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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Revisiting Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak almost a decade later

It doesn't matter what anyone writes about Macallan. That distillery could do a limited release of bottles filled with smegma, and there'd still be 400 of those things on Scotch Whisky Auctions within 24 hours of the drop date.

So let me not focus on the gleaming present, but instead on the blurry past. Once upon a time, I held the unpopular view that the Macallan Fine Oak series was indeed quite fine. And while I often tell people that Yamazaki 18yo was the first $100+ whisky I dared to buy more than once, that's damned lie. Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak was my baller bottle for a number of years, with its powdery lavender label and the relatively light-colored Mac inside the glass.

Though I enjoyed Macallan 18 year old (Sherry Oak, to the Europeans) at first, I found it less and less interesting with each subsequent try. Diminishing returns and escalating prices. (A familiar tune?) This issue started to invade my Fine Oak experience, as my final bottle of the 17yo FO had much more sherry character to it than I cared for. If there was any sort of Macallan distillery character that was spirit-related, the best official route to it was via the partial-bourbon-cask Fine Oaks. Adding more sherry casks may have appealed to some drinkers, but it silenced what made the 17 year old Fine Oak joyous to me.

It has been eight years since my last sip of Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak. I have kept samples of my beloved (94 point!) 2010 bottling and the moderately thrilling 2012 bottling. They have been saved for this very moment. Probably.

Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak, bottled in 2010, 43%abv

The nose has a dry, nutty (maybe even a little briny) sherry note, neither overbearing or overwhelming, but part of a larger picture that includes dried apricots, roses and watermelon Jolly Ranchers. There's a little bit of toasted oak, a little bit of malt, and good dose of baked apples and brown sugar after the whisky sits in the glass for more than 30 minutes.

The early palate holds a surprising amount of barley and ripe orchard fruit sweetness. It slowly picks up salt, lemons and just a hint of dried fruits. It gets sweeter with time, and is much much too drinkable.

Fresh and dried pineapple give the finish a nice twist. Small notes of salt, malt and flowers float in the background, while more oak and sugar develop with time.

This is still very good whisky all these years later, though not as mind blowing as I once judged it to be. The nose is its true highlight, bearing plenty of gentle, pretty characteristics that would offend no one. As noted above, the palate remains very comfy and well-constructed and ...... suddenly the glass is empty. It was nice while we had it.


Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak, bottled in 2012, 43%abv

Its nose is quiet at the start, requiring extra time to wake up. The sherry note appears first, reading meatier and prunier than the 2010 bottling. Golden raisins appear next, followed by tapioca pudding, peach hand lotion, grilled fish(!) and a hint of peppery sulfur. With time it tilts more towards dried fruits (raisins and berries) and dried flowers.

The palate is very spicy, a mix of cracked peppercorns and oak spices. Black raisins in molasses. Salty rocks and lemon candy. Plenty of tannins crowd the edges.

It's all black raisins, oak spice and tannins in the finish. It gets much sweeter with time, almost reading like a PX after 45 minutes.

Of the two, this one is more unique and more problematic. To dispute my impressions from 8+ years ago, the sherry isn't louder, it's just messier, which makes for a lot of fun in the nose. But then the oak comes crashing into the palate, which is a shame because it seemed as if there was something a little weirder and more adventurous in store. Not bad though. I'd drink it any time.


Final Thoughts

The quality gap between these two whiskies closed considerably. Maybe it's my palate, maybe it's the samples. They are different whiskies though. Despite Macallan's considerable efforts to keep their whiskies the same, year after year, things do change because whisky is a mischievous thing. Or perhaps the recipe for the 17 year old Fine Oak changed at the end of its existence, with the cleaner sherry casks going to the more famous 18 year old Sherry Oak.

One final final thought. Don't keep samples sitting around for 8-10 years. Even these relatively recent whiskies started taking on a soapy note around the 45-minute mark. Dustier whiskies, especially bourbons, often do the same when their samples sit in a box for a long time. Drink your whisky!

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