Thanks to my wife for taking the pictures.
As part of the Toronto Whisky Society I was invited to take part in a Macallan Master Decanter Series tasting. While I try to keep any bias from affecting the below reviews, I am human, therefore feel free to tell me I suck multiple times.
Well, it wasn’t all of the Master Decanter Series. You see there’s the Macallan Rare Cask, and then above that are four Scotches that form the Master Decanter Series, much like Voltron. Unlike a Voltron villain, I only I was able to face off with three of the four.
Rarely we get to see how these taste. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Up first we started with Macallan Rare Cask. The idea behind it is simple: Take 50 casks per batch, selected by the whisky team, looking at mainly first fill casks. Vat them together and release it to the world.
The plan for choosing the casks is the connections that Macallan has with many cooperages in Spain, giving them access to higher quality sherry casks.
So that’s the idea. But how does it turn out? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: $399.95 CAD at the LCBO (with glass stopper)
Casks Used: 100% American and European oak ex-sherry casks
Colour: 2.5YR 7/8 (or Ruby Dark Red, as I was told)
Nose: Rich plum pudding, coconut oil soap, oak, cocoa, light smoke
Initial plum, brown sugar/cooked molasses and plum notes. Some drier coconut/floral aspects, and some oak. Didn’t add water given the abv. Time gives a bit of smoke and cocoa, along with some oak.
Nice to nose. Certainly not rough anywhere, though some may find it a bit dry at first. Give it time… Unless you also aren’t a fan of smoke, at which point… uh…. Well, there are other whiskies.
Taste: Mexican chocolate, coconut meat, charred beef, brown sugar
Cinnamon/cocoa connects us to the nose, along with a coconut meatiness. Some umami/beef broth, some brown sugar as well. Certainly nice.
Mouthfeel is lighter than I’d like. Also takes quite a bit to coax out the sugar which is needed here to balance some of the drier/umami aspects.
Finish: Plum, flour, nutmeg, dry orange rind, smoke
Finish is shorter than I’d like. Rich plum, some raw aspects now. It really goes into the sherry aspect of things here, with orange, plum, and nutmeg dominating.
Conclusion: For these reviews, I’m going to speak to two different whisky fans. In the past few weeks, there have been some people who noted that some buy whiskies to have them sit on the shelf.
I am not one of those people, frankly. But I should speak to it when talking about these (note my final score is based on the taste alone).
As far as taste goes, it’s certainly nice to sip on. There was little roughness going on with it, and I did expect a bit more given the height of the casks. The finish was probably the roughest part, with the nose being the nicest. I wouldn’t call this the dreaded “smooth”, it’s certainly got those nice festive winter spices going for it, which is quite nice, and it’s a step up for those people who want a simpler “smooth” whisky. In the end, the light aspects are 100% the issue of the abv. Which is too bad. I’d really enjoy this if it was at a higher alcohol percentage.
As for the bottle, given the nice stopper and the different looks, it certainly will sit nicely on your shelf. The inclusion of the word “rare” should make friends who don’t know anything about whisky make ooh sounds. That said, the Macallan 18 may get more attention due to having a number on it.
Macallan Reflexion is up next. The impetus behind it is all of the casks were ex-sherry hogsheads or 250L in a system that makes sense. Each of the casks is designed, crafted, toasted, seasoned, and perhaps even had a special Ancient Greek prayer said over it to ensure Dionysus is happy by Macallan’s Master of Wood.
You know, I always wanted to have that moniker in the whisky world. Guess Dick jokes was the wrong direction. So we have another study in wood (teehee) here. More wood contact (teehee) influences the malt more.
But how does this wood focused malt taste (teehee)? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: $1,603 CAD at the LCBO
Casks Used: 100% first fill ex-Sherry American & European oak Hogsheads
Colour: 10R 3/8
Nose: Nutella, cranberry fudge, apple tart, melon, vanilla
Hmm, nuttiness (teehee) and chocolate at first. Time gives more oak, red fruit, and some creaminess. Mellows out after a few seconds with some apple and melon, a bit of vanilla even.
It’s interesting to get the mixture of vanilla and red fruit/spice from only ex-sherry cask. Might be the use of American oak? Nice surprise.
Taste: Cinnamon hearts, blondie, cotton, raisin, butter, papaya
Big amount of cinnamon followed by brown sugar, some vegetal/softness, raisin, more butter. Starts out with a lot of heat but then relaxes to a good mixture of tropical fruit and butter.
May turn you off at first. Give it a few more minutes to wake up all happy and whatnot.
Finish: Orange sorbet, dry apple, craisins, nutmeg, leather, cereal
Good subdued orange followed by fruit, leather (love leather) and some cereal. Round notes, no real roughness, and not a super quick finish as the Rare Cask.
Conclusion: For my money, this was the one that stood out during the evening. Part of the is because of the wood influence giving those vanilla and butter notes, as well as the fact I love cinnamon like I’m married to a tree.
