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The Macallan Cask Strength

Whisky Review: The Macallan Cask Strength  84/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on September 5, 2010


Grown on The Macallan Estate (and by special contract off of it) is The Macallan’s own special strain of barley known as Minstrel Barley. This barley is used exclusively by The Macallan Distillery to serve as a proportion of the barley mash from which their whisky is distilled. But, it is not only the barley which makes their whisky unique. The Macallan Distillery also uses special “curiously small” copper stills to distill their whisky. The smaller stills are specially made, and their unique shape in conjunction with their copper construction helps to act as a catalyst to enhance the formation of sweeter esters while at the same time minimizing impurities in the distillation.

However, that is not enough care and attention for this particular distillery. The distillation is carefully monitored and The Macallan whisky will be made from only 16 % of the resulting spirit. This is amongst the smallest percentages of distillation utilization in all of Scottish Whisky. Only the best of the distillation is selected to fill The Macallan Casks. And still, that does not satisfy their desire for ensuring The Macallan is the best possible whisky.

Aging Barrels in The Macallan Warehouse (Photo Courtesy L.J. Wheelock)

The oak casks which ages the whisky have been selected from refill Sherry casks originating in Jerez Spain where they have previously held aged sherry for two years. Only these particular seasoned casks (which must be transported 2000 miles to The Macallan Estate) are considered sufficient to mature The Macallan Sherry Cask Whisky into a rich, complex spirit full of aroma and flavour.

The Macallan Website expands upon this information, and if you are curious I suggest you follow the link I have provided and take a look around. It is definitely one of the nicest and most comprehensive distillery websites I have visited.

Recently, I was given a bottle of the Macallan Cask Strength (Sherry Cask) Single Malt Whisky by Leslie J. Wheelock, the Scotch Brand Ambassador for The Macallan, Highland Park, and Famous Grouse whiskies. His hope was for an unbiased review of the whisky on my website, and it is time to begin.

In the Bottle  5/5

The elegant display box housing the Macallan Cask Strength is full of information about The Macallan Whisky, where and how it is made, and why this is important. The box adds a touch of class and ambiance to the occasion of opening the bottle for the first time. It also protects the spirit from the deleterious effects of light ensuring that when I sample the whisky, it is as close to the distiller’s and blender’s intentions as possible.

The box also contains important information regarding the expected nose, palate and finish of the whisky. When selecting a Single Malt for purchase, this information is very important to help you choose one which will be suitable to your particular palate. I deduce from this box that the whisky should deliver the classic Macallan style with rich sherry notes and strong complexity.

The glass bottle containing the whisky is of the same typical Macallan style which they use for most of their whisky range. It is a slightly wide shouldered whisky bottle topped with a solid high density cork and you can see it pictured to the right.

In the Glass 9/10

I poured a little of The Macallan Cask Strength into a small rocks glass to observe the colour and consistency of the whisky. It has a rich bronze colour with inky red highlights in the glass. Slender legs formed when I tilted the glass and the whisky seems to have a lightly oiled consistency which should be indicative of a medium to long finish.

Upon nosing the glass, smoke-filled sherry notes of raisins and dates present themselves mingling with the sweeter scents of baking spices and cherry chocolate pudding. There is a kind of rum-like accent to the nose of the whisky as the baking spices show evidence of caramelized brown sugar and vanilla.

In the Mouth  50/60

The whisky delivers a wallop of over-proof alcohol goodness and smokey sherry flavours as it enters the mouth.  There is an almost leathery flavour and consistency which makes the whisky seem almost chewable. Spicy oak, dried fruit, cherries, and little pockets of cinnamon danish cookies cascade through the palate. This is an intensely packed flavour bomb. The spirit is a full 59.3 % alcohol by volume and the result is that the flavours and the alcoholic thrust are exaggerated considerably when compared to the 40 % alcohol spirits I am used to. I really like the flavour intensity but it is almost too much…

A few drops of water brings a nice demerara sweetness forward, and I can taste a ribbon of orange peel zest separating itself from the woody oak spice. Chocolate custard and holiday Christmas cake sit at the bottom of flavour profile with brown sugar and smidgens of cinnamon sprinkled lightly on top. The smokey sherry still permeates the whisky but the added water has made everything a little easier to handle. A cube of ice added in my third tasting session brought about an unexpected creaminess which I enjoyed immensely.

