Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

‘No Macallan to kick around anymore’

One of my hobbies is reading biographies about United States Presidents. There are quotes in there for the ages. A famous one is made by Richard Nixon in 1962, when he lost the election to become Governor of California. To the assembled press he proclaimed “you don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore”, convinced that it was his last press conference. He would go on to become an infamous President in 1968 until his demise after the Watergate scandal in 1974. Why this Nixon anecdote? Well, it seems in whisky country we have a favourite distillery (or brand, if you will) to kick around with ridicule and Schadenfreude. I speak of the Macallan Distillery.

Honoured with the more and more fading nickname ‘the Rolls Royce of Scotch whisky’, The Macallan as a brand and as a whisky carries quite the reputation. And as often the case with those of them who climb high, we like to see them fall. 

The Macallan made it easy on the critics, building a megalomaniac futuristic distillery that does not really feel in touch with Scotch whisky traditions. Even worse is the fact that they have gradually priced their products out of the average market with NAS expressions (those with beautiful names but no age statement) for high prices. Quality seemed to have become less and less a priority, judging by several critic blogs by renowned and experienced whisky enthusiasts.

A few years ago I did an entertaining tasting with then Brand Ambassador Sietse Offringa for the whisky magazine I was writing for. He gave us some Macallan expressions to taste. It proved quite easily that Macallan is still a whisky to reckon with, and of course they are. Despite the big Hobbiton distillery it is not as if they all of a sudden do not know how to make whisky anymore. I guess, all we have to complain about, is that is has become more difficult to put a bottle in your cabinet, since it costs you an arm and a leg. And the conclusion could be: we just miss drinking The Macallan! To me, it seems only fair to compare The Macallan with equals, being Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet. Where the M would set you back 70 euro for the 12 years old we taste today, Glenfiddich sells their flagship for easily half or that, as does The Glenlivet. So, let’s taste if the stuff is indeed twice as good then. Also, since it is Something Special Saturday, and Spirit of Speyside is going on in Scotland, we are additionally going to enjoy two Speymalt Macallans bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.

The Macallan 12 years old Double Cask, bottled at 40 % abv

Makeup: Sherry seasoned American & European oak casks.

General impressions: A pleasant aroma on oranges and other orchard fruit rising from the glass. Very Speyside soft and fresh. After a while, freshly sawn wood, like walking in a DIY-store looking for hammers and nails to do the weekend chores with. Not at all unpleasant, and not so "spirity" as other 12 year old whisky from big Speyside distilleries. Good balance.
The taste is very accessible but of course, the 40 % abv does not help. There is a nice bitterness, probably coming from the sherry wood, but the dryness coming from the other wood used for this expression is less enticing. It is inoffensive drinking, which should please the masses, and I can imagine that is the intention all along anyway.

Conclusion: Better than comparable malts of this age and makeup, but maybe a bit flat. I kinda liked it as a Friday afternoon shot launching the weekend.

Score: 82 points
Disclaimer: taken from a self-owned bottle.

Macallan Speymalt, 1999, bottled in 2008 at 46 % abv by G&M

Makeup: Nine years in a first fill sherry hogshead. This one bottled for Dutch importer Van Wees.

General impressions: Three years less in the cask, but a lot more talkative than the Double Oak, due obviously to the fact this is a single cask. Still, it is comparable to the Double Oak when you stick the nose in the glass. Orchard fruit. Delicate hints of Muscat wine. New here is the slightest hint of gunpowder, which made these bottles extremely popular when they came out. They were gently priced back then, too, but this style was very divisive, which created a lot of chatter on forums (thriving places of discussion and information on the internet, without algorithms and commercials all the time). I am sure Van Wees had good sales that year. The taste in any case is all on delicate chocolate and a very subtle underlying fruit, like apricot and soft peaches. Maybe time has mellowed this independently bottled Macallan. I remember this being much harsher, in line with the sulphury notes, but the fruits have taken over.

Conclusion: Not a stellar Macallan but very entertaining and undeniably strong and with good backbone, despite the blasphemy of diluting a Macallan single cask back to 46 %.

Score: 88 points
Disclaimer: taken from a self-owned bottle.

Macallan Speymalt, 2007, bottled in 2023 at 58,9 % abv by G&M

Makeup: Taken after 16 years of maturation from one single oloroso sherry cask with the number 16601104. Output of only 165 bottles, which seems low when you look at the abv.

General impressions: I complained and am being served: a cask strength Speymalt here, and a decent age. But Jesus, now THIS is a traditional sulphur whisky. All on struck matches and burned newspaper, where the ink lingers. The taste stays in line with the aroma, very dry and like picking up a piece of burned wood from the campfire from last night, and then licking it. This style I used to pick up in the previous sample, but instead, it's now here. Still not my preferred style. With water the smell stays the same, but drinkability turns a sweeter leaf. But it remains a sulphury beast for the masochist corner of the whisky lovers spectrum.

Conclusion: Try before you buy if you are sensitive for sulphur in your glass. It is not a preferred style of mine, so my score reflects that.

Score: 79 points

Disclaimer: from a sample share with my whisky friend, the Dram Delivery Man Daantje.

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