E-pistle 2007/045 – Mega – Macallan Tasting in Australia

By Craig Daniels, Australia

An E-Pistle from Downunder (Part 1) –  Mega – Macallan Tasting – A truly maniacal gathering – By Craig Daniels

I know lots of maltsters who love Macallan, yet I must confess that I’ve never really ‘got’ Macallan; I’ve drammed plenty of different expressions and while a few have been excellent very few have really connected with me, certainly not in the same way that particular malts from distilleries like Glenfarclas, Aberlour and Glenlivet have.  Still I’ve been wrong before; I never understood what the fuss over Glenlivet was all about until I started to explore the older expressions, so there was always a fair chance that I just hadn’t come across the right Macallans to rid me of any lingering doubts. And if I was ever to be convinced, then a chance to taste the entire E.S.C. (Exceptional Single Casks) range along with a miscellany of old and rare Macallans was the most likely occasion.

This über Macallan tasting, which brought some of the most maniacal malt whisky fans to Sydney from all over Australia was hosted by Shane Kalloglian, Australia’s foremost collector of Macallan whiskies.  He decided to delve into his collection to come up with the most comprehensive and exclusive as well as the most informative and educational Macallan tasting in Australia, certainly in my experience

I suspect that there would be less than a handful of Macallan enthusiasts on the planet who could’ve put that selection of whiskies together, let alone had the generosity of spirit to put them on the table for those keen enough to travel to try. It would certainly take very deep pockets to think about outdoing Shane.  One-upmanship in this bit of the stratosphere doesn’t come cheap.

I was very pleased to know that I would have benchmarking malts as there would be whiskies that I have tried before, the 1874 Replica (which I rate very highly) and the David LeCornu Macallan 1975 OzMac which was the star of the Inaugural Malt Whisky Convention in 2003 (and my previous highest scoring Macallan) to compare the unknown malts against.

We tasted two flights of six. The first flight consisted of the entire E.S.C. (I to VI) range and the second flight visited the 1874, an 8 y/o, a 12 y/o (both Italian imports bottled in 1983), a Fine & Rare 1976 (unreleased) and finally the two David Le Cornu Private Bottlings, Cask 17112 and 17113 (the last two served blind, simply known as A and B).

Flight 1

I have never had the pleasure of tasting any of these before but I decided to keep a small amount of the first flight to taste them up against the known malts in Flight 2, just to make sure that my scores were defensible in the light of previous visits to the well.

Macallan 1981/1999 Exceptional Single Cask I (56%, Fino Sherry Butt, OB, C#9780) Resin, tobacco and a hint of gunpowder with leather and sawn timber in the nose.  There’s also a bit of spirit evident and some wood prickle along with roasted/cooked nuts.  Palate is rounded, unctuous and quite syrupy with some citrus (lemon zest and lemon sours). The Fino seems to contribute more nuttiness and pine resin than the fruitcake from Oloroso and the style is a little more austere – Finish is long with lots of citrus peel and then polished oak and leather along with persistent, but eminently well-behaved sherry. Score 89

Macallan 1980/2001 Exceptional Single Cask II (59.3%, Oloroso Sherry Butt, OB, C#4063) Ahhhhh! This is more like it! Nosing this was like coming home and sinking into a soft pillow after a very long and hard day. Lovely luscious fruitcake, chocolate cake, Christmas pudding with loads of candied fruit and just awesomely, stunningly beautiful and limpid oak (wax polished floorboards and old mahogany). The palate has chocolate and resin and more of that exemplary wood, along with some of those vine cane, dry leafy  and ferny/mossy “green” notes that distinguish my favourite malts – Loved this one – reminded me most of an erstwhile favourite in the 1967 18 year old but the extra proof adds a whole new dimension – Score 95

Macallan 1980/2002 Exceptional Single Cask III (51%, Sherry Butt, OB, C#17937)  Lighter and fruitier (cumquats and apple pie) than the previous two. The nose also has a hint of sour cream, beeswax, parchment and honey.  The palate was quite silky with some charred nuts. The finish has nuts, chocolate and herbs. Lovely stuff once again, but in the shade of ESC II Score 90

Macallan 1990/2003 Exceptional Single Cask IV (57.4%, Sherry Butt, OB, C#24680) Nosed a lot younger and had some very minor faults which probably would’ve gone unnoticed in lesser company.  Pretty typical sherry nose with fruitcake and toffee but with much more citrus than the first three (blood oranges/candied orange peel, cooked cumquat) and some delicate orange blossom accompanied by some unfortunate cardboard. The palate was a little oily with a bit of spirit bite, then a waxy note. Finish – a little more citrus oil, charred fruit and some sappy wood.  Not a bad malt, just not a great one Score 83

Macallan 1989/2003 Exceptional Single Cask V (59.2%, Oloroso Sherry Butt, OB, C#552 I must confess that I had problems with this one and I may be well and truly out of line with the rest of the scores in the room, but this one had a distinct whiff of sulphur, of which I am not at all fond.  Resin, chocolate and that slightly noxious hint of sulphur (struck match, marsh gas, blocked drains), dried apricots, balsamic and fudge.  Palate was oily and had a curious burnt, charred note. The finish was cocoa, chocolate with bitter herbs (endive, chicory, rocket) and ashy embers from old fireplaces. The sulphur never took over, but I like wood cleaner than this. Score 80

Macallan 1990/2004 Exceptional Single Cask VI (59.6%, Sherry Butt, OB, C#24483) A little untamed, but much nicer and much closer to ESC III in style. In fact it was the one that reminded me most of venerable Glenlivets and Tomintouls that have excited me in the past.  Much more of the mild tropical fruit and creamy toffee that one associates with refill sherry from American and not Spanish oak.  Nose has a little spirit prickle, orange, guava, custard apple, starfruit, toffee and cream; a bit like someone poured fruit salad syrup and candied orange peel into a batch of crème caramels. The palate is quite toffeed with nuts and some typical Speyside bitter metal in the tail. The toffee and nuts (peanut brittle, honey roasted almonds) continues through into the finish. On the rambunctious side and a tad too metallic to score higher, but a lot of fun Score 88.

I know that quite a few in the room liked the E.S.C. I, III and VI, and that I was out of whack in not liking V, but I don’t find sulphur attractive.  I’d happily sit down to I, II, III & VI any time and I could’ve scored them differently in a different tasting order but ESC II stood out for me as what Macallan in first fill oloroso sherry guise is all about.  In other words, these whiskies polarized the room and everyone had his or her own personal favourite. I suppose I have to admit that ESC II displaced my previous highest scoring Macallans in the Cask #17112, the 1874 Replica, the 1975 25yo Anniversary and the 1967 18yo.  A Macallan has finally entered my pantheon of Speyside malts that have scored 95 alongside Aberlour 1964 25yo OB and Glenfarclas 1962 23yo from Cadenheads.