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Saturday, 4 April 2015

Macallan 1946 52 year old whisky & masterclass review!

I recently had the incredible privilege of attending a Macallan whisky masterclass, presented by Dan Woolley, Beam Suntory brand ambassador. Our venue for the evening was Malt Dining, in their awesome cellar, pictured below. Surrounded by ageing wine, polished wood and sparkling glassware, and presented with a chef-designed three-course menu to pair with the evening's whiskies. Not a bad night already, however...
...This masterclass also happened to include a taste of a very, very special Macallan. Distilled in 1946, matured for a massive 52 years in refill sherry casks, and bottled in 1998. Oh, and it's valued at around $30,000-40,000 a bottle!!!

Just let that sink in for a moment. The last bottle of this whisky to sell was sold at auction in Hong Kong, and it sold for approximately $40,000 Australian Dollars. That is an absolutely massive amount of money, more than enough for a good, brand new car, or a house deposit. You may think that is because of the rarity, after all it was bottled over 17 years ago, but even when released, a bottle would cost over $5,000, in 1997 money. Yep, this is one special whisky. And I'm lucky to be able to say it is, by a huge margin, the most expensive, the rarest, and the oldest, whisky that I have ever seen, and tasted. And, in all probability, that I will ever taste.

In fact, the Macallan whisky below, in it's fancy decanter, contains some 1946 vintage, and is one of the most expensive whiskies every sold. It sold for an absolutely insane $460,000 US, back in 2010. Luxurious is a slight understatement.
1946 was a interesting year. The entire world was still recuperating following the end of World War II, the massive physical, psychological and financial damage of that long-lived conflict was still very much in effect. The whisky industry was also recovering after shut-downs, financial hardship and staff issues, and they also had trouble sourcing one very important (to some distilleries at least) component of production: Coal.

So Macallan used an alternative, which had been used in whisky making for hundreds of years prior. Yes, I'm talking about our beloved peat! Macallan had of course used peat when they began officially producing whisky in 1824. But as coal became readily accessible during the late 19th century, they turned to it as a more efficient fuel. Indeed after the late 1940's they went back to using coal alone, and peat has not been used in the production of Macallan whisky since. This little factoid makes this era of Macallan whisky extremely rare, extremely collectable, and extremely expensive. Yep, pretty exciting!

While this stunning whisky was always going to be the star of the show, we also received some fantastic gourmet food from Malt's chef, designed to pair with three whiskies from Macallan's 1824 series. Our host from Malt Dining presented us with an entree of seared foie gras (duck or goose liver) paired with Macallan Amber, a main of rabbit two ways paired with Macallan Sienna, and a dessert of poached pears paired with Macallan Ruby, and all mixed in with Dan's amazing whisky knowledge, straight off-the-cuff. That is one fantastic line-up!

On the night we had the 1946 show-stopper at the beginning of the evening, before our palate's had been thoroughly exercised. I was really thankful for this, as I would not want to taint this experience with anything! In fact I nearly declined the arrival cocktail, but my lovely wife and I had just negotiated rainy Friday night traffic, and I couldn't turn it away. However, I'm going to make you wait 'til the end to read about the '46, because I can, and no scrolling or skimming! I'm watching you...
Macallan Amber, NAS, 40%. American White Oak, refill ex-sherry cask.
Bronze in colour, light and fruity with green apple, vanilla and honey on the nose. More honey sweetness on the palate, some dry sherry and stone fruit. Short, drying finish with a little heat. Paired with our excellent melt-in-the-mouth foie gras entree, earthy and creamy. 

Macallan Sienna, NAS, 43%. Mix of American and European Oak, refill ex-sherry casks. 
Polished copper in colour, generous red fruits on the nose, a hint of candied orange, marzipan and oak. More orange on the palate, spiced fruits. More body and complexity than the amber, and less heat on the finish, which had some toffee and bitter oak notes. Paired with our main of rabbit two ways, being saddles stuffed with prunes, and confit leg croquet. Outstanding quality of meat, super tender, slightly game-y and earthy. Delicious.

Macallan Ruby, NAS, 43%. European Oak, first fill ex-sherry cask. 
A great example of the influence of first-fill compared to that of refill casks. Rust red in colour, more rich and concentrated on the nose, with juicy berries and sweet stone fruit. More intense on the palate, lovely dry Oloroso sherry, slightly nutty on the longer finish. Definitely the star of the 1824 range. Paired with our dessert of pears poached in maple syrup and star anise, with warm dark chocolate sauce and hazelnut marscapone. Absolutely delicious, and not too heavy, a lovely end to the evening. My compliments to the chef! And now, our main event of the evening...
Macallan 1946, 52 years old, bottled in 1998. 40%, marriage of 5 refill ex-sherry casks.
Massively expensive, super rare and super collectable. How many bottles of this whisky are there in the world, and of those, how many have been opened and tasted? Not many.

Colour: Golden syrup.

Nose: Sticky toffee pudding, with spiced caramel sauce. Lemon oil, a little apple, stone fruit and brown sugar. A tiny hint of subtle, earthy-ness from the peat, which has done well to survive 52 years in the cask!

Palate: Super syrupy, oaky, and incredibly soft and gentle. Complex and engaging. Someone lock me in a room with a decent pour of this, and come back in a few hours. Sweet honey, a little red fruits, and a tiny hint of musty smoke. 

Finish: Long and quite subtle. Light spices especially cinnamon and white pepper. Slightly herbal and earthy. I was nosing the (sadly) almost empty glass throughout the evening, and it got surprisingly earthy and musty. 

Score: 4 out of 5, adjusted for price. 

Notes: A fantastic whisky, and an absolutely once-in-a-lifetime dram, but it's certainly not worth the sort of money it's going for among the collectors. As with all malts that become serious collectors items, the people who might possibly open and taste the whisky are priced out of the market. And are any of these 'super-luxury' malts really worth the sort of money being asked? 

That being said, as a drinker's / connoisseur's dram, this is pretty hard to beat. It's nearly impossible to be completely objective when looking at numbers like these, but I would still class this as a bucket list dram. It was a massive honour to taste a whisky such as this, and I'm very appreciative. 

The sheer rarity of this whisky, and the fact that we were in a cellar, surrounded by wood, stone, glass and ageing wine, while eating absolutely stellar food, paired with the 1824 series whiskies, made for one absolutely stellar evening. 

In fact, while walking towards Malt Dining I heard a bagpiper start up, on a rainy autumn evening, and nearly broke into a run! That is the kind of introduction you want for a whisky masterclass of the calibre, and should be imitated more often. 

As usual, our guide for the evening, handled the event perfectly. Deftly mixing knowledge, experience, passion and humour while managing to keep another audience, with varied experiences and expectations, engaged and entertained. I have to wonder, where would the whisky 'scene' in Brisbane be, without this guy? Certainly not where it is now, and probably not where it's headed either.

A big thanks to Dan Woolley, Malt Dining, Malt Traders and The Macallan / Beam Suntory for putting this event together, it was thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. If you haven't yet checked out Malt Dining in Brisbane, add it to your list. Especially if there's a piper in attendance, and a 52 year old whisky on offer...

Until next time, cheers!