Whisky Review #20: The Macallan Rare Cask

In early August, I registered for The Macallan Rare Cask Experience in Singapore, which was an event hosted by Edrington in order to publicise their latest release, The Macallan Rare Cask. As places were limited, I knew that such an event would be rapidly filled up so I roped in one of my mates and registered for it.

The event was held on the afternoon of the 1st of August at the heritage-listed Indocafe building on Scotts Road. I had arrived there slightly earlier so as to wait for my mate to arrive and take in the surroundings. Having been a fan of the heavily-sherried Macallan 12 Years for quite a while, I knew that this was bound to be an interesting experience.

The Macallan Rare Cask
The Macallan Rare Cask

The Macallan distillery is located in Craigellachie, Moray, which puts it within the boundaries of Speyside. However, for some reason, the distillery is not recognised as such. As of 2009, the labelling of Scotch whisky bottles has been regulated by the Scottish government and this created a bit of a conundrum.

Under these new regulations, only whisky that is produced within the traditional wards of Speyside were allowed to utilise the regional designation on their bottles. However, the ward of Craigellachie does not fall within this designation for some reason, thus creating the confusion.

For the most part, The Macallan identifies itself as being a Highland single malt, with the whisky being produced in a style more reminiscent of the Highlands rather than a Speyside whisky. Curiously though, the website indicates that the stills at the distillery are “the smallest in Speyside”, which might help to explain some of the confusion.

Historically, The Macallan has maintained a heavily sherried and unpeated house style which has made them synonymous with exceptional quality around the world. In 2004, however, they decided to do a little bit of experimentation with whiskies matured in bourbon casks and realised that it was something they could work with.

By maturing whisky in both bourbon and sherry casks and then vatting them together, they created the Fine Oak range of whiskies which we see today. While the Sherry Oak range is still prevalent, it has become slightly harder to find of late due to the increasing difficulty in obtaining sherry casks from Spain as well as global demand for whisky far outstripping supply.

This has resulted in The Macallan introducing a new core range of No Age Statement (NAS) whiskies which are matured in a variety of casks and labelled according to colour (Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby). But I shall not delve into that today and instead focus on The Macallan Rare Cask expression.

Getting back to The Rare Cask Experience, we were treated to a multitude of sights, sounds and smells during the event, all of which were somehow tied to the production of this particular whisky. After having a look around, we were ushered into a private room which had been decorated in such a way that it resembled the interior of a whisky warehouse.

A glass of The Macallan Rare Cask, presented in a sturdy Macallan-branded copita glass.
A glass of The Macallan Rare Cask, presented in a sturdy Macallan-branded copita glass.

Inside, we found two large barrels (one of which was a first-fill European Oak sherry cask and the other was a refill American Oak sherry cask) which were both transported from the distillery. Interestingly, The Macallan primarily sources its barrels from the Gonzalez Byass bodega in Spain, with whom they maintain a very close relationship.

The nosing and tasting experience was led by two members of Dram Full Singapore, Justin Choo and Daniel Goh, and both of them provided us with a very engaging and detailed presentation of the characteristics of the whisky we were about to sample.

Based on the information presented by the both of them, The Rare Cask was created from a marriage of 16 different types of casks, all of which are so rare that they will probably never be used in any other Macallan whisky ever again. The casks used represent a fraction of a percent of the casks within the warehouses at the distillery.

If that doesn’t say enough about the provenance of this whisky, I don’t know what else will.

Soon enough, it was time to move on to the sampling itself.

The Macallan Rare Cask (43% abv, NAS)

Quite impressive.
Quite impressive.

Colour: Burnished copper

Nose: A veritable fruit salad on the nose, with apples, oranges and lemon forming a citrus-heavy base. There are hints of cinnamon, cloves and just a touch of ginger in there, giving the whisky a slightly spicy element which marries well with the citrus notes. After some time, vanilla and sherried raisins emerge on the nose, giving it a polished and somewhat refined character.

Palate: Oaky, citrusy goodness with some of the warming spices from the nose. The mouthfeel is slightly oily and works very well with the spice and citrus notes. A touch of nutmeg appears after a while, augmenting the melange of spices. More of the vanilla emerges after a time, coating the palate well. Towards the end, some dark chocolate, berry compote and cocoa powder make an appearance.

Finish: Long and lingering finish, with the spices and the citrus notes following all the way through to the end. A final flourish of lemon zest brings with it a touch of oak. Quite a complex and sophisticated dram!

Rating: 88/100

I actually liked this expression as it adds a different facet to the entire Macallan experience. If anything, this whisky shows that NAS expressions can be done quite well. However, my only gripe with this whisky would be that it feels rather underpowered at 43% abv. I would have preferred this to have been bottled at a higher abv of 46-48% as it would have made the overall feel rather robust.

However, I guess that this has to do with keeping the entire profile rather mellow and sophisticated (although I would love to see a cask strength version of this).

Overall, a well balanced and well thought of dram which will surely gain a legion of fans. The pricetag is rather steep at US$450 a bottle, but I guess that’s what you have to pay these days for quality. I guess I’ll just stick to the more affordable 12 Year Old Sherry Oak (or even the 10 Year Old Fine Oak) expression for now.

Slainte!

Brendan

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