Updated May 22, 2016
By Richard Thomas
By releasing Rare Cask only in the United States, The Macallan accomplished a couple of noteworthy points, and one of them was perhaps by accident.
Heretofore, The Macallan was one of the single malt brands that was steadily replacing their traditional age statement expressions in the well-established European market with new, no age statement (NAS) whiskies, while keeping those same age statement single malts available in the United States. In the past I have described this strategy of shifting stock so as to expand American sales as robbing Peter in hopes that Paul will pay off later.
Yet the Rare Cask is an NAS statement whisky for the U.S. market, turning that strategy on its head. Made with whisky mostly drawn from the kind of first-fill sherry casks that many scotch-lovers crave, the single malt is a bold statement to those naysayers making blanket claims that NAS whiskies always and necessarily represent a step backwards in terms of quality.
Bottled at 43% abv, the Rare Cask has the kind of appearance one would expect from a stronger, all-sherry cask whisky. It’s dark, very dark for scotch, imbued with a clay-red amber hue.
That this is elegant, silky-soft stuff becomes apparent from the first whiff. The scent is rich with raisins and citrus, with subtler notes of cocoa and nuts.
On the palate, the whisky is full-bodied without losing its silky texture. The flavor packs plenty of sherry-driven, dried fruits sweetness, such as raisins and apricots, enhanced by delicious currents of oak and earthy chocolate, plus a drop of vanilla. The finish brings back the citrus zest from the nose, in a light-but-warm conclusion.
In making its move towards NAS, The Macallan’s attitude is that they will let their whisky do the talking. The Rare Cask speaks clearly and eloquently, and although some will recoil in sticker shock at the price (see below), it’s important to keep in mind quality scotch is often pricey. This single malt is no exception to that rule.
Addendum by Diana Karou Cheang
The reason why The Macallan has become the vernacular go-to for big name Scotch is because of the “brand swagger.” I say this because the favorite for not only well-to-do frat boys who sneak far too much from grandfather’s decanter, but also for silver foxes sporting a glistening shelf of the Gwhatevers they collect not as a matter of course, but a matter of necessity.
This is one of those rare occasions that the description—rare—is wholly supported by its distinction. Rare Cask is complex and simmering smooth. It offers a congratulatory token of fruity and fragrant characteristics, gift wrapped in a sherry-stained oak cask. It has a little bit of everything for you, and likes herself best when she’s with only you.
The color is a sequin-less tulle caramel, and as it was poured, I waited quite a while for the whiskeyline tears to stop dragging down the glass because it was so beautiful. It wafted out of the Glencairn with its siren-like fingers, pulling you towards a sensual maple, voluptuous vanilla, and the drippings at the bottom of the apple pie tin. I’m not ignoring the sherry oak, because that’s the fabric of the whole affair: nose, palate and everything. Its prickling of the sinuses quizzically calls for a mint dark-chocolate mousse, and I’ve ordered more than one dessert.
My palate is a ship; a Spanish cutter filled to the brim with its national oak, almost a virgin, save for the sherry. It carries an immediate cargo of spices, coating the mouth in even distribution. The cask swirls with chunks of sweet fruit nectars, thick as in apricot and thin as in apple. But these descriptions are amiss without the wisdom of oak embers, glowing with heat, staying for nearly months as welcome guests in the finish.
The Macallan’s Rare Cask is $300. In response to the complaints about that price, I admit it is a bit more than I would want to pay for it, but I don’t think it is grossly overpriced.