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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