Whisky Review: The Macallan 18 Years Old (Youngest Whisky Distilled In 1986)

You could say I was born to a different era.  Gone were the days where Macallan exclusively aged their stocks in Jerez sherry casks, casks that were filled with new make made from golden promise barley. 

In a country where a Macallan with an age statement is seen as a product of rarity, for a very long time I was unable to understand the mystique behind Macallan’s proud status as the sherry house. And so I began my look out for old releases and as luck would have it, I was able to source the above whisky earlier this year; the last vintage before Macallan changed the packaging amongst other things, arguably spelling the end of an era for many old Macallan fans as I later gathered.

This particular vintage was crafted in the last century, with the youngest whisky being distilled in 1986. To put that in perspective, the new make came off the stills at least five years before I was even born.  

The populist narrative appears to be that people who seek out these whiskies are nothing but self-serving. To that, and I believe I speak for the 15 other people that attended a wee gathering some months back, I say absolutely.

I suppose it’s easier to perceive the pursuing of whiskies from by-gone era as an act of wankery, but I am afraid that’s rather far from the actual motivation.

To appreciate whisky or even to become a whisky nerd is to be driven by that curiosity to explore and in turn hopefully be rewarded with an experience of tasting a marvellous whisky. And for me personally, the whisky I am writing about is exactly that, and I am glad I was able to share this experience with my friends on that particular evening. For those who were not in attendance, I hope to share this joy with you through the limited words I jolted down on my little Smythson’s notebook.

  

There is an immediate realisation of elegance from the nose, quality European oak driven aromas providing a sensation akin to falling on a bed of velvet. Traces of liquorice and prunes in the background to lift the acidity amidst the richness from a pot of freshly brewed afternoon tea. The smoke is ever so slightly, present alongside that burnt crust of a crème brûlée. Crushed dark cherries with deep mahogany intertwined with one another as a clean, fine dose of oloroso chicly conveys a much lighter tone. The mood is festive with ginger immersed in cinnamon cured syrup and a brush of liquor infused dark chocolate. The nose is simply, very inviting, with flavours working harmoniously together.

An instant gratification forms as the first drop produces this lovely milk chocolate flavoured fudge note with the creaminess silkily unfolding. The gorgeous raisin note is initially kept at its modesty and only channels through the chocolate note. The mouthfeel is sublime as the liquid simply glides through with the optimal viscosity, leaving every tastebud impressed with the jammy note of bouquet fruits. The tannins provide a noticeable bitterness that draws the first act to a close before the oak influence opens the second act; the twists and turns amaze as the spices start to lightly sprinkle and the rather divine poached fruits re-entering the stage.

It’s incredibly moreish and comforting, with cocoa dust finely applied onto the teeth and pear sweetness surfacing from the back of the tongue. It gives a rather lengthy finish even though it’s perhaps a tad on the dry side.

 
I was surprised at how well the sherry came out, considering the casks were only seasoned with Oloroso for two years on average, it really speaks for the quality of sherry back in the days.

43% seems to be the ideal strength this whisky ought to sit at, and it’s again proof that a whisky doesn’t need to be at cask strength to deliver a sublime performance; in fact it may well be the case that at a higher strength, the balance this dram keeps so well will simply just get distorted. Everything is finely tuned, it almost feels like some things were taken off the table to make for a better picture.

Now I don’t expect everyone to understand the significance of this, some people would prefer a glass of cocktail they fix up at the home bar and others would rather grab whatever is available at the shops these days. That’s perfectly fine, there are plenty of good offerings, we currently live in an age of plenty and there are certainly a lot of more affordable options out there if the goal is to have a good time.

Of course, by forgoing this perhaps financially ill-advised obsession it does mean you are going to miss out on attaining certain experiences, and sometimes there are marvellous ones that makes you wonder “what if?”, provided that you actually wonder about this sort of things. If you are someone that don’t particularly care for whiskies, that’s okay too; it just means you have just read a meaningless article and you are probably thinking the author is quite wanky. I apologise for that. I will not apologise however for wearing tweeds.

Has whisky become too serious? I’d argue that it has always been serious – at least for those who take it seriously, and they are rewarded accordingly. 

The search of excellence continues..

☆☆

Nicholas