The Macallan (18 year)

Note: This review was written in 2011 back when Macallan 18 was a bit above $120. Now, it’s $240. While the tasting below is accurate, I do not believe that Macallan 18 is worth $240 a bottle. At a stretch, I would pay $150 in 2016 prices… and mostly only for nostalgia’s sake. Therefore, take the below with a grain of salt.

The Macallan 18 lies at the intersection of two worlds. On one hand it remains the staple of luxury hotel bars, CEO offices, and corporate Christmas gifts. Drinking it has become something of a status symbol. When Jessica Simpson ordered a glass of The Macallan 18 at a restaurant in L.A. (over ice.. gah!) it made headlines (not, you know, USA Today, but bear with me here). If a big-time corporate CEO doesn’t know much about scotch but needs to impress foreign investors, chances are he pours either The Macallan 18 or Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Usually when a product attains this type of status with “the public”, it becomes persona non grata with the anoraks, geeks, and connoisseurs that make up the rest of the industry. Not so with The Macallan 18. A consistent level of quality combined with a popular (if older) style of cask aging – all sherry, all the way – make this dram a standard favorite among even the whisky elite. At WhiskyFest last week, The Macallan table was as busy as ever – they were pouring the 18.

The only complaint most experts have about The Macallan is that their incredible level of production – 8 million liters of alcohol annually – implies a corporate culture of mass-production. When “efficiency” begins to trump “quality” in the boardroom, customers suffer. Whether that’s the case at Edrington or not, The Macallan 18 continues to impress.

I split this bottle with a friend – purchased in July of 2011, it comes from one of the more recent batches. I remember having a glass from a previous batch early in my whisky education and being blown away by the smoothness and the dark, leathery complexity. Today’s Macallan 18 is perhaps a little brighter, a little sweeter, and just as good.

Nose: Sherry all the way. The fruit here is bright and juicy: ripe red raspberries, strawberry preserves, quince paste on toasted wheat bread, some oaky caramel and hot drawn butter. It’s a beautiful, silky nose with pristine sherry character and perfectly aged malt. A few drops of water makes it seem younger, bringing a little candy apple and fruit punch.

Palate: Oaky upfront, furniture varnish, a little cherrywood peeking through. Unbelievably smooth on the tongue, with barely any burn. Mouthfeel is unctuous and medium-thick. Jams and preserves dominate, dried figs, milk chocolate-dipped dried apricots. A little water dulls the brighter notes, muddying the clarity of the flavors somewhat.

Finish: Medium-long, with a bit of cigar tobacco, cocoa nibs, dried cranberries, and a last eddy of woodiness.

Overall: The beauty of this is in the nose. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect sherry-matured nose: the malt integrates flawlessly with the equally flawless sherry notes. Nothing is out of place or weighted too heavily. No leaning towards the rancid fruit, nor any suggestion of oak saturation. In the mouth, the quality is evident, but the number of detectable flavors is limited. The finish, while capable, doesn’t reveal anything unexpected. Truly a classic dram, which continues to be excellent. I suggest skipping the water – this whisky doesn’t need it.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

The Macallan is big. Real big. Prized by collectors, consumed all over the world, The Macallan is a marketing powerhouse, with a very wide range of single-malt expressions targeting local tastes in every major market. Distilling almost continuously since 1824 when Scotland first legalized the production of spirits, The Macallan releases “replicas” of its older bottlings and also continuously experiments with new finishes. With global whisky tastes evolving away from the classic “all Sherry, all the time” style, The Macallan is battling its image as a Sherry Monster by releasing a “Fine Oak” range that focuses on the wood influence, and using a lower proportion of Sherry aging. You can always rely on a flagship Macallan to display big sherry notes of dark fruit, raisins, and spice.
The Macallan (18 year)
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $240-$260
Acquired: (Bottle): Kappy's Fine Wine & Spirits, Peabody MA. $140 in 2011.

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  • Scotch is a rarity for me but this is one of the better of the widely available single malt scotches I have tried. Very smooth, hints of oak and sherry with a subtle but distinctive peaty finish. Don’t even think about corrupting this fine elixir with ice, soda or water. Neat only, and preferrably a double or else save your money and stick with light beer and Jack Daniels.

  • A very smooth scotch, beautiful color and density. Im enjoying it together with a Cohiba Robusto as we speak.

    It was a gift from a very good friend of mine. I drink JW Blue and Chivas, but this one takes the cake.

    A 5/5 star one for me.

