Macallan 12 Double Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Macallan | Region: Highland | ABV: 40% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 7.5 | Palate: 7.4 | Finish: 7.3 | Overall Score: 7.4

Review
First up, apologies for the radio silence (for the two people who may have noticed). A lot’s been happening since I got back from Islay last month. Mainly I’m running a 16km obstacle race in December and, thus, have no time to indulge in alcoholic activities. Most of my time has been spent running around my neighbourhood or lifting heavy objects in the gym.

But enough about my fitness regimen. Let’s talk whisky.

Mention Macallan to my group of whisky friends and it causes a minor uproar. Raised voices, gnashing of teeth and foaming at the mouth are just some of the things that happen. And for good reason, mind you.

The last five years have not been kind to the brand thanks to some, in my opinion, heavily flawed product development strategies. Absurdly positioned expressions coupled with NAS on top of silly prices really upset the loyalists. This whole thing with colors (Sienna, Ruby, Gold, etc) was a disaster. After years of preaching that color meant nothing they went out and played right into the hands of the stereotype. Dark whisky is better whisky. Terrible.

Select Oak and Whisky Maker were totally lacklustre. Travel retail meant for the casual drinker with no idea of taste.

This was followed by the Rare Cask release. This is the one that really irked most of my friends.Rare Cask? Shut up already, they said. Pure marketing spin with good PR and a snazzy launch should not detract from the fact that it’s an average whisky begging for much of your hard earned money. I tend to agree.

And so I was without expectation when I poured out a stiff measure of their newest release.

A vatting of European & American sherry oak it’s aimed to sit right in between the Sherry Oak (one type of cask) and Fine Oak range (which used bourbon, European & American sherry). So two casks instead of one or three. This just might be interesting.

I did note there was an age statement on it. Twelve years it said. Not bad, I thought. At least it’s not a bloody NAS.

What’s that? It’s only 50GBP? How the hell did that happen? Why am I not being milked? Surely it must be absolutely terrible and Macallan have realised that. There can’t be any other explanation for that.

And at 40% I was expecting the worst.

Nose: Hmmmmmm. It’s not bad. Quite delicate if you ask me. Light sherry. I like the softness which I think is coming from the American Oak. Honey. Lots of it. But very light. But lots of it. Raisins soaked in the same honey. Sweet lemons. Like a limoncello. Hint of oak. Vanilla. Now some tropical fruits. Mangoes. Touch of while melon. There’s not a whole lot to complain about. So I won’t. 7.5

Palate: Very light bodied. Again extremely sweet. Thanks mainly to the honey. Clove. Lots of it. More than usual. Definitely the European Sherry casks. Oaky. Very juicy now. Granulated white sugar. Late arrival of tropical fruits. Mangoes. Papaya. Touch of melon. And, of course, vanilla. It’s not magnificent but I’m not gagging either. 7.4

Finish: Medium. But then grows in stature. Sweet. Vanilla. Drying. Fruits. 7.3

Overall Comments: Let’s start with the good. Age statement. Good. Price point. Good. Overall experience; satisfactory. This is as adequate a whisky as you can find. It does not demand much from you. And so it expects that you don’t demand much from it either. It’s not the huge disappointment that I was expecting. But then I have seen Macallan scale some mind-boggling heights and this is no where near that. If I was on holiday and I had a bottle of this I would drink it first thing in the morning. And then go find something to challenge my palate.

Overall Score: 7.4

Macallan Rare Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Macallan | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Colour: Old Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
OK so let’s give credit where credit is due. When Macallan do something they do it in style. Have to give them props for that. And they seemed to have pulled out all the stops for the launch of their newest NAS, the Rare Cask.

Set on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab Hotel, in Dubai, is the newly opened bar Gold On 27, which I’m sure you’ve figured out by the name, is pretty lavishly done up in gold. This was to serve as the venue for this rather glitzy affair headlined by the Edrington Group Creative Director Mr Ken Grier.

I managed to sneak five minutes with him during the course of the evening and found Ken to be an instantly likeable chap. And looking at how Macallan is being perceived today in the world I’m confident he’s doing a stellar job.

Which now brings me to, what I consider, a serious problem in the world of whisky today. Stellar marketing to push average products to wide-eyed consumers. Now I’m in marketing as well and have, at times, been guilty of doing the same.

It is, after all, the look that sells. I get it.

