It’s no secret that people like to buy liquor at the Duty Free.
We’re not even shocked anymore when even our teetotaler friends whip out their cards for a bottle or two. The price, is usually right, so love it or hate it, travel retail is here to stay.
The Macallan seems to think so too. They’ve launched their new Quest Collection, exclusively for travel retail.
On a Jetplane
One’s reasons for buying booze at the airport can differ; we’re told that people are often just picking up gifts for their friends and family. As the beneficiaries of this generous impulse, we find ourselves disinclined to protest.
Naturally, as gifts, there are a few considerations besides taste. Packaging, for one. While we don’t mind getting a good bottle of whisky in a brown paper bag, we suspect that many others will mind. Quite a fair bit.
The other important factor is the brand name that appears on the bottle. Let’s be perfectly frank – whisky lovers will judge you on the contents, but most others will turn up their noses at an unfamiliar gaelic name. We don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.
Well, on packaging and brand name, its hard to go wrong with The Macallan and its new series. The boxes are gorgeous, and the brand is stamped front and center on them. One can rest easy there.
But what about price and quality?
Quality and Price
We admit that it vexes us when there is a whole separate range of whiskies for travel and one for regular retail. It makes things a lot more confusing for would be buyers, or gets in the way of them and their favourite dram.
On the other hand, travel exclusives do make for good gifts precisely because of their exclusivity. The Quest series’ predecessor, the 1824 range, consisted of four whiskies- the Select Oak, Whisky Maker’s Edition, Estate Reserve and the Oscuro. The last, in particular, was well regarded, and initially quite hard to obtain.
Still, we think that there really should be no difference in how we judge the quality of whisky, whether it’s bought at the local liquor store, supermarket or the airport. A good whisky is a good whisky, after all, and lipstick still does nothing for the attractiveness of a pig. So, does the new set measure up?
Quest (US $60)
The basic expression (which lends its name to the series as a whole) reminds us of the excellent 12 YO double cask, but has hints that suggest a youthful whisky. It was matured in a combination of European ex-sherry, American Oak ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks.
Nose: A spicy one with surprisingly little (though still present) vanilla. There’s warm toast, oak, orange, apricot and lemons, which does sound a lot like a pleasant country breakfast.
Palate: It’s fairly sweet, though not as nuanced as we had hoped. There’s plenty of orange, lemon, dried apricot and vanilla.
Finish: Quite a heavy dose of wood. We consider this to have a “hot” finish.
It’s pleasant and delivers decent value for its asking price, but it’s not a sophisticated whisky. If you’ve got a bit of cash to spare, check out the other whiskies in the range.
Lumina (US $100)
One step up from the Quest is the Lumina, which consists of a combination of American and European ex-sherry casks.
Nose: Quite an unusual combination. We get butter/chiffon cake, but also the green of leaves and capsicum. We get a whiff of citrus and wood spice as well.
Palate: There’s a creaminess to this that gives something to the cake theme. We get some crisp green apples, which eventually lead to ginger, vanilla, and a dash of spices. An apple tart, perhaps?
Finish: Of medium length. There’s a definite abundance of oak and the familiar wood spices. It still has some of the heat of the Quest but proves to be mellower and more pleasant than its cousin.
A good buy- we consider this to be a good step up in value over the Quest, and has a good price-to-quality ratio.
Terra (US $165)
We’re getting into the upmarket range here, and the casks used are all first fill sherries, both American and European.
Nose: There’s definitely a strong scent of toffee, matched by an equally strong aroma of dried raisins and apricot. There is cinnamon, ginger, and a definite woody note. Oddly, we caught a brief whiff of geraniums. We could be wrong about that last part though.
Palate: The nose hinted at the sweetness of the whisky, and it definitely delivers. It is bursting with orange marmalade, raisin and vanilla. It somehow manages to balance the heavier flavours with a medium texture and the freshness of lemon sorbet and green apples.
Finish: The theme continues of spice and oak continues in a medium length finish.
Overall, this is not half bad. We like the nice balance of flavours, which provide a welcome versatility; this should work for both easy drinking and something a little more serious. It is not flawless; the texture could be a little thicker, and the finish a little longer, but we think that this hits the sweet spot of price to value. A whisky that you should be happy to put on your bar counter, and our pick for bang for your buck.
Enigma (US $250)
The pinnacle of the collection was aged only in first-fill, European oak sherry-seasoned butts and hogsheads from a single cooperage in Jerez: Tevesa.
Nose: A heady dose of oak to start. There’s a tinge of cinnamon, apricot and raisin, followed by a tiny salty, nutty aroma. It also has some dark chocolate, cream and wine. A delightful combination of aromas.
Body: Like the nose, it starts with heavy, tannic oak. It moves swiftly into candied orange, apricot and peaches. There’s some warm ginger and a healthy dose of cinnamon.
Finish: Long and lingering. There’s a toasty wood flavour, but it’s sweet, not bitter. The spices are there, of course.
Unlike the three preceding whiskies, this one has a powerful intensity and coats the tongue, thick as honey. It’s complex, multilayered and quite delicious.
We think it’s definitely a cut above the Terra, but not 50% better. It’s a tasty whisky, but we’re actually a little disappointed given its asking price. Buy it if you have the cash.
Summing it all up
Overall, the Quest series is quite a welcome refresh to The Macallan’s travel retail range. We definitely prefer it to the old 1824 series; the new range is more approachable and offers better value for money, in our opinion.
The Terra offers the best value for money, and gets our pick. That said, you won’t be unhappy about picking up any of the four at the Duty Free, whether for yourself or as a gift.