  • Johnnie Walker blue? lol that stuff is joke. First its blended & second it claims to range from 40-60 years. You can pick up a bottle for $200 and less. For something that old and cheap, its exactly what you would expect…. cheap knock off Scotch. I did mention its blended right? Ugh

    • @Ryan, It’s actually “blended malt”, which means no grain whisky. It’s a vatting of many different single malts. I’ve never had JW Blue, but every review online says it’s overpriced. It targets a very specific market: People who want to drink expensive whisky, but who don’t want to do the research or personal experimentation that it takes to find which expensive whisky is good (ie. worth the money). I wouldn’t knock JW Blue simply because of its status as a blended malt, but rather because of its commercialism and price.

      • No it isn’t. Green is the blended malt, red, black, double black, gold, and blue are all blended with grain whisky in them.

    • I like to mix mine with Mt. Lightning or a really good grocery store root beer. Always loved the sweet and earthy blend of these two fine beverages. I am always afraid of a Scotch snob who isn’t willing step out their comfort zone or mix it with a blue cream soda anyway.

  • I don’t think Blue Label is a blended malt – Green Label is (and frankly it’s my favorite of the lot – never tried Blue though). But anyway, pretty sure Blue Label is a blend, including grain whisky. Not saying it’s bad, just not a blended malt.

    • Troy, thanks for the correction – you’re correct, JW Blue does contain grain whisky, and is thus a blended scotch, not a blended malt. My bad! I always get those JW labels mixed up. 😉

      Green label is their only blended malt product.

  • Your exclamation (gah!) about pooring Scotch over ice is in fact snobbish, if I may say so. There’s nothing wrong with having a cooled glass of Scotch with something to “cut” the alcohol. I understand those who wouldn’t but McCallan themselves sell an Ice Ball maker (at a hefty price) and the glass it fits over which they poor their nectar, in order to have a cold sip with less dilution. I love it that way.

    • @Rye, I tell people, generally, that they should drink their whisky however it brings them the most pleasure – I’m glad you have found the way you like to enjoy it best. That being said, it is true that ice “dulls” or “hides” some of the flavor of whisky, much like it makes ice cream taste less like pure sugar. I always suggest that people try whisky straight, without water or ice, first so that they know what it tastes like, rather than just automatically pouring it over ice because that’s what they do in the movies. If you like it over ice – enjoy it! And don’t let anyone tell you not to.

    • Well, normally that’s the case. But Macallan is a different animal. It is so smooth, not a hint of burn, that dumping ice in there will ruin thr flavor. It’s not a snob thing. It’s an OMG this is so spectacular it doesn’t need ice thing.

      In fact, I think adding ice makes it less smooth – burns more. In any case, I understand where you’re coming from but you need to take Macallan for a spin before you render a verdict of crapping it up with ice. It is truly the touchstone of Scotch whiskey’s for a reason.

      Man, I’m thirsty.

  • What is the best single malt scotch?…

    I’d heard that Macallan 18 was quite spectacular but have never tried it. Now I will. Never knew that Glenfarclas was that close in quality for less money. Thanks so much for the tip! Incidentally, for anyone that wants an intelligent review (and grea…

  • I drink the 18 on a regular basis. Putting this scotch over ice?? Lol… Major waste! Snobbish or not… Get the 12 if you are going to destroy it with ice. You can’t tell the difference anyway over ice.

  • If you get the chance please review the Macallan 1700 series directors edition, if you do i hope you enjoy it as much as i did.

    • I’ve tasted a lot of silnge malt scotch and my observation is that Macallan Whiskey seems to be the most widely appealing silnge malt there is. Would have been curious to see how this whiskey tasting went back in September. I was not aware of it.Thanks for posting.RobScotch Single Malt

  • Got the chance to try a glass of Macallan 18 year at a pub in Monterrey, California and i was impressed but to be honest i preferred the Glenmorangie 18 year old something about it sang to me a better song than the 18 year old Macallan still i also recommend it and might get a bottle for a graduation gift.

  • McCallam is my favorite. Someone gave me a bottle
    Of Johnny Walker Black…. I didnt like it i was
    Surprised at the big difference in the taste of the
    Two!! What makes such a difference?

    • Maxi, there are four major differences between those two scotches. 1) Macallan is a single-malt scotch (only malted barley used), while JW Black is a blended scotch (includes grain whisky made from wheat, unmalted barley, corn, and other grains). 2) Macallan 18 (the review above) is 6 years older, approximately, than the 12 year-old Johnnie Walker Black Label. Six extra years in casks sometimes make a big difference in flavor. 3) Macallan is aged in casks that used to hold sherry, which gives Macallan a lot of fruit flavors, among other characteristics, while only a small portion of JW Black is aged in sherry – the rest is in barrels that use to hold bourbon. Bourbon aging is the most common type of barrel used to age scotch (old sherry barrels are expensive). 4) Johnnie Walker Black Label contains a small amount of peated malt, which gives it a mild smoky flavor. Macallan does not have any peat in it (or so little that you can’t taste it).