But whisky evokes certain emotions that few other products do. It’s constantly being judged across an enormous gamut of subjectiveness. And each opinion is a sum of so many influences.

Which brings me to the moral dilemma I’ve started to face of late. Is something so subjective really bad (or good) just because I like it (or hate it)? I honestly don’t have the answer to that.

Take Dalmore for example. I think Richard Paterson is one of the best marketers of his era. Taking, what I feel is, a mediocre product at best and doing a fantastic job positioning it as an ultra-premium brand. I may not like that whisky but I have seasoned whisky buddies who swear by it. Are they wrong? Am I? Again, I don’t know.

So I feel that this Rare Cask is treading that ever shrinking line between being genuinely good and being wonderfully marketed. Do I think the whisky is good? Sure, it’s not bad. It’s not the magical elixir made from the tears of a thousand angels, mind you, but it’s certainly drinkable.

Is it over-compensating by being packaged in a lovely bottle and experienced at the world’s most prestigious venue? I certainly think so. Is Bob Dalgarno, their esteemed Whisky Maker, under constant pressure to churn out premium expression after expression despite depleting stocks of well aged whiskies just to satisfy both the Marketing and Finance department? You bet he is.

Made from a selection of casks which the official literature liberally describes as being rare, exquisite, never before, never again or exclusive (among other buzz words) and employing a mix of European & American first-fill sherry barrels (not all, mind you) my sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Honey. Vanilla. Grated ginger. Nutmeg. Strong Oloroso sherry. Almonds. Touch of oak. Hint of citrus. Cloves. Red grapes. Green apples. A fair amount of spiciness. There is some masala – the nice kind. Dark chocolate. I like the nose. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t blow me away but that’s fine. I don’t think it was meant to. 22/25

Palate: Medium bodied. A little oily. Plums. Raisins. Those Christmas spices again. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Clove. Chocolate. Dark oranges. Christmas cake or fudge. Almonds. Toasted tobacco. It’s not as good as the nose. I would have preferred a more full bodied approach. 21/25

Finish: Medium. Quite oily. Cinnamon. Bitter chocolate. Could I have done with a bit more? Sure. 21/25

Overall Comments: I was sat with Ken Grier when tasting this so I might be a little biased by his good natured attention towards me as we shared this dram. Forgive me, I’m human after all. Otherwise the tasting camp was divided down the middle. Haters and lovers. Unsurprisingly the haters were part of my whisky club. The lovers people I had just met who were out enjoying an evening of decadent whisky tasting. Which sort of amplifies my point of how insanely subjective this matter is. I think the world would be a better place if the snobs chilled out a bit and the casual drinkers gave their whiskies a little more attention instead.

PS I would also like to ride a pink unicorn that pees only The Macallan 1946.

Rating: 85

Dalwhinnie Winters Gold

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Distillery/Brand: Dalwhinnie | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 21 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 84

Review
Tricks. Tricks. Tricks. Everyone’s up to some trick or the other.

Like this NAS Dalwhinnie for example. Released as a whisky to be consumed totally chilled. Seriously?

I know what chilling a whisky does to it? It kills the nose entirely. Drops a lot of the delicate notes on the palate. And is, in my opinion, not how you should drink whisky. The only one exception I will make is with the Chivas 18. Drop that puppy in a freezer for a couple of months and experience the magic.

Anyway.

I didn’t bother with all this chilling nonsense and chose to taste it at room temperature instead. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Citrus. Lime. Menthol. Ginger. Gingerbread. Honey. Touch of smoke. Hint of oak. Moist apricots. A little underwhelming if you ask me. Some might call it delicate. I like to be a little pretentious. 21/25

Palate: Green apples. Citrus. Touch of herbs. Clove. That minty stuff again. Little spicy thanks to the gingerbread. Malt. It’s not bad if you ask me. Just a bit ho hum. 21/25

Finish: Short. Hint of spice. Raisins. 21/25

Overall Comments: I wish when I had first started drinking whiskies someone had poured me a glass of this. Instead I quaffed half a bottle of Vat 69 in twenty minutes and then ended up fighting for my life on top of the toilet. It would have made for a much easier transition.

And if you ask I think I will try it frozen. Just to see if it makes it any better.

Rating: 84

Ardmore Portwood Finish

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Distillery/Brand: Ardmore | Region: Highland | ABV: 46% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 21 | Taste: 20 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 83

Review
I’ve not had a lot of Ardmore in my lifetime, I’ll be perfectly honest. I’ve tried the entry level Ardmore Traditional Cask which was a good gift to buy given it’s extremely affordable price tag and decent quality.

