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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Single Malt Report: Macallan 17 year Fine Oak vs. Macallan 17 year Fine Oak

The 2010 bottling of Macallan 17 year Fine Oak has sat at the top of my whisky rankings since the day I posted its report.  It's been a favorite of mine -- my first Tier 1! -- ever since I bought my first bottle in 2008.  It was my 30th birthday present to me.  I'd never spent more than $60 on a bottle of booze, and then here I was buying a whisky that was over $100!  And it was good, thankfully.  It lasted me all the way up until my bachelor's party a year and a half later.  I came up with an excuse to buy it again a few months after the first bottle was emptied.  That bottle lasted me up through that single malt report, about 14 months in total.

I always knew Macallan 17 Fine Oak would be the bottle I wanted to open to celebrate our first pregnancy.  So bottle number three was opened and shared in early April.  And it was emptied the night before our lives were upended with the knowledge of the fate of our child's life.

I keep a sample of every good bottle I open in my Archives.  I had one sample of that celebratory bottle.  Also, there just happened to be one extra sample of the previous bottle.  One bottled in 2012 and one bottled in 2010.  This allowed me to retire the recent bottle in style.

Distillery: Macallan
Brand: Fine Oak
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Age: minimum 17 years
Maturation: American oak bourbon casks, American oak sherry casks, Spanish oak sherry casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

When I'd opened the newer bottle in April, I was struck by how sherried it was.  Was my sherry sensitivity getting completely out of whack again?  My memory of the previous bottles was of very little sherry, and all the parts playing together in tune.  Was this new one really different?  Would Macallan up the European sherry oak quotient in the Fine Oak (a combination of maturations: ex-bourbon American oak, ex-sherry American oak, ex-sherry European oak) right before they were to phase out the Fine Oak series?  Or had my whisky compass gone crap?

Macallan 17 year Fine Oak (bottled 2010)

Nose -- Lots of malt cuddled by American oak.  Sherry (level 3, on a 1-10 scale).  Sea salt caramels along with a little bit of the Atlantic Ocean.  Fresh apricots and peaches.  A momentary Band-Aid note that evaporated and never returned.  With some time, more fruits show up: tangerine and lemon zest, apple juice.

Palate -- Sherry (level 2, on a 1-10 scale), sugar cookies, tobacco, and light bitterness.  Fudge, citrus, honey, and a salty savory note that comes and goes.  Vanilla custard with a sherry float.

Finish -- A sharp finale with a sherry tail.  Hoppy bitterness, Cointreau, a whisper of gin-like juniper.  A hint of the tobacco note.  Vanilla still carries the sherry.

Macallan 17 year Fine Oak (bottled 2012)

Nose -- Sherry (level 6), similar to the 12 year Sherry Oak, malt taking a backseat.  Less of the sea salt caramels, much more floral perfume.  Orange candies and molasses.  Time brings out butterscotch and fresh cherries.

Palate -- Fudgy sherry reminiscent of Glenfarclas at a similar age.  Caramels, toffee, and brown sugar swimming around.  Lots of old sugary grapes (see: sherry).  Hint of fresh mint and basil leaves, and a little honey.

Finish -- Toffee joins the sherry.  A little salt, cherry cordials, orange zest in honey, brown sugar.

The 2012 has a much softer, briefer finish.  Without the sherry, the finale would seem like a light 40% ABV malt.  There's just so much sherry in it, blanketing the American oak and malt.  Feels like it's just another Macallan Sherry Oak, appropriately falling between the 12 and 18.  As a result, Glengoyne and Old Pulteney at the same age outdo it in complexity and, well, taste.  All their parts come together to create single malts that are unique balanced whiskys.

So, for a change, my memory was right, the 2010 bottling really is much different.  The sherry and European oak are present, but uses an inside voice rather than a megaphone.  Thus the conversation has equal participants.  Since it lacks The Thrill Factor, it will get nudged down from the top (Yay Subjectivity!).  But it is still my favorite non-peated Scotch whisky that I've reviewed here......so far.

But it is time to retire this whisky as well and not just because Macallan has phased it out of most markets.  I'm not as excited by its current recipe.  And it carries the memories of a part of my life that is now over.  I hope someday Macallan gets bold and releases an ALL ex-bourbon American oak bottling to show off its great malt, but for now it looks like they're only interested in selling sherry and its amber, sienna, and ruby shades.

Macallan 17 year Fine Oak (bottled 2010)

Availability - Might be a few out there, you'll have to check the bottle code
Pricing - see below
Rating - 94

Macallan 17 year Fine Oak (bottled 2012)

Availability - Many US liquor specialists
Pricing - $120-$160 (yeesh, *facepalm*, the price has gone up)
Rating - 87


  1. All the ex-bourbon Macallan casks will probably end up in Famous Grouse or the indies. I have my eye on a 15 year old bottle from Duncan Taylor but at about the same price ($155) as the 17 year old Fine Oak, it's really hard to decide (and yes it's cask strength).

    1. I think that the new Gold bottling in the 1824 series has some ex-bourbons in there but that's about it. I've tried three ex-bourbon Macallan indies and they were all GREAT. There's a very good malt hiding under all that sherry. Aberlour also has a great honeyed malt in its indie ex-bourbon releases.

    2. But at the same time, every indie Macallan I've seen has a bloated price tag on it. I guess there's an assumption that folks will be willing to overpay for non-OB Macs too.

    3. No ex-bourbon at all in the new 1824 series. According to the press releases, Macallan has switched back to all ex-sherry casks in their official line. The whisky color and flavor is now based on the combination of oak (American and European) and number of fills (first or second).

      This means that ex-bourbon casks are going to indies or blending so this might explain why the last Fine Oak releases seem to have more ex-sherry character.

    4. Michael, the Whisky Galore Macallan 10 I've got is either ex-bourbon or refill sherry, given the extremely pale color. I'll save you a sample when I pop it open.

    5. Ah Eric, you're right; the Gold's American Oak was sherried.

      Jordan, yes please! I think I've seen that bottle in an LA store at a reasonable-for-Macallan-indie price. I had an Old Pulteney by Whisky Galore (Duncan Taylor, I think) that was really good, so here's to hoping they got that Macallan right!

    6. Well, I decided to pick up a 15 year old indie Macallan from AD Rattray. It's all ex-bourbon cask and at $109 it's ten dollars more than the 15 year Fine Oak but the extra alcohol (54% vs 43%) means the price isn't bad.

      Now this is very interesting because if I given a glass of this and told it was Glenlivet Nadurra I'd believe them. Both are vanilla bombs with a fresh citric note. Definitely one to check out.

    7. Well played, sir. That price is the lowest I've seen for an indie cask strength Macallan...ever, I think. And I've never had an AD Rattray cask I didn't like.

    8. Interesting. This indie Macallan definitely has a faint peat smoke note on the finish. I ended up getting a Macallan 12 mini and the Fine Oak 10 for blending practice (the Fine Oak might work well with the ex-bourbon Macallan). Now I realize the Macallan 12 and Fine Oak have this faint smokey note on the finish (in both cases it's very subtle). It's likely that the malted barley has a very tiny amount of peating (under 5 ppm).

    9. I'd heard folks finding something smoky on Macs before too. Could it be the charring on the barrels? Last I'd heard the distillery was getting unpeated malt from Simpson's.