  • I am just starting to drink single malts/scotches but was lucky enough to have tried JW Red, Black & Blue, Macallans Sienna 12 & 18, Glenmorangie 25 and Elanta, Nikka Japanese Whisky (Black Barrel & 21) Glenfarclas Highland Malt 25, Legavulan 16, Highland Park 18, Jack Daniels No. 7, The Glenlivet 12, Chivas 16 & 21, Crown Royal, KAVALAN Taiwan Solist single malt, Ardbeg,Glenfiddich 12, Laphroaig 18, Colonel Taylor Small Batch & Elijah Craig Small Batch 12. I can only say Life is Beautiful. My son said that true single malt lovers do not like Macallans, Nikka and most ones as they are too sweet. But he did say the Macallan Ruby is pretty good, better than the one up. His favorite is Leguvalen 16 but my husband said it smell and tasted like cough medicine. My son said that’s peaty. Well to me I would enjoy anything as the most important is the company! Cheers to all.

    • Virginia, I’m not sure I can agree with your son’s theory about Macallan. Serious scotch drinkers like Macallan as much as any other distillery. Macallan has a rich history of producing excellent Sherried scotches, however they are marketed as a premium brand now and thus it costs more which is rubbing a lot of drinkers the wrong way. Older bottles are quickly snatched up at very high prices, too, so the demand for Macallan doesn’t seem to be waning. I don’t know if it’s too sweet, that’s definitely a personal preference. Some of your listings are very good and I drink them as well, but try an older Macallan 25 one day and you’ll be in for a very special treat. The same holds true for the older Macallan 18s and even their cask strength releases.

  • I sat here and read all the comments and must confess I am disappointed. Everyone is slamming all the other peoples’ preferences and that theirs is best. Adding ice is terrible, or water, why? Just expand on the virtues of the nectar you prefer and accept that others might enjoy something different–OMG!! Is that possible? Remember, this is why there are so many choices. Mine personally? I’m not saying, I might get beat up.

  • My favorite is Glenfiddich 21 year. You can usually find a bottle around $200 (even though they claim it should retail at like 380 or something like that.)

  • Paul again – A liquor store in my area has a big selection of scotch, but they must have very little turnover, at least in the scotch section, because they have some old bottles in their. I found 3 bottles of Macallan 18 in the old packaging that were distilled in 1986, same price as the current bottlings. What do you think, I am thinking of picking up a few of them, or should I purchase the newest bottles from another store. Some online sights have 1986 vintages of the 18 selling for $300 and up. The also have several old packaged bottles of the cask strength mac.

    • Hi Paul. My personal feeling is that the current price of Macallan 18 is too high, and I stopped buying it when it exceeded $120 per bottle. However, Mac 18 bottled that far back is likely to be a lot better than this year’s bottles, because Macallan is struggling to keep up supply of the 18-year (and is in fact dropping the age statement, presumably so they can mix in younger stock). I would conjecture that today’s Mac 18 bottles contain 18 year-old stock that would have been sold off due to Quality Control issues a few years ago, making the overall quality lower. That’s conjecture. SO is Mac 18 worth what they charge? Not to me. Is older Mac 18 likely to be a better whisky? I believe so. It’s up to you to decide if the price is worth it.

      • Heads up: Mac 18 is not losing its age statement. The only Macs losing their age statement are the 12 to 17 years, substituting the color names instead. The Mac 18, thankfully, will retain its 18.

        I had the pleasure of tasting this while on a business trip to CA on someone else’s tab. Ordered a second glass after the meal just to make sure I could remember the taste as it would be highly unlikely I’d ever buy myself a bottle (especially at $200!!!). What a dream of a dram. Since then I’ve looked and looked and looked for something similar at a lower cost; no luck (insert sad face). Any suggestions? I’m looking for that super sherry, smooth, deep, velvety texture experience. However, am I holding on to the idea of what it was, or am I remembering the real thing? That makes me hesitate to buy a bottle along with the aforementioned price.

        • Stilldaddy, the closest I can find to Mac 18 is Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve ($$$), Glengoyne 17, and GlenDronach 18. Neither of the latter two have the “velvet” texture that you mention, alas, but they are both deeply sherried and it shows. No doubt there is a Mac 18 replacement in the 20+ age range among the various sherried Speysiders, but I don’t have much experience with those. You could also try Aberlour 18 and the sherried Edradours.

  • This is my husbands favorite but I can’t buy it anymore…it’s just not available at the liquor stores where we live. He has a special birthday coming up in October and I would like to get him something that is comparable (or even better) Any suggestions? I’ve looked a the Ruby one but I’m not a scotch drinker, so I I don’t know what to buy?

