Conflicted. That’s how I feel after tasting the new Macallan 1824 range. Conflicted and intrigued. Let me explain:
As someone who has immersed themselves in the whisky business for 5 years as a whisky retailer, barman, cocktail maker, trade salesman, part-time brand ambassador, tasting host and blogger, I have been to more tastings than I can count and hosted more tastings than I can count. My obsession and passion over these years has been whisky. I have lived and breathed it. To explain further, I have talked to thousands of people about whisky, how to drink it, what to try, the history, how it’s made and more. Throughout these conversations, I have tried to steer people away from the importance of colour, because it can beguile and confuse the consumer. It doesn’t necessarily correspond with flavour, so I ask consumers to look past the colour, and let their taste buds decide. So what Macallan are proposing with this range, with colour and cask being the two main pillars of these bottlings, with a heavy emphasis on colour, leaves me conflicted and struggling to get my head around. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but it will probably take us all a bit of time to get our collective heads around it.
Let me try and explain more. Each of these bottlings is named after the colour of the liquid. This is to emphasise the quality, the expense of Macallan’s sherry casks, and the fact that they don’t use caramel colouring; it’s all natural. With each colour profile, Bob Dalgarno (Master Blender) is aiming for a different flavour profile, so with Gold, they are aiming for a fresher, lightly sherried, lemony dram. With Amber, it is getting slightly richer, Sienna slightly richer still and Ruby, the sherry bomb. Very dark, very chocolatey and raisiny.
A wee bit from the press release may clarify a little more some of the thinking behind the new range:
Bob Dalgarno, Whisky Maker, The Macallan, said, “The Macallan world of colour is the true inspiration of the 1824 Series. Using colour to drive and define a whisky differs dramatically from the conventional age approach, allowing us to explore different casks and take a more flexible approach to our stock. We have been able to work creatively with the full range of matured stock available, rather than working to a pre-determined character based on age. For me, the key thought in this range is that a great single malt doesn’t need to be 30 years old to taste like a 30 year old.”
By drawing on his broadest range of skills in cask selection, Bob has been unshackled by the need to draw on casks selected first and foremost for their age. His expert skills ensure consistency through the effective management and selection of the casks which provide the spectrum of natural colour and character essential to The Macallan.
I think the key to this is a mixture of a modern, unconstrained outlook on creating whisky without age, mixed with a need to do it this way for cask management purposes (probably with more emphasis on the cask management part). As I said in my last article on Macallan, demand has surged, and they have struggled to keep up. I think this is the consequence.
Liquid versus overall idea
If I look at the liquid purely on its merit, I think it’s a good range. I particularly liked Sienna, as it was a marriage of tasty sherry and tasty Macallan characteristics. I was not the biggest fan of Gold, but to like 3 out of 4 means that overall, I would consider it a good range. The prices have jumped a bit, but that’s the way things are these days. They weren’t going to release the new range and take prices down, now were they. That would make it look like they had no faith in the new bottlings at all.
After talking to a few retailers, whisky tour guides and customers, I think one problem with the new range, is confusion. This range is based on colour, but there is still an 18, 21, 25 and 30 available in the UK. The 12 is still available in the US and Asia. This 1824 series has already been seen in travel retail. There is a few different messages coming across. Age matters in some markets, not in others. Colour is key in some markets, not so key (although, I hasten to add, still genuine) in other markets. I guarantee, as someone who works for a retailer, I will face quite a few confused questions regarding the new range and if it’s replacing all the aged expressions. I have already had them. But then, that’s my job isn’t it. Macallan have explained it to me, I have to explain it to customers.
I guess one of the things I do hope is that this range is given a chance, and that it lasts longer than the younger parts of the Fine Oak range . If this range changes quickly, then I think Macallan will be in danger of alienating and confusing their core customer. Imagine any company releasing a new consumer product and building a customer base by saying that the new product is high quality. Customer loves new product, is persuaded by the flavour/marketing and then suddenly, brand takes it away. Customer gets mad and storms off to Glenfarclas (or Glendronach, or another sherry beast).
I talked to their brand ambassador, Joy, for quite a while about many different things. She said that they wanted to give Bob the freedom to create good whisky without the constraints of age, that they wanted to get the highest quality product out and for Macallan to be available to as many consumers as possible. They want to avoid customer disappointment due to a lack of Macallan, and this new range would make more Macallan available. We talked about so much that I think I will ask her for an interview in the near future, as I think she has real passion about this range, and that passion, mixed with well structured points, allayed some of my doubts that evening (although clearly not all).
I’d also like to thank her for answering my numerous questions about new spirit (I was on a real new spirit thing that night).
I’m more persuaded than I was. I think that if they invest in consumer education, they will convince some of the doubters. The liquid is good, so that’s half the battle, although I still think the concept is a mixture of too much chopping and changing, which could prove to be too confusing for the average punter.
On the plus side, there will be more Macallan available, and it is for the most part tasty stuff. The minus is my favourite, Sienna, is £66, so a bit of a treat.
In the next article, I’ll review each dram. I may also make a blood and sand cocktail with one of the Macallans, because the one I had the other night at the Macallan tasting at the Caledonian Hotel was epic.
P.S: Want to read more comment on Macallan’s new range and more about the Macallan 1824 launch? Check out the Scotch Odyssey for a cracking write-up.