The other one I’ve had is the Ardmore 25 which is a lovely cask strength whisky. Lots of punch and lots of flavor. Quite impressive.

But that’s the extent of my Ardmore experience.

Then a few days ago I got sent a 50ml sample from their PR/Marketing agency to try and then write about. I know there are some bloggers who refuse samples completely in order to keep their reviews unbiased. Which is fine. I, on the other hand, don’t mind receiving samples since my reviews are going to be unbiased any way.

Like this one.

This Ardmore joins three other expressions released recently, Legacy, Tradition and Triple Wood (the latter two being exclusive to Travel Retail), and sells for around 50GBP. A bit high if you ask me for an entry level with so so flavors.

Matured for 12 years in bourbon and then finished off in European half Port Pipes my sample is from a 50ml bottle and served at 46%

Nose: Smoke. Milk chocolate. Malt. Barley. Leather. Figs. Treacle. Cinnamon. Red apples.. Cigar box. Cowhide. Digestives. Linseed oil. It’s decent. Something is a touch off but not massively. 21/25

Palate: That smoke again. Touch of peat. Leather. Some bitter herbs. Gets super bitter mid-palate and you really have to chew on it to release the other flavors. Turns to a bitter chocolate. Toffee. Vanilla. Dried tea. Some type of varnish. Not what I was expecting really. A mish mash of flavors which, while not disastrous, are not that stellar either. 20/25

Finish: Medium with a drying smoke. 21/25

Overall Comments: What do I think? I think it’s OK. What do you expect from an entry level, right? It’s probably not the easiest to drink but someone who’s not too picky won’t mind this terribly.

Rating: 83

Ben Nevis 10 Year Old

BenNevis 10
Distillery/Brand: Ben Nevis | Region: Highland | ABV: 40% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
To be perfectly honest I don’t really know any thing about Ben Nevis. I didn’t even know it was the highest mountain in all of the British Isles. I didn’t know the distillery was named after it. I didn’t even know it sat at it’s foothills.

I only bought this 10 year old because I thought the label looked cool. In my defense that was over four years ago and that’s more time than it takes Amrut to lose half it’s spirit so that should give you some perspective.

I visited their website and the first thing to greet you is a wildly hilarious video about a Scottish giant named Hector McDram (you can’t make this stuff up) who takes you on a journey through the Western Highlands. If you have ten minutes and a sense of humour I highly encourage watching it.

Other than the 10 year old they also have a smattering of blends under the name Dew of Ben Nevis.

Basically this has been sitting under my radar for a long time and I finally got around to giving it a whirl. There’s not a lot of literature about this expression but it seems like it’s been finished off in European Sherry. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40%

Nose: Toffee. Lots of bourbon. Milk sweets. Walnuts. Vanilla. Fudge. Chocolate. Dates. Green tobacco leaf. Toasted oak. Orange marmalade. Touch of peat. Coffee. Perfectly decent nose. Quite good, in fact. I like being pleasantly surprised because this could have gone either way. 22/25

Palate: Medium bodied. The delivery is a little weak – 40% ? Chocolate. Bourbon. That touch of oak again. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Dates. Nuts. Touch of bitter chocolate. Mild peat. Again, not bad. Decent. 21/25

Finish: Long. Dry. That oak again. Cinnamon. 21/25

Overall Comments: So what do I think? Yeah, why not? I like it. I think if I go back to it I might like it even more. It has something just a touch unusual to give it an edge.

Rating: 85

Macallan Whisky Makers Edition

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Distillery/Brand: The Macallan | Region: Highland | ABV: 42.8% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 86

Review
I drank this whisky for the first time with Mr Bob Dalgarno, Macallans’ famed whisky maker, when my whisky club hosted him not too long ago. He was a wonderful and pleasant guest and the whiskies weren’t too bad either.

The one thing that stuck with me as I interviewed him for my YouTube channel was essentially how hard his job is. To match color, taste and maintain consistency in all his whiskies without any caramel is quite an astounding feat.

Add to the fact that he started his career at Macallan as a warehouseman and then worked his way through every stage of whisky making – mashman, brewer, stillman, warehouse supervisor, operations manager – to finally join the panel which selects casks for bottling in 1994 you can be sure he has my respect.

