Whisky Review: The Macallan Fine Oak (10 Year)
Whisky Review: The Macallan Fine Oak (10 Year) 84.5/100
Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on July 2010
The Macallan is a single malt Scotch whisky, produced at The Macallan Distillery near Easter Elchies House, at Craigellachie in the Speyside region of Scotland. Originally, The Macallan whiskies were (primarily) matured in oak seasoned with sherry brought to the distillery from Jerez, Spain. Beginning in 2004, The Macallan introduced a new product, the Fine Oak Series, with whisky matured in seasoned American oak casks, (sherry as well as bourbon), as well as sherry casks from Spain. The Fine Oak Series is quite a departure for The Macallan, and the new whisky has brought rave reviews from some quarters (Jim Murray for example awarded it “Best New Scotch Brand” when it was launched), and dramatic criticism from others who considered the American barrels inferior (a puzzling criticism it seems to me).
I was given a bottle each of The Macallan 10 Year Old Fine Oak and The Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak by J. Wheelock, the Brand Ambassador West for The Macallan, Highland Park, and The Famous Grouse. Mr. Wheelock asked me to do a comparative tasting of the two styles of oak as part of my series of reviews of The Macallan Single Malt Whisky. Both bottles presented to me were 750ml bottles, each bottled for the Canadian market at 40% alcohol by volume. I thought I would begin my analysis with a review of The Macallan 10 Year Old Fine Oak Series:
In The Bottle 5/5
Scottish Whisky producers are miles ahead of their North American counterparts when it comes to presenting their products to the consumer. I love the elegant display boxes which are always full of information about the whisky, where and how it is made, and why this is important. These boxes always add a wonderful ambiance to the occasion of opening the bottle for the first time in front of my guests.
Indeed, one of the tidbits of information on the Macallan 1o Year Old Fine Oak Series box is the confirmation that this single malt is triple cask matured for a minimum of 10 years in a complex combination of oak casks; Spanish oak seasoned with sherry, American oak seasoned with sherry, and American oak seasoned with bourbon.
This should deliver an extremely complex single malt whisky.
In the Glass 9/10
When I pour the Macallan Fine Oak into my glass, the first aroma is that of a nice oak spiced butterscotch with a dollop of treacle. The treacle is not overdone such that this would smell caramelized or burnt, rather it is a steady accent on the butterscotch and spice, thickening them, but also preventing too much sweetness from appearing. As I let the glass decant, an aroma began to form under the butterscotch and treacle that I remember well from my childhood. I used to live on a farm, and in the late summer I would sometimes stand up on a hill beside the barley fields. The hill overlooked a hay meadow which lay beside a lowland pasture with a muddy creek bottom. The smell of ripened barley mingled with the timothy grass and other wild grasses of the hay meadow is apparent in the glass. In the breezes are a few wild flowers, and an ever so faint wisp from the lowland creek far away.
I find it strange that Scotch whisky seems to have the ability to evoke these childhood memories of smell and aroma. I have never been to Scotland yet the whisky reminds me of home.
In the Mouth 50/60
When I was tasting the Macallan 10 year Fine Oak for the first time I had a few friends over to help me. We sat around my table on the deck outside in the early evening and shared our thoughts. I was amazed at how consistent the impressions from the glass were for each of us. Light caramel and sweet honey were mentioned by all. (I noticed a distinct impression of melted vanilla ice cream in later tastings.) Everyone easily picked up a faint but firm whisper of sherry smoke. And when we allowed the whisky to decant we found a light citrus fruit and grapeyness.
There was however a minor distraction. Under all of these wonderful taste impressions is a subtle but firm ‘bark’ flavour that turns slightly bitter in the mouth. It was subtle, but it was nevertheless, an unwelcome distraction.
When an ice-cube was added to the glass the bitterness disappeared, the other flavours melted a little into a kind of praline cream, but some of the wonderful initial flavours were melted too.
In the Throat 12/15
The finish without ice is tinged with that bark-like bitterness. With ice, the finish is creamy smooth but with some of the flavour melted away. If you like a dash of bitter in your drink, the finish without the ice may be wonderful for you; but as for me, I was left hoping to find some of the honey and vanilla ice cream that had disappeared.
The Afterburn 8.5/10
There is so much to like in the Macallan 10 Year Old fine Oak. The spirit is wonderfully complex with subtle rich character. If not for the mildly bitter ending I would have this on my highly recommended list. At my tasting, most of my guests said that they could sip the Scotch neat or on the rocks; but in the end, they all seemed to find a reason to mix it in a cocktail instead.
You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
If you are a strict ‘neat’ or ‘on the rocks’ drinker, I would suggest that rather than an ice-cube; I would mix this Macallan with a few drops of ice-cold water to open the flavour and mute the bitterness. A bit of experimentation is in order, to find the balance peculiar to your particular palate.
If you are as I am, unafraid of the cocktail frontier, them I have a wonderful suggestion for you, The Highland Cooler. I found this recipe a while ago in my handy-dandy cocktail book, 1001 cocktails (Alex Barker Compiler), on page 84. It goes like this:
2 ounces of Highland Scotch
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 – 2 tsp sugar syrup
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Shake the first four ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker
Pour the contents of the shaker including the ice into a chilled tumbler or Collins glass
Complete with Ginger Ale
As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)