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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Macallan 18 year old Sherry Oak (w/guest reporter!)

Distillery: Macallan
Brand: Sherry Oak
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: Oloroso sherry casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

"I come here to bury the Macallan 18yr, not to praise it."  Okay, not really.

I may lose some readership today, but I will be truthful.  This is just my moderately-tested opinion.  And if opinions are like a$$holes (everybody's got one) then behold......my moderately-tested a$$hole?

Let's do the tasting notes, first.  As mentioned in yesterday's Macallan 12yr report, my Scottish Scotch pal James and I undertook a Macallan Taste Off on February 18th.

After we sampled the Macallan 12 year Sherry Oak, we went to the 18 year Sherry Oak.  Then went back to the 12 to compare.  Here are our notes:

Color - Darker than the 12, red hint in the center, approaching a maple syrup look
Nose - Heavy Sherry
Palate - Deeper and larger than the 12, meaty, Sherry
Finish - Long burnt finish, Sherry

Color - a reddened dark brass, warm maple syrup
Nose - Sherry, cherry cordials, almond extract, toasted almonds, Sherry, Sherry
Palate - Thicker than the 12; mostly Sherry, meaty, creamy, maybe coffee beans?
Finish - Sherry, burnt, Sherry reduction

(Everything that follows below, James is innocent of.  But I will say that all of my Scotch buddies have a very similar opinion to mine when comparing the 12yr to the 18yr.)

Seeing a common theme?  Sherry.  Capital 'S' Sherry.  A good creamy Sherry...that drowns out everything else.

If you like Sherry, then why not buy a bottle of Sherry?  You can get a bottle of "good creamy Sherry" for $15.  Macallan 18yr costs $149.  In Spain, one can get an entire case of great Sherry for that price.

Let's take this a step further.

This is a pricing chart of official bottlings (with one exception), showing an average of five liquor sellers (both major and minor, the same stores I always use for reference in my "Pricing" listings).  I've included all of the official current 18 year old single malt releases in the US.  Where distilleries didn't have an 18-year release, I've used the closest in age.  Those younger are in green, those older are in pink.

Let's first address the bottlings near Macallan's price.  Dalmore also markets itself as a luxury product, but its distillery's production is only 40% that of Macallan's.  Like Macallan 18, the Dalmore 18 is largely bereft of the critical raves compared to many of the others on this list.  So Dalmore 18 sits in a similar luxury-sherry-oak boat as the Mac 18, but is in considerably shorter supply.

Meanwhile, the Springbank distillery uses all local barley, does their own hand malting, bottles everything by hand, and has an output 1/11th the size of Macallan's.  And that Springbank 18 year old?  It's only been released twice in the twenty years since the distillery reopened.

Now, the rest of the list.  Highland Park 18 is perhaps the highest rated officially bottled single malt in the world, has a complexity likely unmatched by anything else in its age range, and is produced by the same company owns Macallan.  And it's $50 cheaper than Mac 18, even $70 cheaper in some stores.  The Talisker 18 has a brain-melting complexity, has picked up raves everywhere, and is released in such limited numbers that it may have sold out completely in LA.  It's almost half the price of the Macallan 18.  Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, the only distilleries who can match Macallan's production levels, have malts at the same age for much less than half the Mac 18 price.

And that Rosebank 19-year may be from an independent bottler (Duncan Taylor), but that beloved distillery doesn't even exist anymore.  That, I believe, is a vision of scarcity.

Or maybe you prefer the luscious sherried style?

Glenfarclas, one of the last of the family-owned distilleries, produces about a third of the malt compared to Macallan, has comparatively limited releases in the States.  Their sherry casks produce a multi-faceted sophisticated malt that's highly regarded by professional noses (and unprofessional ones like mine!).  Their 25-year-old goes for the same price as Macallan's 18-year-old.

Then there's the grand Glendronach.  (Oh, how I hope to do a Glendronach Taste Off!  In May, perhaps?)  Let's put aside the fact that Glendronach has one-sixth of the malt production of Macallan.  Opinions as varied as all of the Malt Maniacs AND Jim Murray agree that Glendronach has the best sherry casked releases for at least the last three years.  Their SINGLE CASK releases are cheaper than Macallan 18.

Macallan has both large supply and high prices.  So, is it the Apple of the whisky world?  In my opinion, no.  Their work isn't revolutionary, nor are they the most innovative of distilleries.  They produce a good brand that is well liked.  As long as their fans don't venture too far off into other malts, they can keep edging their prices up as they market themselves as a luxury brand.

At the Raise the Macallan tastings, the Ambassador goes into depth about their work and investment in oak casks.  This in turn raises their production expense.  And they say that 65% of sherry casks imported to Scotland go to them, thus they have more first- and second-fill sherry malts than anyone else.

I don't begrudge them for their pricing.  They are a business and their customers keep paying for Mac 18.  I'm just rooting for those same buyers to branch out into Macallan's peers' releases.  I think they'll find high (or higher) quality products at lesser prices.

And in the end, price aside, I like Macallan 12 more than Macallan 18.  If you compare our notes on each, you'll see the greater complexity we found in the 12.  These notes vary very little from my own previous samplings.  If I didn't know the ages and I had to pick which one I'd pay more money for, I'd pick the 12.

The 18-year is by no means a bad malt.  It's good.  Very smooth and creamy.  Very Sherry.  And if an extremely sherried mellow malt is your style and you have $150 (plus tax) burning a hole in your pocket, then the Macallan 18 is all yours.

This a$$hole will take the Talisker 18 AND the Lagavulin 16 together for the same price and will be happier than a pig in whisky.

 - Overpriced at $140-$160

Rating - 84

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at one of Macallan's Fine Oak series...