Known as the Whisky Maker he set about creating this one-off NAS expression exclusively for travel retail. When asked about the curious 42.8% alcohol strength he told me that prior to January 1980 the standard bottling strength used to be 75 Imperial Proof before it was dropped to the current 40%. This is a homage to that era.

Using a combination of European sherry-oak balanced by American sherry & ex-bourbon this whisky has a number of ages in it but apparently none younger than 12. I will take his word on that. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 42.8%

Nose: Quite crisp. The sherry is quite sharp. Hops. A touch malty. Bitter chocolate. Milk chocolate. Hazelnut. Praline. Lots of oak. Gets earthy after a while. Jute bag. Barley. Then fruity. Orange peel. Red apple. Red grapes. Then spicy. Ginger. It’s not a bad nose. It started off nice and crisp but the slight maltiness threw me off a little. This could have been perfect. But it’s not. 22/25

Palate: When I first had a sip of this at our tasting I was floored. It tasted absolutely amazing. However, I’m now convinced that the mood and the setting had a huge part to play in that. Quite thin. Lots of oak. Cinnamon. Peppercorns. Almonds. Hazelnut. Bitter marmalade. Clove. Feels a little raw for some reason. It shouldn’t. But it does. 21/15

Finish: Long. Coffee. And that oak again. 22/25

Overall Comments: I’ll be honest. I liked it a lot better when it was Bob and myself sharing a drink. Not so much right now. Though, I must be honest. My friend and I pretty much killed this bottle while watching a horror movie at his house. Not sure if I liked the whisky too much or if I was just using it to take the edge off.

Probably the latter.

Rating: 86

Dalwhinnie 25 Years

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Distillery/Brand: Dalwhinnie | Region: Highland | ABV: 52.1% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
What fascinates me the most about my hobby is that I will routinely stumble across some facts and information that I did not know about before. Some times it is through a learned friend. But mostly it is through complete accident.

And those accidents normally happen when I’m researching facts about a certain whisky I’ve drunk and want to know more of.

Which is what happened when I sat down to taste the Dalwhinnie 25.

My initial thoughts were that this whisky had at some point come in contact with European sherry. I make it a point not to research the whisky before I drink it so as not to be biased.

My notes contained a few references to sherry, however, upon research I discovered that this Dalwhinnie had been matured exclusively in American Bourbon hogsheads.

Strange, I thought.

But as I pressed on I discovered that those were not ordinary American Hogsheads; they had been rejuvenated. Now I didn’t really know what that meant until I dug a little deeper.

Rejuvenating casks is a pretty recent phenomena (not more than 20 years old) and has been put into practise to combat the scarcity of oak casks from around the world. Essentially rejuvenating casks is done by scraping off the tired wood from the existing staves to bring out new wood from the layers underneath, re-racking them and re-toasting them to create a new surface for the spirit to interact with.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Rejuvenated casks are commonly seasoned with Pajarete which is a colouring and sweetening wine consisting of a Pedro Ximenez reduction. This is done using a process called ‘bain marie’ which is basically a fancy way of saying ‘hot bath’.

This seasoning is done to give the wood a certain sherry-cask profile.

Now I don’t know for sure but I’m pretty certain that this whisky’s profile is the result of this particular treatment. I could be wrong since there is no concrete evidence to support this but I would love to be right.

My sample is from a brand new bottle, distilled in 1987 and bottled in 2012 at a cask strength of 52.1%

Nose: Lovely warm sherry. Chocolate milk. Touch of oak. Sweet honey. Wild berries. Mocha frappuccino. Caramel. Touch of limestone. Lime zest. Something green. Gets sweeter over time. Strawberry jam. I like noses like these. 23/25

Palate: Full bodied. Nice texture. Spices. Sweet chocolate. Coffee. Butterscotch. Caramel. Mocha. Cinnamon. Gets woody. Fudge cake. Berries. Hint of tannins. I think the oak had just about started to give up when this was bottled. Might have been different at 24 years of age instead of 25. Just a thought. 22/25

Finish: Long. Lip smacking. Oily. Cinnamon. Woody. 22/25

Overall comments: This is one of my more long-winded posts but I wanted to touch upon my new learning. It’s always nice when things connect. I like this whisky, though, I think it would have been fabulous had it been bottled a touch younger (I don’t know what the infatuation with multiples of five is) but I guess we’ll never know.

But mostly I will remember this whisky for teaching me something new.

Rating: 89