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The Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Matured Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml)
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- ABV 43%
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It's often been said that every whisky lover's duty is to drink more sherry. To understand why is to grasp one of the economies fundamental to Scotch whisky production. Originally, the Scots relied solely on oak trees from the forests of England to create casks and mature their whiskies. But as their markets expanded, Scotland's distilleries needed to find an alternative oak source. As it happened, sherry was in abundance and highly fashionable with the English drinking public who consumed roughly 30% of the world's production. So sherry casks seemed a logical alternative for the Scots. Fast forward to current times and the opposite has occurred. Worldwide demand for Spanish Sherry has dramatically declined. This has turned the Scotch whisky industry on its head with fewer Sherry barrels becoming available.
What partly makes Spanish sherry barrels so special is the oak itself, Quercus Robur, with the Spanish trees cut down at 60 to 70 years of age. Research has shown that tannins in the wood act as a catalyst that aids oxidization during the maturation period hence being a highly desirable commodity in malt whisky production. The old Spanish timbers contain approximately ten times more tannin than the 30 to 40 year-old Quercus Alba, or American White Oak that's used to make barrels for the maturation of Bourbon whiskey. The deep colour and distinct rich, fruity / citrus peel flavours (sometimes marmalade-like) that ex-sherry casks can impart are more obvious reasons for their value and preference by the Scots.
The present day process for acquiring Sherry barrels into Scotland is unusual, a result of the fundamentals of supply and demand. Sherry houses are commissioned to produce Sherry for the sole purpose of selling what they would consider a 'by-product' - essentially a first-fill barrel with a life expectancy of two fills. The process is as follows:
1. Trees are purchased from Northern Spain allowing two years after felling and being left in the open for natural chemicals in the wood to interact and for the moisture content to drop.
2. The wood is commissioned for cooperage by Whisky producers.
3. Sherry (usually Oloroso) must then be 'leased' by the Whisky producer for a minimum of two years in order to season the barrel.
In comparison, the average price of filling a Bourbon cask is $50 compared to an astounding $300+ per fill for the sherry; also bear in mind that usual life expectancy for Bourbon barrels is three fills as opposed to two for Sherry. 'They literally have us over a barrel,' quips past master distiller at Macallan, David Robertson.
Enter again the Scots looking for a bargain! For some time know, the Scots have been seeking alternatives to Sherry casks. Charles MacLean explains how American ex-bourbon casks came to dominate the present industry. In his book “Scotch Whisky, a Liquid History”, he describes how “In 1936, the cooper’s unions in the US broked a deal with [American] whisky makers which insisted that Bourbon must be filled into new oak, so there was suddenly a large surplus of cheap American barrels. These started to arrive into Scotland in 1946, either intact or broken down into ‘shooks’ of staves and reassembled into traditional Scotch (200L) hogsheads...The whisky industry thus kept pace with demand by embracing changes in production methods which were compatible with efficiency and productivity.” Output increased exponentially (this in turn led to oversupply problems in the next decade).
100% Sherry cask matured whiskies are now rare. Unless whisky lovers take up drinking Sherry themselves, it’s not hard to envisage that in the near future, supply and demand will send prices skyward. Expect to be paying much, much more for these historical curios in the years to come - if you can find them at all.
Universally recognised as one of the world's greatest single malt scotch whiskies, The Macallan is consistently awarded top ratings by the world's leading spirit journalists. Described by Paul Pacult, the renowned international whisky writer, in his book Kindred Spirits as: 'simply the best 12 Year Old single malt around', its creation lies in defiant adherence to traditional methods and ingredients. The insistence on Oloroso Sherry casks from Spain remains one of the key factors in its desirability.
Tasting note: Bright copper penny colour. Peppery with dull suggestions of rubber in the first pass giving way to richer scents of dried fruits, hazelnuts, almonds, light marzipan, dark chocolate and more. The extra ABV ups the concentration to an unexpected degree delivering a spicy, mouthfilling profile including hazelnut, cocoa, oatmeal biscuit and pepper. Vanilla malt mingles with traces of cinnamon and sulphur into the finish. Long, complex and surprisingly robust.43% Alc./Vol.
Other reviews... The initial aroma is sweetish, winey and oaky; aeration allows the aroma to expand to include marzipan, treacle, molasses, honey, vanilla bean, cinnamon and cocoa butter. The palate entry is sweet, creamy and assertive; at midpalate the flavor becomes intensely nutty, buttery and bacon fat-like, with the beginnings of rancio. Remains one of Speyside’s standard-bearer 12 year olds. 90-95 points.