If you’ve been following us at all, you know we quite like The Macallan’s limited Edition series. With the release of its newest member, we were both excited and somewhat anxious (vicariously of course).
Like many series (The Hobbit movies springs to mind), the third instalment is always in the precarious position of failing to live up to the first two.
So does Edition No.3 match up?
A multitude of possibilities
It’s gotten to a point where we really get excited over the creative, non-age-statemented expressions. We’re all for traditions and age statements, but there’s much to be said for ignoring arbitrary rules and just making good, or at least interesting, products.
While we often assume that small, “indie” distilleries have all the latitude they need to make the whiskies they want, they have one big restriction: raw materials. The large distillers, on the other hand, have vast stores of different whiskies to blend, deep pockets to accept a few experiments gone awry, but a legacy to protect.
On the whole, though, it’s a good time to be taking risks. Over the last few years we’ve enjoyed some really superb drams that we hope move from experiments to regular shelf material. We’re happy with Johnnie Walker on the blended whisky side, and the Black Art, but The Macallan has really captured our imagination.
To those who have come before
Viewed together, the collection starts to resemble a good mystery novel, with threads that tie the trio together; one mystery leading to the next.
The very first of the Edition range, No.1, was a lovesong to the sherried oak casks so crucial to The Macallan. Its claim to fame was by letting us know exactly which casks went into its creation, a large step at the time. No.1 had bold flavours that highlighted the sherried character of the distillery; oak, citrus and dried fruit; a quintessential Macallan, if you will. It did not stray from the traditional character, but that was perhaps the point- it provides a baseline for us to compare to its siblings. And so we do.
Edition No.2, on the other hand, was a different sort of Macallan. While taste is an important attribute for any whisky, this took it up a notch. Instead of gazing inward, it was made in collaboration with The Roca Brothers of the world’s best restaurant(twice!) El Celler de Can Roca. The flavours were almost dessert-like, with a distinctive flavour of ginger, nuts, toffee and chocolate.
No.2 strayed quite far from the No.1, but in a welcome way. We enjoyed it very much, and the whisky-drinking public loved it; it’s almost impossible to get a bottle less than a year after its release. So what about No.3? How does it thicken the plot?
The smell of success
We might taste with our tongues, but we also do it with our nose (though don’t try drinking through your nostril). Anyone who has had a cold would know how much our sense of smell influences our enjoyment of food and drink.
So, unlike its siblings, the new Edition No.3 doesn’t focus on taste, or legacy, but on aroma.
Who better, then, to work on aroma but a perfumer? The newest member of the Edition family was a collaboration between The Macallan and Master Perfumer, Roja Dove.
At first blush, the combination of perfumer and whisky maker might seem odd, but that’s the whole point of experimentation. Dove is as suitable candidate as any; he is at the top of the fragrance industry, and is well known for his indifference to cost; a bottle of his perfumes might easily cost something like £375.00. It might seem pricey, but people pay for them, which says something about his skill.
From a technical standpoint, the casks used in Edition No.3 might resemble that of the Fine Oak series:
- 1st Fill American Oak Hudosa Butts – fresh cut oak, citrus
- 2nd Fill American / European Oak Refill Butts – flowers and vanilla
- 1st Fill European Oak Tevasa Butts / Punchenons – rich fruit cake
- 1st Fill American Oak Bourbon Hogheads – sweet, fresh green apple
- 1st Fill European Oak Tevasa Hogheads – orange, burnished oak
- 1st Fill American Bourbon Barrels – vanilla ice cream, spice
Where Edition No.1 was mostly European Oak casks, and No.2 was almost split down the middle, the third has a distinctive American slant, which should give additional sweetness and vanilla characters. A higher proportion of smaller casks were also used, which means that aromas and flavours are more intense; the whisky has more contact with the wood and absorbs more of the flavours.
The Macallan Edition No.3
Nose: The alcohol level is much higher than normal at 48.3%ABV, which makes it surprisingly hard to nose immediately; best to let it sit. On first whiff, the soft scents of vanilla, flowers (Iris perhaps?) and wood waft into the nose and remain there throughout. We then got a light dusting of crushed nuts and spice- a very intense aroma. Over time, the nuts fade away, leaving cedar, dried apples and heather honey. Finally, we found orange chocolate, raisins, dried apricots, candied mango, cream and sweet raspberries. We are not exaggerating here when we say it’s a whole cavalcade of scents.
Palate: Initially thick. We immediately get fresh flavours of orange, lemons and ripe green apples. It evolves into pears, honey, caramel, then spice and wood developing towards the end. Quite sweet, but we found that the midnotes are a little lighter and less effervescent than we expected, which makes for a balanced, but mild-feeling drink. The wood flavours are also very prominent, perhaps a little too much so. Quite feminine. With the addition of water the lemony citrus flavours take over, making it a little too sharp for us. We suggest not adding any.
Finish: Bittersweet chocolate, oak and a touch of peppermint. It goes on for what seems like forever.
The nose is incredible, plain and simple. There’s so much going on, so much depth and so many layers that it resembles a puzzle. Yet, the aromas don’t fight for attention, melding seamlessly into a whole. We could nose it all day. Flavour wise, No.3 is nothing to blush at, but sadly not exceptional like the nose is. It is pleasant; light and sweet but in this case lacking in heft and depth (perhaps only because we’re comparing it to the nose).
We, too, did an experiment and left a nosing glass of No.3 sitting in our room overnight while we worked. The seductive fragrances were emanating from the glass throughout the evening; a lovely after-dinner companion. The next morning, we took a sip and we found it even more compelling than when we first poured it out of the bottle. The aroma and flavours are mellower, richer and more integrated. The alcohol level seems to have burned off, allowing the delicate notes to shine.
If anything, we found that the whisky improved from exposure to the air! If we gave 10 point ratings, the score would definitely go up at least one mark.
Summing it All Up
We sat here pondering on a summation of our thoughts for a while. On one hand, while we preferred both Edition No.1 and No.2 flavourwise, from a purely objective standpoint, this was not a bad whisky at all. The flavours are well integrated and interesting, if not spectacular like its kin. We were, however, left wondering if we somehow missed the point.
The Macallan Edition No.3 set out to do something special with aromas. From that point of view, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. There is nothing that even comes close- not even from whiskies thrice the price. It is not just about strength of the aromas; the sheer complexity and depth of the fragrances within are astounding. They are excellent both peeled apart layer by layer, or as a harmonious whole. We are utterly convinced that if there is a whisky that could be used as a perfume, this would be it.
There might not be another whisky like this, and it’s not even particularly expensive.
You should get a bottle. You might already be too late.