Kicking It Old Skool

Taste Review #52 – Macallan 10 (Old Style)

No. I am not trying to get down with the kids. I am definitely not a cool person. But today’s review will be a refreshing piece of nostalgia, and we are going to be looking at whisky that many being produced today need to learn from. There may be a bit of Macallan bashing, but this is purely incidental, certainly not intentional and could be equally aimed at many other distilleries.


1990’s Macallan

How many of us remember a time when whisky was good? Hasn’t it always been good? Can it get any better? With Single Malt Whisky having exploded over the past couple of decades, the choice has never been better. However with this taste review, I want to put a concept to you. I want each of you who reads this to think about it to yourselves. And if you can be bothered, I’d appreciate feed back, either in the form of a comment below the article, through facebook, instagram, e-mail or even twitter. If your only means of communicating with me is carrier pigeon, then by all means send it, however I can’t promise that my dog won’t eat it. So if you are General Melchitt and your pigeon is called Speckled George, definitely don’t send it. (Fans of Blackadder Goes Forth will get the reference!)

I’m going to put to you the concept that some whisky is not better than it used to be. I would say it is demonstrably not worse per se, but definitely not as good as it used to be. I would say this has happened and continues to happen due to the large amounts of different editions through different age statements, non-age statements, cask finishing and the lack of decent aged stock available. This is something that all distilleries will suffer from. Each one is trying to obtain, keep or improve its market share.

For a while, I have felt that this applied to Macallan. This is not because I want to rebel against Macallan, as everybody seems to like them and I don’t want to rebel like a stroppy teenager. It’sbecause I feel the focus has moved. While I still believe that they do still make quality whisky, I feel that quality is definitely subdued. This was highlighted to me during a visit to their distillery in October last year.

The building itself is a marvel. You will have never seen a distillery like it, and I doubt if we will ever see one again, certainly not in the near future. Outside it looks more like an extension of Tellytubby land, but inside you can see the architectural masterpiece it is. The tour is good value too, albeit it seems very corporate, although now thinking about it, this is not a mistake. This is deliberate.

The Macallan archive is a wonderful masterpiece, with hundreds of bottles on the soaring shelves. But it is here we start to make our comparisons. One of my bugbears with Macallan is the amount of NAS they are releasing. To look across the way, we see the shop, where many of the products there have no age statements. But as I said before, some of what I am saying about Macallan can be applied to many distilleries, as aged stocks run low.

Macallan has been known as a distillery that exclusively used sherry casks, and one of the six pillars of Macallan is the quality of their casks. However, since 2004, they have been releasing whisky that has been made not just in sherry casks, but now uses Bourbon casks. Not that I have a problem with this as such, as this doesn’t make a bad whisky. However, it just isn’t as good as what has gone before from Macallan in my opinion.


one of my old style Macallan bottles

The tour I took at Macallan also gave us a sample of 12 year old Double Cask which is matured in American and European Oak, and the 15 year old Triple Cask which is also matured in a Bourbon cask. This, as far as I know isn’t the result of re-racking but a mixture of casks in the vatting prior to bottling. I never got a chance to try them at the distillery, as I was driving – and of course we all know drinking and driving is definitely not cool. So I got them to take home.

This fact was something that excited me, as I had a sample of a 10 year old Macallan from the 80’s or 90’s which I had been given by Matteo at the Speyside Whisky Shop, and I really wanted to write a review that compared all three, but the samples from the whisky tour just didn’t give me enough to write an objective review. However, although both drams were quite pleasant there was something that was very obvious to my palate. The old style whisky blasted the other two into outer space. Just no comparison.

Here are my tasting notes for the older whisky.


12 Year old 1990’s Macallan

Region

Speyside

Age

10 years

Strength

40 % abv

Colour

Deep gold

Nose

Proper sherry nose. Dates, plums, raisins, tobacco note, hot chocolate powder. More of a toffee note appears when water added. 

Palate

Instant, intense sweet hit on the arrival, with pretty much every note in the nose also on the palate. 

Finish

Medium to long, gently fades away. Slightly drying in the finish, toffee, dried fruits and a hint of spicy wood.


The dram

Conclusions

What I write now may be paraphrased from another article that I have written elsewhere about Macallan, but I’ll try and keep to the appropriate portions here.

I am indebted to Sorren at ocdwhisky.com for an article he wrote about whisky blogging. One of the things he said was that no whisky manufacturer deliberately makes a bad whisky. I know I might have had a bit of a rant over Jura Journey and Glen Keith, but Sorren is right. It’s just tastes are different, and you can’t like everything. However, that doesn’t mean that distilleries can get away with reduced quality whisky.

