Macallan, one of Scotland’s most hallowed brands of single malt has been re-introduced into the Indian market. When Mark Shields from the Edrington Group (brand owners of The Macallan) told me they have recently launched a brand of blended malt called the Naked Grouse, I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised that Scotch brands were making ever-new attempts to reach out to younger audiences.
Fans of single malt understand Macallan is known for its extensive use of sherry casks for the maturation of their whiskies. Apparently, a large majority of these casks imported into Scotland are exclusively for The Macallan. Definitely not a cheap exercise, given that a sherry cask costs several times a bourbon cask does.
Quite like writer T.E. Lawrence and his autobiographical account, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Macallan, too, has its Six Pillars. It comes as no surprise that one of the pillars is the exceptional care taken by the brand to mature its whiskies in a range of casks, including American and Spanish oak sherry, as well as bourbon casks. Most of the Macallan range spends time in at least two of these casks, if not all three. And as we know, whisky, when it emerges from the still, like a newborn baby, is colourless and possesses little of the aromas and taste with which we normally associate Scotch whisky. For it’s the cask that lends complexity to the whisky through the wood, as well as the liquid which has previously spent time in it. More commonly this is bourbon, more rarely sherry.
Our journey to the heart of the Macallan begins with, appropriately enough, a taste of dry Oloroso sherry. Our first whisky is the Macallan double cask 12-Year-Old, a whisky that is exclusively sherry seasoned. The first of the two casks are made from American oak, which is shipped to Spain where the casks are made, seasoned with sherry then shipped to Speyside in Scotland, where they spend 12 years in harmonious service to the whisky. This liquid in them is combined with whisky from a 2nd cask that is made from the finest European oak, also sherry seasoned. I don’t have to be a connoisseur to identify the parallels between the sherry we tasted earlier and the whisky we taste now.
Keith Nair, our young and amiable host for the evening, and a relationship manager for the Edrington Group, communicates another of the Six Pillars. The curiously small stills, he claims, are the smallest in Speyside. Their unique size and shape ensures that the ‘new make spirit’ spends maximum time in contact with the copper of the still, helping to create a rich, full bodied flavour.
Our 2nd and last whisky of the evening is the Macallan 15-Year-Old, a Triple Cask-matured whisky that adds an ex-bourbon American oak cask to the mix. Against the light, the impact of the extra three years is clearly visible in the 12 and 15YO with the 15YO having a darker hue. Both taste sublime though, and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite!