicy profile of the sherry 18 yr. Macallan, although at a toned down level. After all, even the Sherry 18 yr. has since about 1988 lacked the pedigree, consistency and award-winning qualities of the past releases, so overall, Macallan doesn’t measure up to itself anymore in large part.

    I’m amazed that the 17 yr. has been considered so highly by many respondents. It’s like pointing to the Cadillac Cimarron as the highlight of the modern Cadillac line. It is simply out of character, too stripped down and simply unrepresentative. Similary, the fine oak 17 yr. is watery and thin, and reveals an odd mix of fish and flowers–simply not in any way similar or in line with the Macallan character profile. Maybe a Highland Park 12 can be considered to effectively balance the sherry, floral, seaside, and peat in a beautiful way, but this 17 yr. light-weight falls well short of that. Maybe I got a bad bottle.

    I have never seen the 18 yr. fine oak offerings in Boston, so I can’t comment on that.

  30. WhiskyRx says:

    The Macallan aged in non-sherry casks is among the finest single malt Scotch whiskies I have tasted. I have had both the 10YO Fine Oak and an offering from the SMWSA about six or seven years ago that was also aged in a non-sherry cask. IMO, heavily sherried single malts, including the standard Macallans, suffer from having the character of the underlying spirit almost thoroughly masked by the sherry, particularly (I suspect) from reactions with the sulfur from the sherry casks. For those who like heavily sherried single malts, de gustibus non disputandum est. Both the 10YO and the SMWSA unsherried Macallan delighted my taste buds, but then I do like a bit of sweetness, noticeable vanillins and dry nuttiness in a whisky.

    Keith Töpfer

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