In the Throat  12/15

At full strength the burn from the hot oak spice is just a little too intense for my comfort level. Even with a little water added or an ice-cube this is potent stuff. The finish is all chocolate pudding and cherries mixed with fruitcake. I like it a lot, but I found I needed some way to tame the intensity.

The Afterburn  8/10

Each part of the experience of this whisky seems to me like I should have scored it higher. The whisky is rich, complex and full of wonderful flavour nuances. In a side by side blind tasting with other higher rated Single Malt Scotches, I might even find myself choosing this whisky each time. Yet, something causes me to leave the bottle on my shelf, and choose other spirits over this one time after time. An unconscious unsettling feeling or impulse which I cannot deny exists. In the end, I have come to the conclusion that this whisky, if it is possible, is too rich and intense for my everyday palate, it becomes a battle of wills to enjoy it rather than an easy going laid back experience.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Recipe Suggestion

In a rush of joyful experimentalism, I decided I wanted to construct a cocktail which I could enjoy when the winter turns cold. I came up with that and more. This bar drink has the potential to knock the frost out of your joints, while it washes your tonsils down you throat. A bracing cocktail which I call, Winter’s Bane.

Winter’s Bane

1 1/2 oz Macallan Cask Strength
3/4 oz Southern Comfort
tsp Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
2 teaspoons Honey

Stir whisky and honey until smooth
add fresh lime juice
add the Southern Comfort and (if desired) one ice-cube
stir and enjoy responsibly!


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)



7 Responses to “The Macallan Cask Strength”

  1. Greg said

    Thanks for everyone’s perspective – each is educational for a complete noob who just had his first shot Christmas Eve Eve – and quite the memorable experience! Thanks also for the couple drops of water approach – I had heard of this but forgotten. I can say this – I will look forward to the next round…

  2. Sam Chianello said

    I consider the alcohol level to be correct. The difference here is, I enjoy Macallan as a warmed after dinner drink. The intense flavors and alcohol level improve my quality meal experiences.

  3. James A. Kirk said

    This is my favorite Scotch so far. I tend to like the stronger whiskies anyway, and of the Macallan 10 year, 12 year and cask strength, this is the most flavorful. A few drops of water do tame it considerably, but either way it is great.

  4. Matt said

    I bought a bottle of this a couple days ago without having read reviews and just wanting to try something new out. After reading this review I have to agree. I tend to drink my single malts “neat” but this was one that I had to add a heavy splash of water to. It was just too uncomfortable to drink as I would prefer to. Great flavors but the intensity is too much. This will be a bottle that stays in my cabinet for a while and only gets drank occasionally I think.

    Thanks for the great on it!


  5. Michael S said

    Originally cask strength whisky was meant to be diluted to individual tastes. I think – with no great scientific proof – that freshly diluted whisky is more aromatic or fruity than “pre-mixed” bottle strength whisky. Anyhow no one need suffer discomfort if they understand the meaning of a “splash of water”. I have some issues with malts with heavy sherry cask flavors like this Macallan but it sure ain’t boring

    • It is always a debate I have with myself, do I review a Cask Strength offering diluted? In the end I decided to try it various ways and my review is kind of an amalgamated result.

  6. Nice to see an honest review that is not gushing with praise.

    I think the trouble with this single malt is its alcohol level is simply to high. There seems to be a trend in the scotch industry to promote “cask strength” bottlings as something exclusive and special. I avoid such bottlings as they are generally not meant to be drank neat and are simply way too powerful for the palate, the liver and sobriety. Some of these cask strength bottlings will intoxicate you far too quickly, which at least in my case is not the desired outcome.

    Thanks for the review!


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