Thursday, May 30, 2013
New releases - The Macallan Amber, Sienna & Ruby
One of the most protracted and eagerly anticipated launches in recent whisky history has reached its conclusion with the full release of The 1824 Series by the iconic Speyside distillery of The Macallan. The first bottling in the series - The Macallan Gold - was launched last Autumn and now the three other expressions have joined it. They are named Amber, Sienna and Ruby.
In a nut shell, The Macallan have created this new range of whiskies based on colour, rather than age. The 1824 Series has been developed by Bob Dalgarno, the Master Whisky Maker at Macallan, and his team. The main ideas behind the concept are to let the wood of the cask, and the colour that it imparts into the whisky, do the talking and that certain colours in whisky relate to certain flavour characteristics.
The new series is replacing the 'age statement' Macallan range, including the 10 years old, 10 years old Fine Oak, 12 years old and 15 years old Fine Oak expressions, in some markets. This has created some negativity towards the brand, especially amongst online commentators. However, The Macallan feel that it is the best way to showcase the current maturing stocks that they have, demonstrate their strong points and release the best whiskies that they can.
The Macallan was founded in 1824 (hence the name of the new range) by Alexander Reid and is located on the Elchies estate, close to the village of Craigellachie, in the Speyside region of Scotland. The distillery was originally called Elchies and sits overlooking the River Spey. The Macallan is currently owned by the Edrington Group and is one of the largest single malt distilleries in Scotland, with an annual production capacity of eight million litres. The range of single malts is extensive and is third in total world sales for single malt behind only Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.
All of the four whiskies in The 1824 Series have been constructed from ex-sherry cask matured whisky - these include both European and American oak casks, of which there is a mix of first-fill and second-fill casks. These are of differing ages, with the 'average age' increasing as you go through the series. 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.
Last Summer, Matt C was invited to distillery to learn about The 1824 Series - for more details about the concept and the whiskies, please click here.
Our tasting notes
The Gold is constructed from both first and second fill ex-sherry casks and is designed as the 'entry level' whisky of the new range. It is bottled at 40% ABV and has a recommended retail price of £40 and has already gained numerous plaudits following its release last year (including making our Top 10 Whiskies of 2012 list). To read our previous review and tasting notes of Gold - click here.
The Amber is made from a combination of European and American oak casks, most of which are re-fill sherry puncheons and butts. It has a higher percentage of first fill casks than the Gold. It is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost around the £50 mark.
The nose has an immediate hit of raisins, sultanas and aromatic bitter orange. These are quickly joined by fresh green pear and apple, along with delicious honey, vanilla, brown sugar and cinnamon notes. The palate is soft and gentle with plenty of creamy vanilla and orange zest. Underneath are juicy dried fruits, especially sultanas, plus brown sugar and caramel notes. The green fruit has a more stewed edge to it now and the combination with cinnamon and nutmeg spice is reminiscent of baked apples. The finish is long with bittersweet cereals mixing with honey, vanilla and drying wood spices.
The Sienna is made from older stock than Gold and Amber, and from a narrower range of casks. All are first fill ex-sherry casks, although there is a mix of American and European oak. This expression is bottled at the slightly higher strength of 43% ABV and should cost around £75 per bottle.
The colour is noticeably darker than the two previous expressions and the nose has a lovely mix of dried tropical fruits (think of pineapple and mango especially), raisins, sultanas and demerara sugar. Some spiced orange gives it a bitter twist and this is joined by vanilla, caramel, golden syrup and cinnamon bark. The palate begins with the same spiced bitter orange note and becomes sweet with delicious juicy dried fruits (sultanas and raisins again), golden syrup and mango. Some late ginger and cinnamon add depth and complexity. The finish has good balance - a sensuous mix of wood spices, juicy dried fruits, orange oil and butterscotch.
The Ruby is designed to be the premium offering in the new range and is constructed from 100% first fill Spanish oak ex-sherry casks. These are from a very tight range of casks and like the Sienna, it is bottled at 43% ABV. It is placed in the £120-130 price point.
This is by far the darkest of all of the whiskies both in colour and character. The nose is rich, sweet and fruity - think of dark dried fruits like prunes, figs and dates, along with rum soaked raisins. There are also aromas of butterscotch, burnt orange and a hint of treacle. The palate is rich, velvety and sweet with plenty of muscovado sugar and dried fruit evident. This is tempered by notes of burnt caramel, warm woody spices (especially cinnamon bark), cocoa powder and a hint of coffee. The finish is long and has a luscious mix of dark dried fruits (think of raisins in particular), bitter orange and drying wood and cinnamon-like spices.
What's the verdict?
All four of us attended the official launch in London earlier this week - for pictures of this please visit our Facebook page - and the general consensus was that The 1824 Series is a good, solid and well made new range of whiskies. What were our favourites? Karen went for the Gold, Matt C and Matt T for the Sienna and Chris for the Ruby.
It is easy to get involved in the 'no age statement' debate, but each of the whiskies tastes good and that is the most important thing. There is something for most people also - the Gold and Amber are on the lighter fresher side, the Sienna is richer and sweeter and more 'traditionally Macallan', while the Ruby is the dark broody and even richer one.