Whilst I didn’t attend any Burn’s suppers last night, it seemed only right and proper to raise a toast to the poet all the same. I’m buying a lot more miniatures and samples these days – least of all, it’s a much more affordable method of exploring older or more prestigious bottlings – so I tucked into my small stash for something suitably worthy of the occasion and pulled out an older bottling of Macallan. It turned out that this seemingly innocuous 12 year old was going to be the most complicated whisky I’d have tried in many a months.
The liquid was distilled in April of 1979 (the month that Apocalypse Now hit cinemas) and bottled by Cadenheads in the May of 1991 making it just barely 12 years of age. The bottle is labelled as Macallan-Glenlivet – the suffix was used until 1980 and bottlings, particularly independent ones, often show this naming distinction on pre-1980 distillations and it is delivered at 55.2% ABV. I can only find reference to this particular bottling in 50ml miniature form – perhaps the content of the barrel were used for another purpose – or, perhaps, Cadenheads really did bottle up a huge amount of these 12 year old minis. If anyone knows the correct answer, please do let me know.
Nose: Wildly earthy and savoury. Mushrooms, leaves, lichen and moss present a truly woodland aroma. Alongside this, there’s nuttiness and a lot of fresh tobacco. The combination of the two makes for a particular musty brew that is rather devoid of sweetness and certainly challenging. A little resting time brings our future nuances – orange peels, orange juice, coffee grounds and treacle – all interesting and now, with a small saccharine injection. But still the underlying earthy shrooms, leaves and mosses are at the heart of this one. The addition of water adds some vegetal/herbal aromas and a touch of cask spicing including ginger.
Taste: Oooft. That’s simply mammoth. A viscous, oily and very full-on arrival delivers oak old, polish, heavy malts and juicy berries. It’s so seriously big that it takes my brain a few seconds to actually process. Addressing this one with all due respect there’s tons of cask here – I can see why Cadenheads bottled this almost as soon as it turned 12 years old age – there’s a load of influence here, and another few years would have been way way too much for this liquid to take. As such, spicing is similar to the arrival – huge: more than a handful of peppercorns and nutmeg – and it’s bitter spice too. But, as you’d hope for with something so booming, it does take water well – indeed, you can be somewhat liberal with your dilution here. This produces a much more creamy texture and reduces the initial, slightly hostile attack. But, it doesn’t change the inherent character of the spirit – there’s not a lot of sweetness here again – oak, leather, polish, and bitter spicing is the order of the day.
Finish: Medium to long and delivering oaky bitter spice. Water reduces the length of the finish, but also its overall sourness.
This Cadenheads Macallan is more than thought-provoking, and as such, it should be seen as a very challenging whisky, both on the palate and on the brain. Despite being bottled at just the right time it’s had contact with a super active cask, and lapped up a lot of spice, making for a bitter (though fairly balanced with it) and sour experience. If you’re looking for richly sherried Macallan you’re in totally the wrong place – this is a very different beast. But, one you get over the truly massive arrival (and find a dilution level that suits your personal preferences), this is highly engrossing stuff.