April 22, 2013
We’ve been seeing a lot of this sort of thing recently from independent bottler Alexander Murray & Co., who also bottled the Trader Joe’s unlabelled Speyside 18 single malt. The oddity here is that Kirkland’s (Costco’s) own-label bottlings of sherry-aged whisky are always Macallan, and they always say so. This one doesn’t. Online speculation states this is proof that it’s not Macallan, and is instead some lesser-known distillery like Mortlach or Longmorn – something your average Costco shopper would pass by. After putting off a purchase for several months and totally missing the bandwagon, I finally caved in to the siren song of old whisky for low price and invested in a bottle.
The first thing that struck me on the label is that it says the whisky was aged in “Oak casks for 20 years and then finished in sherry casks” for an undisclosed amount of time. Since all whisky is aged in oak casks, the first statement isn’t very helpful. It should be clear, though, that this was not aged for 20 years in ex-sherry. That means it likely spent that time in ex-bourbon casks or possibly reconditioned (scraped and re-toasted) barrels. This is a departure from Macallan’s Sherry Oak line (10, 12, 18, and 25 year-old official bottlings), which are aged exclusively in sherry, not just finished in it. If this IS Macallan, then Alexander Murray & Co. did something very un-Macallan to it. Maybe that’s why Macallan doesn’t want their name on it?
Color: Dark amber. Considering the aging process described, that means it’s almost certainly colored.
Nose: Unmistakable sherry. Some bright red fruits – currant – on top of a deep, nutty layer of well-rounded malt. By God, this smells like Macallan. There is a distinct lack of rancio, leather, or other telling characteristics of long-term sherry maturation, which is consistent with the idea that the malt was in ex-bourbon (or perhaps reconditioned refill sherry casks) for the lion’s share of its age. That makes it pointless to compare to Macallan’s official bottling range, so drinkers of The Macallan 18 will be disappointed to find this isn’t “as good”. However, from the nose alone this seems like an excellent malt in its own right. The bright, fresh red fruits pop, and the mature malt provides a nutty and not overly-sweet backdrop.
Palate: On the tame side. The fruit here is dried, and somewhat dusty, and there are hints of tobacco, white pepper, and sappy oak. It just doesn’t go anywhere.
Finish: Medium-short. Fruit jam up front, fading into walnut meats, fruitcake, and fig paste. A tinge of charcoal and faint oak tannin – not quite bitter. This doesn’t linger like a GlenDronach or an OB Macallan, but it is straightforward, pleasant, and inoffensive.
With Water: A few drops of water don’t seem to me to make much difference. At 40%, this doesn’t need any further dilution.
Overall: My personal theory is that because this is a malt matured in non-sherry for 20 years and then finished in sherry, The Macallan did not want to tarnish their brand image by allowing Kirkland to name the distillery on the bottle and confuse drinkers accustomed to Macallan’s all-sherry, all-the-time house style. If you associate old sherried malts with notes of leather, rancio, resin, and concentrated fruit reductions (like I do), you will be hard-pressed to reconcile the flavors here – excellent though they might be – with the phrases “sherry cask” and “aged 20 years” on the bottle. It might be more helpful to think of this as a 20 year-old ex-bourbon Speysider with a top-dressing of sherry finish, à la Glenmorangie’s Lasanta.
Bottom-line: This is 20 year-old malt whisky with no major flaws for under $50. That’s unheard-of, especially in today’s overheated scotch market. If your wallet is hurting from the price hikes on official bottlings of your favorite scotches, and you don’t mind a slight downgrade in quality in your value malts, then I recommend grabbing a bottle while it’s still available. Then grab another one after you’ve tasted it. If this thing had The Macallan name on it, it’d be at least $100. If it was actually official Macallan, it’d be $200. Tasting blind, it’s worth at least $60.
Note: The “Must Try” rating refers to my recommendation that you buy a bottle if you’re on the fence, since you’re not likely to find a way to taste it before buying. It’s certainly worth the price.