The Whiskey Review: Macallan 12 Year

[Originally published August, 2012 at Manarchy Magazine]

I recently spent the weekend in Los Angeles reconnecting with my fellow literati. Being the only one present with a column solely devoted to whiskey (and what are the odds of bumping into another whiskey writer, really?), more than once it fell to me defend the amber.

The drink of the night turned out to be Macallan’s 12 year single malt, and since I’ve never written about it before, I figured now is as good a time as any. And, lucky me, I happened to share the first of the night with this month’s cover girl, Misty. Eat your hearts out.

In order to get an idea what she might enjoy of the whiskey persuasion, priority number one was figuring out where her preferences lie and then determining what sort of whiskey or scotch would fall in a similar vein. I quickly learned that Misty’s go-to drink is a Sapphire Gin and Tonic.

“So, why Sapphire,” I asked. “What’s the difference?”

Her reply to that question is what initially piqued my interest in her as a potential pupil to bring over to the (very slightly) darker side of alcohol. She explained things about gin I’d never considered, comparing the qualities of several types in general terms regarding flavor and balance. She even spoke briefly about the quality of the tonic, comparing the pros and cons of the tap (which sometimes takes on other flavors if it’s not cleaned well) versus those establishments which rely on the older style bottles, and how that can sometimes go flat.

We spoke a little longer about drinks in general, and after establishing a few things that she might like in other alcoholic beverages, I went out on a limb and suggested she try some scotch.

At first she wasn’t entirely on board with the idea, and even though I’d like to think that it was my natural charm and charisma that eventually wore her down, I should probably thank the two Sapphire and Tonics she was sipping as we spoke for doing most of the work.

Regardless, she was in. The next question was, where to begin? Now this bar had everything from Cutty Sark to Laphroaig. Cutty Sark was out on the simple principle that some things just need to cost more than 5 a pour to be worth tasting. Likewise, although it’s a damn good scotch, I knew Laphroaig would be like hurtling a peety, charred wood tasting dump onto her delicate (and rather trusting) palette, so that was out as well. But then we had a couple choices both from Glenmorrangie and Macallan to consider, and I figured the latter’s 12 year old would be just right.

Or maybe that’s just what was in my glass at the time. Either way, she took the glass, gave it a cautionary pass beneath her nose, then another, and finally took that first sip. I didn’t bother trying to describe the notes in the nose versus the palette, or what to expect on the finish, because not only would I have come off like a douchey know-it-all and probably turn her off to the idea altogether, but also because in the moment she seemed perfectly capable of noticing quite a lot on her own. To tell her what she was already tasting for herself would have been insulting.

Later that night we tried something from Glenmorrangie at dinner, and from what I hear she’s ventured out a little more into the world of scotch, but that Macallan seems to have made quite an impression.

Now then, for those of you who weren’t there, or have never sipped Macallan’s 12 year offering, this is what I get out of it.

The nose is big in this one, with obvious sherry notes supporting scents of dried fruit such as fig or date, and a soft, unassuming sweetness somewhere between white cake and light butter cream. On the palette, I’d say this all moves toward a more honeysuckle sweetness with a touch of citrus and light oak, and as it moves to the finish the sherry becomes apparent once more in a subtle red wine note that opens up as the sweetness gives way to a little more oak, and this finish lingers nicely for some time.

Sipped with water, you’ll notice a little more tea and oak in the nose, and the sweetness comes off more like the vanilla of a cream soda, but the finish is slightly compromised as you lose any sense of its sherry cask aging by that point. This may not be so bad, as the oak really opens up on the finish this way, and if that’s your thing, then adding water may be the way to go.

I don’t prefer this one with the whiskey rocks, which serve to chill your drink without watering down. I think this one opens up at room temperature a little better and the whiskey rock chill tends to mute the more subtle notes, especially the fruit, and it becomes almost a two-dimensional caricature of its former self.

Similar story with ice; although you’ll gain some sweetness and oak through the watering down process, the chill of ice insists on killing of your subtler fruit notes. Definitely find out for yourself, but try this one straight at room temperature first to set the bar, and I think you’ll find that’s the best way to do it: As is.

It’s like when you buy that dream car you’ve always wanted, and it runs just fine and everything works the way it should. Instead of spending all the extra money on a costly restoration for looks, you drive it exactly as it has aged, patina and all, and the car itself becomes it’s own story.

How this scotch is aged and cared for over the years is what imbues all the character and subtlety it needs. Some things are just fine the way you find them, whether it’s the company of a smart, down to earth young lady who turns out to be this month’s cover girl, or a well-aged libation that turns out to be her new favorite scotch.

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