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Macallan Gold, Amber and Sienna Compared

by Oliver Klimek on August 18, 2013

Finally I have the chance to review three of the four new NAS Macallans in a side-by-side comparison. Much has been written about Macallan’s new concept of replacing the age statement bottlings at the lower end of the product range by NAS versions, including my own thoughts on the issue.

Regardless of all discussions about how useful or useless it is to replace age by color as a justification for the pricing, the most important thing of course is how well the malts of the 1824 Series do their job in the glass.

Macallan Gold – 40%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright gold
Nose: Fruit and nut mix, hints of banana, lemon, vanilla, hints of ginger and nutmeg.
Palate: Vanilla, green walnut, lemon zest, dried banana chips, hints of nutmeg
Finish: Medium long, fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: Giving the impression of being driven mainly by bourbon casks, this entry level bottling fails to convince me. Sure, it is pleasant enough to casually sip, but for £35 there are much better alternatives in the easy-drinking department.

Rating: 81/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Macallan Gold at Master of Malt

Macallan Amber – 40%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright amber
Nose: Raisins, toasted hazelnuts, vanilla, lemon zest, hints of nutmeg and pepper
Palate: Raisins, strawberries, toasted nuts, vanilla fudge, candied ginger, hints of nutmeg and pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: A well-rounded standard dram with a nice and creamy mouthfeel. The palate could use a bit more depth but definitely a step up from the Gold.

Rating: 83/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Macallan Amber at Master of Malt

Macallan Sienna – 43%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Raisins, dried apricots, cantaloupe melon, orange zest, toffee, hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Palate: Raisins, red currant, hints of cherries, dark toffee, hints of cocoa.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly spicy with a faint whiff of smoke.
Overall: Very well crafted, this expression is a pleasure to drink, even though 46% would have suited it even better.

Rating: 87/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Macallan Sienna at Master of Malt

Conclusion

Well, how to put it in a friendly way?… With their new range Macallan has indeed succeded to make color an indicator for quality. But of course this is because it was designed that way.

Once upon a time, The Macallan was a benchmark against which other single malts were tested. In particular, their reputation was founded on the quality of their sherry casks. Those days are long gone, but until the introduction of the 1824 Series even the younger sherried expressions still displayed a remarkable quality while the Fine Oak range did nothing to secure the reputation of the brand.

With the introduction of the 1824 Series, Macallan has ultimately fallen back to become one among many, a distillery like all the others, a Glensomething, if you wish. Macallan’s ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ used to be exceptional sherry casks. Those were the days, my friend. Priced at £65, the new Sienna is now the cheapest Macallan with a noticeable sherry influence. And the USP has turned into the dubious merit of Macallan being the first distillery to have only NAS expressions in the lower segment of their product range. Macallan’s marketers will have no trouble to call this a progress, anyway.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

EricH August 19, 2013 at 1:24 am

Didn’t the press materials say that the entire 1824 series has been aged in ex-sherry casks? The bourbon cask notes might be from an American oak cask that was used for aging sherry.

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Oliver Klimek August 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm

There may be some sherry cask whisky in any expression, but the proportion in the cheaper bottlings is quite low. After all the resason for the introduction was to be able to cope with rising demand. Already the Fine Oak was a try to cope with demand too. With fine Oak they gave up the sherry cask exclusivity, with the 1824 series they now give up age statements as well.

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kallaskander August 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Hi there,

according to Macallan all four 1824 Selection bottlings have – again – been matured exclusively in sherry wood.
That was part of the lure to win Fine Oak critics over again.
But part of the sherry wood is American oak – ex-bourbon casks are the cheapest casks araount in the moment.
There is an inherent hierarchy in the 1824 Selection bottlings. Not only in the colour coding but in the use of wood as well. Probably age does not matter but hierachies do – otherweise they could all be priced the same for example.

Gold 100% first fill and refill sherry casks of American and Spanish Oak
Amber 100% first fill and refill sherry casks of American and Spanish Oak
Sienna 100% first fill sherry casks of American and Spanish Oak
Ruby s 100% first fill sherry casks of spanish oak.

So it seems Gold and Amber are blends (blended malts?) from first-fill and refill barrels while Sienna and Ruby are first-fill only to get the most pronounced colour imparted and more intense notes. Top-of-the-range Ruby in 100% Spanish oak to get the maximum expression from the wood.

But there is no unconditioned ex-bourbon wood involved.

And they are too expensive for what they deliver especially the Gold and Amber as entry level offerings… if they are meant as entry level offerings at all.

Greetings
kallaskander

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Jeff August 26, 2013 at 5:13 am

Certainly it’s a dog-and-pony show designed, as you say, to prove the false proposition which Macallan sets out: that colour is an indication of quality – something COMPLETELY unproven in the industry and far more likely “discovered” in a marketing meeting than a flight sample session. Is the proposition not just false, but bullshit in the sense that Macallan KNOWS it’s false? Sure, but predictable in an era of declining quality and age, with beancounters making the calls. Whisky, as a spirit, is heading straight for the toilet, distillery by distillery, when we have to pay more and more for evermore pathetic con jobs.

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