The finish fixes a lot of what happened before. While the rare cask may have a more universally liked nose, the overall dram here is much better. It’s surprising when a low abv. Scotch-like this that doesn’t take like it’s missing aspects. So if you were to get the chance, try a dram of this. It’s really quite special. But what about the packaging to sit upon a giant mantlepiece? Well, the box certainly spreads out in an eye-drawing fashion, the bottle itself is very different and nice looking compared to other whisky bottles. So if you’re never going to open something but want to stare at the red/wood colour of the whisky without tasting it, this could be for you.
Macallan No. 6 is up next. I feel a little silly, I still have to review No. 4 myself.
What, no jokes? Well turns out No. 6 is in a different lane than the other number ones that some of us have been hunting for. This isn’t Edition No. 6, this is Series No. 6.
So what’s the plan? Well taking a cue from others, this is all carefully selected casks, each of which was used in sherry production from Spain. Then they are European oak, as opposed to the past that allowed in American oak. Finally, all of these casks come from a single source. I wrote down Tobasa as that source, but I’m having trouble finding that online, so let’s stick with a single origin.
This is an interesting idea, to say the least. We’re used to mixes of different sherry producers for casks of which each will have different profiles. But what if you could control it all and stick to one? How would it taste?
Let’s see, shall we?
Price: $5,100 CAD at the LCBO
Casks Used: First fill European oak single origin Bodega Puncheons/Butts
Colour: 2.5YR 6/10
Nose: Lime zest, orange cranberry muffin, light caramel, daffodils, fresh cut pine
Initial citrus heavy. Quite nice with some of the cereal, some of the light caramel. Though it starts going in a vegetal/woody direction. Never to a point that’s too rough, but enough to mess with the profile.
Nice floral on the way through.
Taste: Cassia buds, caramel, sultana, nori, hazelnut, honey
Bit of spice, a bit of caramel/raisin. I’m seeing the idea behind a single source. We’re getting more and more uniqueness. Salt/umami, nuttiness, and even some honey.
That said it is really, really light. I’m fighting to pick things outside the floral/honey which ends up dominating.
Finish: Dry apple, oak, basil, light roast coffee/faint fruit, caramel, honey
The fruit drops hints that’s it’s around like it’s a teenager trying to get a date, and then like said teenager ends up going home alone. Again very light, and once the floral/honey aspect comes out, well everyone’s going home alone.
Conclusion: Lighter, focused with a big honey/floral note. Which avid readers will note is a bias of mine. So while I enjoy that honey note popping up, this doesn’t really hold up to others we’ve had. The richness is duller, and it almost tasted too light or young for what it is. That could be the alcohol content, it could be me.
Overall I like the idea behind this. It’s really nerdy in some ways. However, it’s not really working as much as I’d like it to. This was a nice try, however too light for me to recommend.
As for looks, you can’t go wrong with a Lalique crystal decanter. While the box doesn’t have the striking V of the Reflexion, the decanter will certainly look nice against wood, over a fireplace.
Personally, I’d be your friend who comes by and opens it, so maybe keep it away from this guy.
We ended the night with Macallan M. As I said earlier all of my scores are based on how the Scotches actually taste. That said, it’s impossible to not look at the crystal decanter when it’s near. Only one out of six of these are noted as good enough to be used. Fabien Baron (designer at Lalique) was the mind behind it, and while I don’t own decanters and personally have no use for them, it’s certainly shiny and draws the eyes.
That said, we’re here to talk about that splashy stuff inside. Macallan M is made from various rich and rare casks at Macallan. One of them is peated Macallan made in 1940.
So yeah, I drank history. What does history taste like? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: $6,500 CAD at the LCBO
Casks Used: Ex-sherry casks, including one from 1940
Colour: 2.5YR 3/8
Nose: Raisins, oak and leather furniture, lilacs, grassy/spruce, cranberry
Nice raisin leads into that rich leather note that you hunt for in sherry casks. This is what I’ve been wanting throughout the night. Goes to some of the floral, some of the grassiness, but that leather is centre stage.
As well it should be. This has the nose of a whisky you’d nose for a long time. Which is what I did. The lower abv. does hold it back.
Taste: Chocolate raisins, lime sorbet, bitter melon, fermented lime, grass
Cocoa, more raisins, some acidity. A bit of bitterness, but that works. Even some funk. Funk! From a Macallan! I never!
Well, I’ll take more of that. While the taste is nice, it does take a step down from the nose, and I was missing some of the leather. Needs a higher ABV going on.
Finish: Caramel, fennel, dry apple, cereal, lilacs, cinnamon
Starts out light, but with time and a tiny bit of water that floral element (balanced this time) comes out, bringing spice, cereal, and even some dry fruit.
Could be longer and less light with a higher ABV…
Conclusion: Opens up really nicely with a bit of water. Almost there, wish it had a high Abv. The whole time I’m having this, it reminds me of any older sherried dram back when you could still purchase casks that had been used for long periods of time. It may seem cliche picking the most expensive as the nicest, but here we are. You won me over with the leather.
That said I hope that Macallan, for all these connections and whatnot, could find a way to take that leather and release something a bit higher in strength. This was nice to have, I want it stronger. People who buy this will enjoy the whisky, along with the glass it comes in. I’d say the crystal is just a bit more stunning than the whisky.
Scotch reviews #1053-56, Speyside review #288-91, Whisky Network review #1639-42