A Time­less Blend

Hong Kong Tatler - - Tatler Focus -

The Ma­callan launches Rare Cask in Hong Kong, a new whisky that de­rives its unique qual­i­ties from the casks it was aged in and whose pro­duc­tion pro­cesses tra­verse the globe

The Six Pil­lars are im­por­tant re­minders of the prin­ci­ples that have un­der­pinned The Ma­callan through­out its long history. Founded in 1824 in an area with a history of whisky dis­till­ing that stretches back many cen­turies by bar­ley grower and school teacher Alexan­der Reid, it was one of the first legally li­censed whisky dis­til­leries in Scot­land. The com­pany went through var­i­ous hands dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, but fin­ished it in those of Rod­er­ick Kemp, who cre­ated the foun­da­tions for the mod­ern com­pany and was the first to take the spirit out­side its na­tive mar­ket.

It was in the 1950s, how­ever, that sales re­ally be­gan to rise, a trend that ac­cel­er­ated as sin­gle malt whiskies be­came more pop­u­lar in the West from the 1970s on­wards. It wasn’t un­til 1979 that the brand even ad­ver­tised, its first ven­ture into self-pro­mo­tion be­ing a small ad­vert next to the crossword in The Times of Lon­don. Since then it has been grad­u­ally in­creas­ing its pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity to meet steadily grow­ing de­mand, as well as ex­pand­ing the range of pre­mium whiskies it pro­duces, from its 1824 Col­lec­tion to The Ma­callan M. The Ma­callan also formed a se­ries of in­trigu­ing part­ner­ships with ev­ery­one from sto­ried French glass de­signer Lalique to a col­lec­tion of lead­ing pho­to­graphic artists for its Mas­ters of Pho­tog­ra­phy se­ries.

Some of the most no­table dates in the history of The Ma­callan con­cern Easter Elchies House, a Ja­cobean manor house dat­ing from 1700 in north­east­ern Scot­land’s leg­endary Spey­side whisky-mak­ing re­gion. The manor house was bought by the dis­tiller in 1961, ex­ten­sively re­fur­bished in 1985 and re­vamped again in 2006. The Spir­i­tual Home of The Ma­callan, it forms the first of the Six Pil­lars that sup­port the brand.

The other pil­lars all make dif­fer­ent con­tri­bu­tions to­wards cre­at­ing this finest of spir­its. Among them are the Small Stills used by The Ma­callan to dis­till its whisky; made en­tirely from cop­per and uniquely shaped, with ex­tremely wide bases ta­per­ing sharply and then grad­u­ally to­wards the top, there are 14 of the stills at the dis­tillery. They’re such a hall­mark of this most Scot­tish of brands that the stills have even been de­picted on the back of the Bank of Scot­land £10 ban­knote.

The pil­lars aren’t just about equip­ment, though; they’re also about how the spirit is treated. The Finest Cut refers to The Ma­callan’s prac­tice of trans­fer­ring only a tiny amount of the spirit col­lected from its stills into its casks: typ­i­cally about 16 per cent. Known as new make spirit, and typ­i­cally 69.8 per cent al­co­hol, it’s em­blem­atic of the brand’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ded­i­ca­tion to qual­ity.

The spirit that even­tu­ally comes out of those casks is also distin­guished by its Nat­u­ral Colour, another of the pil­lars. The Ma­callan is one of the very few whisky mak­ers that rely en­tirely on the casks to im­part their colour to the spirit, rather than re­ly­ing on caramel-based colour­ing, which can quickly fade with ex­po­sure to light.

One of the other pil­lars best en­cap­su­lates the essence of The Ma­callan. The Peer­less Spirit is a trib­ute to the whisky it­self, and to the painstak­ing blend of hard work and alchemy from The Ma­callan’s master crafts­men that goes into mak­ing it.

But when it comes to shap­ing the end prod­uct, the whisky that fi­nally emerges from the dis­tillery af­ter years of mat­u­ra­tion, un­doubt­edly the most im­por­tant fac­tor is the other pil­lar: Fine Oak Casks. The wood used to ma­ture a whisky con­trib­utes 60 per cent of that whisky’s fi­nal flavour, so the se­lec­tion of casks is the most im­por­tant de­ci­sion for the whisky maker.