Of course, with a shortage of aged stocks, plus a decline in sherry drinkers has probably meant that sourcing quality casks has become harder and certainly more expensive for Scotch whisky producers. I would contend that Macallan has safeguarded the premium casks for their more expensive whiskies, which can cost thousand of pounds. However, they aren’t going to be doing that exclusive for whisky that is in the sub £100 bracket if they can get away with it. Use of Bourbon casks reduces the demand for sherry casks. This is something Macallan has been releasing since 2004. So, my concept I am trying to get you to think about is that have Macallan (or other producers) slowly weaned us off the premium whisky and onto something that is still good, but not as good?

I certainly feel this way, as the old-skool sample that I had was absolutely fantastic, and I almost regret giving my brother-in-law a small sample of the small sample I received. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t have shared, but my brother in law is a good bloke and he very much appreciated his share. Is it a case of what we used to get as a standard 10 year old is now the quality standard for the 18 year old or above? I may have to take the plunge and buy a more expensive bottle to find out, or chum up my more generous Macallan drinking friends.

This is why I feel that with Scotty’s drams it is good to use the samples of older whisky, in particular my bargain basement miniature buying at auction is actually a valid exercise. The ten year old Macallan in the picture above is auctioning for around £300. The 12 year old I’ve seen as high as £450. A smaller sample is good for reminding us what has gone before and gives us a point of reference.

What is your take on this subject?

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

Sorry for the double publishing – there was an error generated that caused the link to display incorrect information. It won’t happen again. Actually it probably will, but I will still be sorry.


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Photo credits

All Photographs author’s own.

2 thoughts on “Kicking It Old Skool

  1. Hi Scotty,

    Delivered from the heart, I suspect, not with the intention to get a free pass to the big `M` unlimited tasting room!
    You have struck a chord with me, as regards my malt whisky of choice – Highland Park. Having been a fan of all things HP for a long time, I too am occasionally disappointed with some of the newer expressions. Thought nothing of the new packaging and the rebranding along the viking theme, but noticed that the 12 year old standard offering was not hitting the spot as it used to do. Possibly just my jaded sensory organs becoming worn out, or as you suggest, a definite loss of the WOW factor (NB not waiting on weather).With the exception of the excellent `Dark Origins`, the NAS examples do not draw me to part with my cash, preferring to acquire older stocks of the standards through the various examples of online auctions. I can`t offer any opinion on the newer age statement offerings, as the retail price has elevated them a step too far. No doubt the cost of using primarily european oak casks for maturation has a major effect on the latest retail price, but I still prefer to enjoy the older expressions in my dotage. This, after all was what endeared the HP brand to the world, I hope that it doesn`t become weakened by the (to me) change of direction.
    Lang may yer lum reek, Scotty,

    Best regards,

    John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think what I discussed is happening industry wide, so it may be unfair to target Edrington brands, but as a brand that prides itself on being ‘premium’ and ‘luxury’, I think there is standards they have to uphold. That’s why my opinion is that the more exclusive produce is seeing the better casks. Once these run out, as a cask may only have a life of 60-70 years, what next?

      Do they limit supply to upkeep quality? It’s a knife edge that I would not like to be on, though I’d expect that I’d fall on the side of the blade that says yes they should. However, that loses market share, and that is not what business is about.

      I am getting to believe that in the whisky industry, brand is becoming more important than the actual whisky – people want to be seen or known to drink a certain thing. Or, there are those who just see whisky as a commodity to flip and make a profit on. It has jaded me a bit, as people are just chasing the next high, and not really realising, like drugs, that they could be in a spiral of ever-diminishing returns, where they lose sight of what was before as their palate is subtly conditioned by some of the pap that is being released. People rave about Penderyn, but the couple of samples I’ve had I wouldn’t even use for cooking whisky. I’ll review some once I get the balls to buy a bottle. Perhaps I just didn’t find the one my palate would enjoy.

      I am still writing my article about Macallan and the Folio 5 debacle, but I managed to sell mine, and I am off the Macallan bus now – name removed from mailing lists. It’s not a bad whisky, but I don’t think it deserves its reputation which is now centred on the spirit few of us can afford to buy and very few can afford to drink.

      I’m starting to believe the Folio 5 release was a marketing masterstroke to perhaps make people drink it and discover £250 Macallan is probably only worth that, and not the 4 fold increase in price some people will pay to a flipper.

      It is a bubble that will eventually burst I feel. The inevitable downturn COVID-19 may well test the business strategies of some of the distilleries that are surviving on cask sales until they can release their own spirit.

      Sorry for the rant – you know what it’s like!

      Kind Regards
      Scotty

      Like

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