Standing listening last night to The Macallan’s brand ambassador, Joy Elliot, who was conducting a tasting of the new 1824 Series at the Whisky Shop in London’s Piccadilly, I could not resist a feeling of déjà vu.
The new Macallan single malt scotch whiskies extol the virtues of sherry oak barrels and only natural colour. Fine. Nothing wrong with that. We reported on the new series back in September when The Macallan Gold, the first in the range, was unveiled. Last night Joy led us through Amber, RRP: £45, Sienna (£75) and Ruby (£120).
Most industry observers would say the crucial point about this new series is there is no age statement, normally a must for a successful single malt. But, as we all know, there are increasing concerns about meeting demand, particularly from the likes of China and India eventually, while laying down stocks for long-term ageing.
Pernod Ricard/Chivas Brothers have recently launched The Glenlivet Alpha which again has no age statement. The smokescreen there has been a massive PR exercise in building social networking, tweeting about the taste and how it has been made.
So, to get round the absence-of-age-statement ‘elephant in the room’, the Edrington team are going gung-ho for extolling the importance and quality of the oak barrels, it sources from the US and Spain and then conditions and ages them in Jerez with Oloroso sherry.
The casks are crucial to the colour and flavour of the whiskies. Hence the lighter expressions, Gold and Amber are blends from first-fill and refill barrels while Sienna and Ruby are first-fill only to get the most pronounced colour imparted and more intense notes. Top-of-the-range Ruby in 100% Spanish oak to get the maximum expression from the wood.
But isn’t what the Macallan team doing basically with the 1824 Series the same as most of what the Scotch whisky industry doing? I have stood or sat through enough tastings to think that what Macallan whisky maker, Bob Dalgarno has done is not unique.
Happy to accept that Edrington shells out top prices to secure the best oak - £16.4 million on wood alone, according to Elliot, with barrels costing £360 a piece, as opposed to £60 for ordinary barrels.
Nevertheless, be in Scotch, Cognac or dark rum, the ageing in wood in a specific place is everything. Otherwise, we just have eaux-de-vie which becomes vodka or gin with a few botanicals thrown in.
Anyway feelings of déjà vu aside, the whiskies are excellent, well balanced and elegant. My favourite? Sienna: smooth, creamy with notes of baked apples, orange zest and spice.