When you think of Macallan whisky, the last thing that comes to mind is a peated whisky. Yet, this is what Macallan presented in the Rare Cask Black. This isn’t Macallan whisky that was aged in peated casks, like Balvenie did with the Islay Cask some time back, rather truly peated Macallan spirit aged in mostly first fill sherry seasoned casks made of both European and American oak.
There’s quite a bit of conjecture as to the origins of this whisky, with rumors attributed to the Macallan representative introducing the whisky in New York saying that it includes whisky that was distilled shortly after World War II, when Macallan made peated whisky due to a coal shortage. Also I found a passage by Kristiane Sherry at The Spirits Business saying “While the expression carries no age statement, The Macallan peated its malt for a short window after World War Two due to the high cost of coal – a clean fuel. It is likely at least some of the peated liquid in the expression dates back to this time”. Despite spending the better part of an evening on it, I have not been able to find any other source, especially not an official Edrington source, confirming anything about the “likelihood” of these much older whiskies in this expression, and will have to view this assertion as an assumption made by Ms. Sherry. You’ll find other news sources, with no mention of the likelyhood of WWII era whisky in the bottle here and here. While the peated whiskies of the late 1940s are – of course – factual, I highly doubt any of that stock made it into a $450 travel retail expression. In fact, getting hold of a 1946 Macallan would set you back a tidy £10,000 here. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be blending that into a global travel retail expression. We’re told that there are 100 casks of this liquid, and whether they are the product of a batch of peated malt sent to Macallan instead of Highland Park, as lore has it, or a well planned one off experiment by Bob Dalgarno (the version I’d put my money on, unless you want to assume a shipment of peated malt came by mistake and Bob decided to keep it for the experiment. Either way, I can’t go so far as to think that peated malt went through quality control upon acceptance, grinding, mashing, fermentation and distillation by mistake and then having exactly 100 casks set aside…come on….), we are told in the official PR that no further batches are planned.
Bob Delgarno is quoted as saying “Rare Cask Black tells a different story about our spirit and casks, but more than that it tells a story of rarity. Smoky Macallan is rare, there is very little in existence and once used these casks will be no more. This is a whisky which is out of character for The Macallan due to the subtle seam of smoke on the palate, but it still bears the essential Macallan DNA.” By the way, the smoke is anything but subtle on the palate…this is a peated whisky!
I will say that the presentation is impressive. This is a mass produced bottle, not a hand made decanter, yet is very heavy truly black glass (no way of knowing how much is whisky is left in the bottle under normal lighting conditions, so expect the demise of this bottle to creep up you) and the cork is held by a heavy metal gold colored top with an engraving of Easter Elchies House on the top that I wouldn’t want falling on my bare foot.
In a blind tasting, not even thinking Macallan would put up a peated dram, I’d be attributing this to a peated Bunnahabhain in sherry (although the both the nose and the palate have some Macallan character on it, so nosing would lead me to Macallan). This choice actually makes sense given the shapes of the Bunnahabhain and Macallan stills, and anybody putting this expression into a blind tasting is nothing less than a true sadist 😉
Macallan Rare Cask Black (48% ABV, NAS, NC)
Appearance: Mahogany, very slow legs forming intermittently off a sturdy and long lasting necklace.
Nose: Almost no peat on the nose other than the faintest whiff of smoke, deep sherry with some of the 12 and 18 sherry oak character you remember as Macallan. Dried fruit galore with dried apricots, and dried apricot roll, sultanas and a hint of a very mild balsamic vinegar. Wood spices and a hint of malt underneath. A bit of water brings out more sherry on the nose, with a hint of vanilla.
Palate: The peat is very pronounced on the palate, but comes only after a very strong sherry sweetness washes over the tongue and with a “Macallaniness” that’s pretty unmistakable. Held on the tongue, wood spices come out with cloves and some white pepper taking the lead. There’s a lot of balance in this dram. The bit of water added shortens the sherry hit on the attack, bringing the peat forth sooner and adding in some maltiness.
Linger: Peat and cinnamon, with a red berry quality to the sweetness that lingers on the tongue. Some sharper spices remaining on the sides of the tongue, with some pepper high in the throat. The whisky imparts a dryness that remains for a pretty long time. Additionally, a note of strong instant coffee with milk taken washing down a bite of milk chocolate is present, with fresh figs showing up in the finish if you let the glass with the added water sit for a few minutes.
This is a very well made and rather complex whisky. It’s a shame Macallan is now in the throes of a fierce anti age statement battle, because I’d love to know more about what’s in that bottle, and think that some transparency would go a long way. I couldn’t even find a statement as to chill filtration on this expression, so I’ll assume it is…
It’s very drinkable and enjoyable, it will work well for both sherry bomb lovers and peat monster devotees, possibly as a good place to meet and share the same dram. It will keep you wondering, though, if it’s a peated sherry bomb or a sherried peat monster?
The main question is, of course, is it worth $450? Even if so, will you even be able to find a bottle?
Thank you Ishai for insisting this bottle be popped open so soon after you got it 🙂
The local Edrington rep hadn’t heard of this expression as late at two weeks ago when I asked him about it. I didn’t know it was going to be travel, so it’s unlikely I’ll get able to get any.
Thanks for the review!