The cen­tral role of casks, and The Ma­callan’s

quest to find the finest casks of all, as­sume a par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance in the dis­tillery’s latest fine sin­gle malt whisky, The Ma­callan Rare Cask. Launched in the US in 2014, the Rare Cask is now com­ing to Asia for the first time.

With a pow­er­ful flavour pro­file fea­tur­ing plenty of wood, as well as cho­co­late, vanilla and cit­rus notes, with ad­di­tional spices and fruits on the nose, this is a sin­gle malt that packs a punch. “All Ma­callans are pretty full-flavoured, and the Rare Cask is no ex­cep­tion,” says David Cox, di­rec­tor for su­per pre­mium whiskies and brand ed­u­ca­tion. A 17-year vet­eran of the com­pany, Cox has worked in the Scotch whisky in­dus­try for 31 years.

The spirit that goes into the Rare Cask comes from just 256 casks, rep­re­sent­ing the very finest of those ma­tur­ing at The Ma­callan dis­tillery. With some 240,000 casks cur­rently un­der­go­ing the long, slow process of mat­u­ra­tion there, it means that only about one in ev­ery thou­sand casks has been se­lected to make this par­tic­u­lar elixir. They are made from both Amer­i­can oak and Span­ish and have been pre­vi­ously used for sherry and bour­bon. They also come from a range of cooper­ages in­clud­ing Tevasa, Vasyma and Hu­dosa and from a range of wine­mak­ers in­clud­ing Gon­za­lez Byass and Wil­liams and Hum­bert. They come in dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes, from butts to pun­cheons to hogsheads to bar­rels. To­gether

they make up the most di­verse range of source ma­te­rial ever used to cre­ate a sin­gle malt whisky.

Bold State­ment

The Rare Cask is a fur­ther ex­ten­sion of The Ma­callan’s bold move in re­cent times to start selling, along­side its usual range, pre­mium whiskies with­out age state­ments. Partly that’s a re­sponse to the in­creased pop­u­lar­ity of its prod­ucts, a pop­u­lar­ity that saw it start to risk be­com­ing a vic­tim of its own suc­cess, with so much of its stock be­ing con­sumed that it needed to re­assess what it pro­duced.

But in­stead of see­ing that as a threat, it saw it as an op­por­tu­nity—be­cause pro­duc­ing pre­mium-branded prod­ucts with­out an age state­ment is lib­er­at­ing to the whisky maker, in this case The Ma­callan’s res­i­dent blend­ing ge­nius Bob Dal­garno.

“As de­mand has in­creased, it’s put pres­sure on our stock to be able to re­tain the char­ac­ter of, say, The Ma­callan 18 Year Old Sherry Cask,” says Cox. “It was an op­por­tu­nity for us to reap­praise how we make the best of our stocks. It was a prob­lem we put in the hands of Bob Dal­garno. It took the shack­les off him and al­lowed him to do new things with the stock we have. It also al­lows us to con­tinue to pro­duce age state­ment whiskies at the same level and still pre­serve their char­ac­ter.”

It might be a case of mak­ing a virtue of ne­ces­sity, but it also makes per­fect sense— the whisky maker can use a younger spirit if it im­proves the flavour, with­out hav­ing to worry about the age state­ment. It has al­lowed a brand like The Ma­callan to pro­duce a highly re­garded pre­mium prod­uct like the Rare Cask, which it wouldn’t have been able to do be­fore.

“Age state­ments don’t recog­nise that cer­tain casks ma­ture ear­lier than oth­ers,” says Cox. “Be­cause it’s a plant, it’s or­ganic, you can’t pre­dict it—you have to taste it.”

The species of oak can af­fect the speed the whisky ma­tures, as can the pre­vi­ous con­tent of the cask and the num­ber of times it has been used. Casks used by dif­fer­ent wine­mak­ers will vary from each other, but so can casks from the same wine­maker.

“With the Rare Cask, it al­lows Bob to choose a cask when he feels it has reached mat­u­ra­tion. As an in­dus­try, we’ve been go­ing on about age state­ments for decades, and we’ve been putting our­selves in a bit of a straight­jacket. We’ve got an ed­u­ca­tional job to do: there are dif­fer­ent ways of mak­ing a whisky that don’t in­volve putting an age state­ment on the bot­tle,” ex­plains Cox.

