The famous Macallan distillery have announced the imminent launch of a brand new range of whiskies - The Macallan 1824 Series (pictured, above). There have been rumours about this new range circulating around the whisky blogosphere for the last two months or so, and it seems to have been causing quite a stir amongst our fellow bloggers and whisky fans alike. Macallan is one of the biggest selling single malt whisky brands in the world and comfortably sits in third place for sales, so any new releases are going to be viewed with plenty of interest. But this new range is one with a bit of a difference and I was delighted to be invited to the media launch at the distillery last week.
Macallan was founded in 1824 by Alexander Reid and was originally named as the Elchies distillery, after the estate upon which it was built. The famous Elchies House (pictured, above) dates back to 1700 and now features on the labels of all Macallan single malt bottles. The distillery and surrounding estate are located close to the Speyside village of Craigellachie in Scotland, and overlooks the mighty River Spey. It is currently owned by the Edrington Group and has a large annual production capacity of eight million litres.
Macallan have taken a couple of brave steps with this new range. Firstly all the new whiskies have no age stated on them and are based around colour - this ethos of following colour as the major factor has never really been done by anyone before, let alone by a major player such as Macallan. Secondly in certain markets the new whiskies are replacing the popular younger age statements in their core range.
These age statements are being phased out and the move covers both the classic Sherry Oak and Fine Oak ranges, including everything from 10-17 years old. Therefore in the markets where the 1824 Series is being introduced (such as Africa, Europe, Latin America and the UK), the youngest Macallan that you will be able to buy carrying an age statement will be the 18 years old. All other markets, such as south east Asia, Russia and the USA, will retain the age statement range.
The decision was explained in detail during an engaging session with Macallan's Master Whisky Maker, Bob Dalgarno (pictured, above). Bob, who has worked at Macallan since 1984, started with the fact that one of Macallan's strengths has always been there stringent wood policy for their casks. They were one of the Scotch industry's pioneers in this field and currently invest about £5,000,000 a year in it. They are particularly well known for their use of ex-sherry casks and have historic links with sherry producers in Spain so as to maintain the required quality and quantity. It is this 'strength' that they are showcasing with the new 1824 Series, along with the fact that all of their single malts rely on natural colour from the cask and always have.
Bob explained that it is the wood that will do the talking with this new range and that the colour picked up from the cask drives the character, with age being less important. An age statement can be inhibiting, but with the new range he has more freedom to produce the whiskies that he wants to. He can now use whiskies of different ages and from different casks to create the colour and flavour profile required. He showed us a series of samples that were used to make the four new whiskies and the colour range was wide, especially considering that many were of similar ages. His main point was that every cask matures a whisky in a different way and some young whiskies can be very dark in colour, while some can be lighter but older. In a nut shell - colour does not necessarily represent age.
This was demonstrated with a line up of component whiskies for each of the four new expressions. With the line up for the Gold (the first in the series to be released and pictured, above), Bob explained that the six main component whiskies were of similar ages (within six years of each other) but were markedly different in 'tint' or colour. This was due to the type of wood that the cask was made of, the number of times that it may have been used and the size. Each colour of the six samples related to a specific desired aroma and flavour characteristic. When combined in the correct quantities, the final whisky would have the required 'gold' colouration and exhibit the six desired aroma and flavour characteristics.
All of the four new whiskies in the 1824 Series are constructed from ex-sherry casks - these include both European and American oak casks, of which there is a mix of first-fill and second-fill casks. There are no whiskies from ex-bourbon casks included. To get to the final range, Bob and his team have sampled and colour tested a staggering 30,000 casks. Each has been named to reflect the colour of the final product - Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby. The details of these whiskies are below,
- The Gold (pictured, above) is the first to be released on 10 September and this will initially be for the UK and Canadian markets only, with other selected markets to follow in Spring 2013. It is designed to be the 'entry level' whisky for the new range in these markets. The Gold has been bottled at 40% ABV and will have a recommended retail price of around £35.
- The Amber is designed to be the 'entry level' whisky for all other markets and will be initially released in France in October, followed by the rest of the world in Spring 2013. It has again been bottled at 40% ABV and will retail for approximately €45.
- The Sienna will be available in all markets from Spring 2013 (penciled in for an April release) and is bottled at the slightly higher strength of 43% ABV. It has a recommended retail value of around the £75 mark.
- The Ruby is the premium whisky in the range and is planned for release to all markets at the same time as Sienna (Spring 2013). It is also bottled at the higher strength of 43% ABV and has a provisional retail price of around £120 a bottle.
So what differentiates the four whiskies and their relative prices, other than the colour? The Gold and Amber contain a wider range of casks than the Sienna and Ruby - this includes a wider range of ages and cask type. The range of whiskies used for the two more expensive expressions is tighter and includes some much older whiskies than in the two 'entry level' versions.
Macallan admit that they are taking a calculated risk but feel that it is the best way to showcase the current stocks that they have, demonstrate their strong points and release the best whiskies that they can. The releases are backed up by a significant trade and consumer tasting and education programme which will help. As mentioned at the beginning, this release has already caused a stir as people have speculated as to why Macallan have eradicated age statement whiskies from their core range. Most seem have been negative and made by those fixated on the 'age is everything' or 'older is better'.
Our advice for anyone (Macallan fan, sceptic or otherwise) is to taste the whiskies when you get the opportunity and make you own mind up. Let the whisky do the talking. Whether you agree with the 'colour' ethos or lack of age statement, the fact is that this is a fine range of single malts and one that maintains the high standards of Macallan's previous releases. Our review and tasting notes for Macallan Gold will follow shortly, with notes for the rest of the range following nearer to their release dates.
Pay a visit to our Facebook page for some photos from my visit to Macallan for the launch.