    • Hi Leslie,
      The Ruby is the replacement for Macallan 18 – it no longer has the age statement. I’ve never tried it, so I can’t comment on it, but I’m guessing Macallan went to a lot of effort to replicate the flavor and quality of the 18-year when making the Ruby. Other good options are “The Balvenie 21: PortWood” which is about the same price – it’s finished in port casks instead of sherry casks. Also, The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve (if it’s still available) is excellent, and is similar to Macallan 18 in terms of quality and sherry flavor (it’s also a good choice for a cigar smoker). GlenDronach 18 and GlenGoyne 17 are not quite as good as Macallan 18, but they’re much (much) cheaper, and both have similar sherry character.

      • I said this above, but hadn’t seen this until later. The Ruby is not replacing the 18 year old. The 1824 Series (not to be confused, though it will be, with the 1824 Collection) is replacing everything in the 10 to 17 year range. Above that, the age statements remain.

  • I just got into single malts a couple of years ago when a golfing friend wanted to buy me a birthday drink at our golf club. The “best” and most expensive, behind the bar was a “Mac18”. It was like velvet on the back of my throat; and of course I drank it straight up. Perhaps I was influenced by the price (expensive=best), but I loved it.

    Since then I have had a few other single malts, but my limited taste buds left me with no real comparison. I plan to have a little taste “comparison” with a scotch drinking neighbor soon.

  • Nathan. We need your help. Recently while on a scotch hunt with my friend on his birthday, we found two bottles of Macallan 18 & an Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 28. The Macallan was bottled in 1988 & apparently been sitting on the upper shelf for 8-9 years. We opened it this day & the cork crumbled into tiny pieces, so we decantered the bottle & sampled a couple of dram vs a 1996 bottled version. What we need to know is, what can we do about the other bottle, should he lay the bottle down for a few minutes to try & moisten the cork. Same concerns regarding the Aberlour Batch 28.

    • Hi Greg, That’s a tough one. If it were my bottle, I would (carefully) pop the cork and replace it with one from another bottle (I keep a pile of whisky corks around, just in case). If, however, I wanted to keep it for awhile or sell it eventually, I would wrap the top of the bottle in plastic wrap (preferably the heavy-duty kind) and tape it very tightly in place (without getting tape on the label or glass, which would tear it or leave glue residue when removed). Someone actually sells bottle wrap for this purpose, but I think it’s pricey and probably not much different than plastic wrap + tape. Unlike wine, you don’t want to “wet” the cork with whisky, because the alcohol will actually eat the cork away instead of keeping it swelled with moisture.

      • Have you been able to try a sample of the Ruby yet? Every time I walk into my local LCBO ( grrrrrrr) I pick up a bottle to buy and always put it down for something else. I think I may pick up a Glenlivet XXV instead. Almost the same price.

  • So I have always wanted to pick up a bottle as I love the 12 year, and have had the 18 before. I always do a search for scotch deals at my local total wine and saw they are selling for $230. I knew I had seen these at my local shop for $159.99. I went straight there after work and picked up the only two bottles.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find out not only did I save a good amount of money, but they were also 1995 vintage.


    I’m not sure if I’ll get to review this vintage because I may not open them for a very long time, if ever. The 18 year I did try at a bar had a resemblance to the 12 year. It was excellent, especially at $13 a shot (not a typo, I just run well with this scotch apparently)

      • No, I meant my local Total Wine has the post ‘year dated’ 18 year at $230, not $130. I’m not sure what part you thought should be $130 here. If you meant a bottle of 1995 18 year for $130, point me in the direction!!!

  • I’ve been looking for the Macallan 18 in the mini 50ml bottles so I could give it a try without paying the 200+ price for the whole 750ml bottle. I typically drink the 12-year Macallan which I greatly enjoy and I’ve heard the 18 is very similar but much smoother and less burn. Also, it’s what James Bond drank in his flat in the recent movie “SPECTRE” so you have some spy flair there too. Next time I see it on the shelf at my local bar, I’ll give it a shot. I just worry that once I try it, I’ll never want to go back to the 12-year again. And the 18-year can be an expensive treat to have on a regular basis!

  • Nice review! What whiskies would you say are closest to taste to the Macallan 18? it is really hard to get in the area of the world I live.

    • Anything heavily sherried qualifies. Dalmore Cigar Malt is probably the closest, but is very pricey. I find GlenDronach to be in the same vein, as are the older Aberlours. Mortlach is good, but even pricier and harder to find. Ditto for Edradour. You could look at Glengoyne or Tamdhu, which are fruity but taste more “fresh” than “aged”. You could also look for older Glenfarclas (17 for example), which isn’t really similar to Macallan, but is heavily sherried… it comes across much drier though. For a “cheap” alternative, look at Glenmorangie Lasanta.