Hard Cask Master

Every so often, the aficionados of fine distilled spirits are surprised by something new and different. They will be delighted with the latest: The Macallan Rare Cask, which its makers describe as ‘decadence redefined.’ And what sets this drop apart from the others?

“It’s ALL about the wood,” says David Cox, Director of Fine and Rare Whiskies at The Macallan, who is doing a tasting tour through Asia.

“It has all been driven by the rapid demand for The Macallan which we cannot satisfy. We simply do not have enough stock,” he says. “We operate on really, really long lead times. What we are making today is based on a forecast of what we think will sell in 12, 15 or 18 years’ time. I remember we did this in 2003 but we had no idea how quickly the Macallan we made then would sell out today.”

“Having said that, many people’s first question is about age. Now if you see an age statement on the label, it tells you how old it is. It does not tell you anything else. So what a whisky without an age statement effectively means for us is that the whisky maker can choose the cask when it is ready. Not when it has reached a particular age.”

“So, some 10-year-old casks may have achieved beautiful maturation character. Why not use it? Well, if you are making a 12-year-old, you can’t! Rare Cask has been put together with a broad range of casks which have all been selected when they have reached a certain state of maturation. And I should tell you the maker has chosen only 256 casks – out of a stock of 250,000. So about one per cent.”

“Because it doesn’t carry an age statement, we can be more flexible and the character of the spirit may change slightly. And that is something we celebrate,” says Cox.

“The age of the whiskies range from the mid 1980s (so nearly 30 years old) to the youngest, which is from 2002 (around 13 years old). But above all, it’s about the wood. It’s about Spanish Oak; it’s about American Oak. Some of them have been matured with dry Oloroso from the start; some have been seasoned with mosto (from the fermenting wines straight after a harvest) and then and then filled with dry Oloroso.”

“There is an enormous number of variables used to create this whisky. “The sherry, though, prepares the cask for its journey to Scotland and our distillery, which was founded in 1824 in the beautiful country on the banks of the River Spey.”

“Here the seasoned wood gives us the colour, the character and all the aromas and flavours for which The Macallan has become so well known. As I said, all the casks are handpicked and most are ‘first-fill’ which means they have never been used for ageing and so impart a richer flavor.”

If you are a single malt aficionado, the tasting notes read: “the nose smacks prominently of sherry and citrus, with pleasant little undertones of cocoa and spice. The palate is also smooth, with notes of raisin, apricot, and vanilla. There are also subtle hints of chocolate, ginger, and clove, which help to offset the sweetness. It finishes on a mellow tone with bits of orange zest, and a subtle smoky flavor that's rare in a highland scotch.”