Speyside visit update: The Macallan
I was just at the Macallan distillery a few years ago and toured the distillery at that time. So, when I showed up this time, I asked if there have been any changes to the distillery operations. They told me “no”, so I asked if I could just go to the blending lab and spend some time with Bob Dalgarno and Ian Morrison, the Whisky-makers. They obliged. Bob was out for the afternoon, but Ian was there working on the next bottling of Macallan 12 year old so I chatted with him.
I think that the blending lab at The Macallan is as close as a whisky-lover can get to heaven on earth. My afternoon spent there began simply enough. I was a little uninspired by the second Macallan Lalique decanter release this past fall, which contained 55 year old Macallan (and cost $12,000!). I was okay with the aroma and the first half of the palate, but the second half really started showing its age, getting rather woody and tired. I have enjoyed several other 50+ year old Macallan whiskies, and this one seemed a bit inferior to those. The US PR group asked me to taste the whisky again while I was at Macallan, so I did.
The whisky tasted the same to me. And to prove my point to the UK PR Manager who was with us in the lab, I asked Ian if he had anything else in that age range for comparison. That’s when I experienced one of those rare moments that we whisky drinkers can only dream of. Ian rummaged through what looked like thousands of whisky samples to pull out anything close. We tasted a 50 year old that was lighter and fresher with less wood, a 49 year old that was deliciously sherried and even-keeled throughout, and then sampled the Macallan 1946 Vintage bottling which still is the smokiest Macallan I ever tasted.
Catching my breath from all that, we tasted several new releases, including the richly sherried Gran Reserva bottling for the Far East and the Whisky Maker’s Selection for Travel Retail, which is essentially a marriage of 12-21 year old Fine Oak.
I then inquired about the Macallan Replica bottlings and asked if there are any more in the works? Ian said: “No, but I have samples of the original 1861 and 1851 bottlings. Would you like to taste them?” (Not samples of the replica bottlings, but the original whiskies.)
I didn’t have to answer that one. I just looked at him and smiled.
It was an interesting contrast between the two. The 1861 was not that bad actually: European Oak, sherried, adequately matured. The 1851, from what appeared to be American Oak, tasted quite young. Less than 10 years old I would guess. I didn’t like it. That’s one whisky I don’t think Bob and Ian want to replicate exactly the same as the original. Definitely throw in some older whiskies in the mix on that one.
And so went the rest of my visit in the Macallan blending lab, tasting samples and talking about Macallan whisky, until Ian had to leave for home. A very memorable day indeed.
And it turns out there are some big changes in the distilling operations after all, which we discussed during my visit. I’ll include that information in my feature on Speyside in the 4th Quarter issue of Malt Advocate magazine.