Macallan Gold: it’s all in the colour

Easter Elchies House in the snow

So, Macallan have released a new range. The 1824 series. This range will replace Macallan 10, 12, 15 and the Fine Oak range. I have quoted an excerpt from the press release, as I think it contains a couple of nuggets as to why they are doing this. It says: “we have done extensive work with Maxxium and other key market partners and we are looking to meet growing demand for Macallan, which consistently out performs the category”. This suggest to me that demand has really surged (they are number two single malt in the world now) and that they are running to keep up. By removing age statements, this range will allow them to use more of their stocks until they get more aged stock ready. It’s not the biggest surprise I have ever heard. It has been done before by different brands when they have struggled with aged stock.

Cask Quality

I think the other thing it emphasises, which perhaps they may have felt was not the focus of their old range, was the quality and expense of the oak that they use. Edrington Group (Macallan, Highland Park) have one of the most expensive oak policies in the country. Their man in Jerez, George Espie, is spending millions a year on great quality sherry, to pour into casks that have been coopered to Macallan’s specifications, and then use them for their whisky. In all the talk recently by Jim Murray and sulphur destroying the whisky business, perhaps Macallan’s vigilance at every step of the way, is the reason why I can say I have never tried a sulphury Macallan. It suggests they are the example to follow.

Something it shows, which was a bit of an eye opener for me when I visited Macallan recently, is colour. Macallan is, and always has been, all natural colour. Now this astounded me, as I had always been told that a volume product had to use caramel colouring, as otherwise it would change colour batch by batch. Macallan manage it, which suggest to me that plenty of other whisky companies could manage it. If one of the biggest single malt companies can manage to avoid using colouring, why can’t the rest of the industry follow suit?

Colour rant

Why do we whisky geeks obsess with colour? Well, it is a taint on an otherwise very well made product. Everything else in the make up of single malt whisky is quality, except this unfortunate colouring additive. It’s unnecessary and I have yet to find someone who can adequately explain the need for it. I don’t think it influences flavour, but I would rather it wasn’t in there. I really can’t believe that the SWA get very strict regarding experimentation (Compass Box style) but you can add as much colouring as you please.

Having talked a bit about the reasoning behind Macallan’s decision, and had a mini rant at whisky colouring, I now turn my attention to the dram at hand. Macallan Gold, the first of the new series. From the packaging, colour and taste, I think it is the one that will replace Macallan Fine Oak. So let’s taste it:

Macallan Gold
The 1824 Range
Ex Sherry Casks
Buy it here for £35.95

Nose: Tiny hint of honey, a slight fruitiness. It is a  light nose though. Really light. A bit watery.

Palate: A fair whack of spiciness, vanilla, hints of coffee and before you know it we are off the palate and into finish

Finish: A bitterness that is not enjoyable. Like really burnt chocolate.

My thoughts are that it is ok, but not great. It has a slight fruitiness, a fair whack of spiritiness, some almonds, a bit of vanilla and a fair bit of bitterness. The main flaw for me is the bitterness on the finish is over the top. It’s not horrendous, but I am left disappointed and I’ll tell you why; Macallan is supposed to be the Rolls Royce of whisky.

The Rolls Royce of Whisky

When I started in the whisky business, one of the first things I was told was that Rolls Royce, being a mark of quality and class, had an equal in the whisky world and that equal was Macallan. Luxurious and decadent. I don’t get any of the richness or luxuriousness I had hoped I was going to get with the Macallan Gold. I was hoping for something bursting with flavour when I heard they were concentrating on cask quality.

A whisky that comes to mind when thinking about non age statement bottlings with a clear emphasis on cask quality is Aberlour a’bunadh. It’s an explosion of a whisky. So much flavour. And I reckon it’s around 8 or 9 years old. So it can be done with younger whisky. A’bunadh probably needs a bit more balance, but at least it shows it has been matured in very fresh, sherry soaked casks.

I also don’t think Macallan Gold is a good replacement for Macallan 10 or Fine Oak. I tasted it alongside the standard Macallan 10, plus the Macallan Fine Oak 10 and Macallan 10 showed how good Macallan can be, even at the base level. Complexity, nuttiness, honey, chocolate, maltiness, sweetness and balance. There was a sherry influence, but the house whisky style still shone through. The Fine Oak was a closer match to the Gold; both showed flaws in comparison to Macallan 10.

To be completely fair to Macallan Gold, I have tasted it on it’s own, then I tasted it against the range it was going to replace and then I have canvassed opinions. Many of the staff at Royal Mile Whiskies quite liked it, many of the students at the Water of Life Society quite liked it, but then many other folks I have spoken to have disliked it. I would say it has split opinion. So like all reviews, I say read my thoughts and then go and taste it yourself. You may love it and think that I am a fool for disliking it. I have been called far worse things.

If tomorrow I was to be asked to make a suggestion of where I would like the Macallan range to go in the UK, I would say release a standard that is similar to Macallan 10, keep the 18 (it’s like a giant bear hug in a glass) and make the rest of the range cask-strength and bursting with flavour. Maybe even release a couple of single casks, introduce a port matured Macallan. Maybe even try a peated expression. Get the geeks interested . The UK is a geeks market. It’s a market that doesn’t need age on it’s bottles any more, but it does need them to be bursting with flavour. Add a bit of colour and excitement to the brand (and no, I don’t mean E150a colour).

Chris Hoban


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