With a view to con­stantly im­prov­ing the qual­ity

of the casks it has avail­able, and there­fore of the whisky ma­tured in them, The Ma­callan has been tak­ing more di­rect con­trol of its bar­rel sourc­ing. Be­fore the com­pany was bought by High­land Dis­tillers in the mid-1990s and then sold to the cur­rent own­ers, the Edring­ton Group, a few years later, the com­pany bought its wood di­rect from bode­gas in Spain, with no con­trol over how they had pre­vi­ously been used. Now, how­ever, it spec­i­fies ex­actly how it wants its wood made and treated, mean­ing that it has a grow­ing stock of casks that have been built and sea­soned to The Ma­callan’s spe­cific re­quire­ments.

It can be a pretty com­pli­cated process: with Amer­i­can oak as well as Span­ish oak used to make the sherry casks the brand uses, it means that some­times air-dried wood from Ken­tucky in the south­ern US is trans­ported to Jerez de le Fron­tera in south­west­ern Spain to be made into bar­rels. They are then sea­soned with fer­ment­ing grape juice and then aged oloroso sherry, stay­ing in Spain for two years be­fore they’re shipped to Scot­land—quite a jour­ney.

“The rea­son we go to what some might say is a ridicu­lous ex­pense to do all of that is that it gives us some­thing we don’t get any­where else,” says Cox. “It gives Bob another string to his bow.”

New Mile­stone

The Ma­callan’s other re­sponse to the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of its whiskies has been to in­crease the amount it pro­duces, while be­ing care­ful to main­tain the qual­ity em­bod­ied in the Six Pil­lars. It has taken the bold step of re­plac­ing its long-

stand­ing dis­tillery with a new build­ing, de­signed by leg­endary Bri­tish ar­chi­tect Richard Rogers. Ground has just been bro­ken on the new dis­tillery, which is due to open in 2017, and will in­crease The Ma­callan’s ca­pac­ity from just over nine mil­lion litres a year to about 15 mil­lion.

Rogers met the chal­lenge of de­sign­ing a build­ing that har­monised with the area of out­stand­ing nat­u­ral beauty sur­round­ing The Ma­callan’s home in the north­east of Scot­land by the in­ge­nious step of bury­ing most of it un­der­ground. “Most dis­til­leries in Scot­land, in­clud­ing parts of The Ma­callan, aren’t build­ings of great beauty,” says Cox. “This is an op­por­tu­nity to es­tab­lish some­thing of great beauty and style in an in­dus­try known for its tra­di­tion­al­ism. It will be­come a real des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple on dis­tillery tours, and an icon for The Ma­callan.”

That state­ment is equally true of the Rare Cask: mainly be­cause of the unique flavour im­parted by the bar­rels, but also be­cause of the whisky’s classy look and feel.

As ever with The Ma­callan, the de­sign and ex­e­cu­tion of the pack­ag­ing is ex­quis­ite, in this case fea­tur­ing a tri­an­gu­lar mo­tif near the neck of the bot­tle that echoes the de­sign of re­ally old Ma­callan bot­tles in the dis­tillery’s pos­ses­sion, some of them dat­ing back to the 19th cen­tury.

Un­sur­pris­ingly for such a pre­cious spirit, there aren’t many of those bot­tles: only about 600 will be avail­able in Hong Kong, for ex­am­ple. With The Ma­callan Rare Cask, a unique chance to taste the ul­ti­mate dis­til­la­tion of the brand’s whisky-mak­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, it isn’t only the casks that are rare.

world of ex­per­tise

David Cox, di­rec­tor of su­per pre­mium whiskies and brand ed­u­ca­tion at The Ma­callan, has been with the com­pany

for 17 years

La­bel free

The Ma­callan Rare Cask is part of the com­pany’s new move to sell whiskies with­out an age state­ment

In­tended shade

All the whiskies in The Ma­callan port­fo­lio de­rive their hue from the casks and do not con­tain any caramel-based colour­ing

in­trigu­ing blend

The Rare Cask fea­tures strong wood notes bal­anced by cho­co­late, vanilla and cit­rus, and with a spicy nose

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.