By MELISSA T. CASTRO
One could say that until you have visited a whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands, you have never experienced the true essence of Scotch whisky and the peat soul that lies behind that rich smoky flavor.
But if a jaunt around Scotland is not in your foreseeable future, you can always make do with a glass or two of one of the Highlands’ finest drams, and any pour of The Macallan whisky promises to take you on a sensory trip to it’s home in Speyside.
The company’s intoxicating history began in 1824 when Alexander Reid, a barley farmer and schoolteacher, started distilling his surplus barley to make whisky during the long winter months when there was no active farming. The process of distillation itself had been brought over by Irish priests around 600 A.D.
Reid named his heady beverage after the fertile land on which it grew, using the Gaelic word “Magh,” while also incorporating Saint Fillian, the monk who helped spread Christianity throughout Scotland.
The distillery fared well, and in 1892, Reid was able to sell The Macallan Distillery to one of the giants of Victorian distilling, Roderick Kemp, whose family owned the distillery until 1996, when it was purchased by its current owners Highland Distillers (now Edrington).
The Macallan owes part of its success to its precise whisky-making formula, which goes from inspecting every grain used in its brewing, evaluating every tree used in its barrel-making (yes, there’s an actual job of master of wood), and making sure that all its barrels house either sherry or bourbon for at least two years before even being considered for whisky-making.
Today, Macallan whisky is one of the most coveted single malt brands in the world, and in keeping with its tradition of showcasing excellence, the company has built a series of honorary whisky embassies around the world that help promote Scotland’s national beverage.
Macallan brand director to Mexico Juan Barbaro Jaime explained the essence and spirit of Macallan, serving only the best, forgoing quantity for quality.
So how do you pick the Macallan whisky that’s right for you?
According to Barbaro, if you are new to the whisky game, odds are you started with a blended whisky, so you could find the transition to a single malt rather shocking to the senses, as single malt tends to have sharper notes. If this is the case, he suggested commencing your whisky journey with The Macallan Fine Oak collection 12 Year.
Aged for at least 12 years in a mix of sherry and bourbon oak barrels, this
distillation is characterized by its prominent aromatic notes of wood and fig that subsequently open up to a rich layering of caramel, vanilla and aged leather, with a subtle undertone of balsamic vinegar. On the palate, this concoction explodes with flavor, showcasing hints of suede, allspice, bitter orange, lemon peel and even rosemary.
Barbaro suggested pairing this with a fresh and citric dish to help accentuate the citric notes of this beverage while softening the bitter undertones and alcohol bite of the beverage.
If the 12 year doesn’t quite do it for you and you prefer a richer smokier, spicier whisky, The Macallan Fine Oak collection offers up a 17 Year dram that is richer in color, boasting a warm caramel sitting-by-the-fire hue, and a collection of aromas and flavors that exhibit pepper and nutmeg at the start, transition to a soft earthy vanilla, and finish with a bitter note of leather and apricot.
The 17 Year is not for all and Barbaro recommended pairing it with a meat-heavy dish to help emphasize the nuttiness of the whisky, as well as prolong its earthy flavor. He added that the advantage of this kind of match is that it will also cut down on the bitter aftertaste that the whisky by itself could leave behind.
Stepping away from the Fine Oak collection (and distancing ourselves from bourbon-cured oak barrels), Macallan has invested heavily in special edition whiskeys made in collaboration with an array of masters in their field, be it chefs, perfumers and even glassmakers.
The Macallan Edition No. 3 is the result of one of these partnerships. Created in conjunction with fragrance specialist Roja Dove, this whisky was designed to accentuate and display over 600 scents and aromas, opening up in the same manner as a perfume, showcasing head notes, heart notes and base notes.
Made from a blend of six cask types, this drink offers a heady experience. Staying true to its Macallan heritage. it opens with hints of vanilla and oak. At its heart lie rich notes of chocolate, spice cake, Asian pear and ginger, which linger and blend into a perfect and sweet finish characterized by allspice, candied orange, cinammon, nutmeg and plum. This is truly a whisky to be enjoyed on a quite evening with good company.
Barbaro recommended pairing this whiskey with a goaty cheese or a profiterole to mute the sharper notes of the alcohol while still showcasing its sweet side- But I, for one, don’t recommend this pairing; why mess with perfection?
Lastly, if you are looking for a whisky that stands out from any other on the market, a whisky that is truly memorable, you must sample some of The Macallan’s Rare Cask edition. (I may have nursed my glass of this all evening long.)
With a blending and aging process that is unrivaled by any other whisky on the market, Macallan’s Rare Cask is the product of a handpicked selection of 16 hogshead barrels (significantly smaller than the average vestibule, allowing more contact with the wood), each chosen to help accentuate key notes in this drink.
In the glass, this whisky displays a striking amber and sherry hue. The aroma of this libation is divine, steeped in cherry, lemon rind, nutmeg, banana and ginger, to name a few. One could even say there are subtle hints of ash and wet stone. On the palate, the whiskey offers a climatic experience, with spicecake and vanilla enveloping the senses, followed by macadamia nut, sage, prunes, apricots and even a grassy undertone. It has a long clean crisp finish of chocolate and toasted almonds that leaves you wanting for more. It is, without a doubt, a spirited masterpiece.
Barbaro did halfheartedly encourage drinkers to pair the Rare Cask with some chocolate while not doing so himself. The truth is that this potent potable (at 43 percent alcohol) stands by itself and using anything to alter its taste would be paramount to sacrilege.
It’s true that The Macallan is not renowned for their accessible price tags. The brand truly goes after the luxury market (after all, James Bond — who is eternally linked to the brand — is not known to have cheap taste), but once in a while, it’s important to remember to indulge in the finer things in life, and The Macallan sure knows how to make a fine whisky.