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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Jubileeeeehah! A Brace of Brand New Macallans To Celebrate The Coronation

The world of collectible whiskies is an extraordinary place - and it has undoubtedly travelled a very long way since we've been actively writing about whisky. I distinctly remember the moment when it dawned on me that people actually 'covet' whisky; not just for its simple unctuous enjoyment, but to hold, to gaze upon and to store behind glass, like precious possessions.  

The Macallan 'Peter Blake At 80' set
Fast forward to 2013 and the world of the collectible whisky is of course still dividing opinion and sparking mass hysteria within the whisky drinking community. A quick glance at Scotch Whisky Auctions will tell you that the likes of The Macallan, The Balvenie and Port Ellen are the barometers for how profitable whisky has become.  The Macallan in particular has, like no other brand, managed to create not only objects of desire (consider last year's Diamond Jubilee bottling,  or the Sir Peter Blake box of curiosities) from their special limited edition releases, but couple them with outstanding liquids.  It creates quite a conundrum really:  To drink, or to covet?  

Well, the conundrum is likely to get even more tricky from today, as The Macallan are back with another limited edition bottling, this time to celebrate the Queen's Coronation 60 years ago. However, this time, unlike the Royal wedding bottling, or the aforementioned Diamond Jubilee release, the distiller has decided to release a brace of 350ml bottles that form a set to commemorate the celebration.  

The Macallan Diamond Jubilee bottling
Designed by long time The Macallan collaborator, Art Director David Holmes, each bottle will feature a different image of the Queen, one taken in the year of the coronation by Cecil Beaton and another taken in 2004 by portrait photographer Julian Caulder.  Two sides to mark the remarkable life the Queen has undoubtedly lived.  

The liquid types could not be more different. Neither carries an age statement, but the hallmarks of both vibrant American oak and intense sherry cask maturation are on display. 

Both the Royal Wedding and Jubilee bottlings were superb expressions.  Quite how many are actually open is anyone's guess (not that many, by the looks of SWA) so will this new release only serve to bolster the collectors market for The Macallan?  Without even trying either whisky, only a fool would bet on them not selling out, but what we're really here to discuss are the different liquids themselves and fortunately, our two slightly-less-beautifully-packaged sample bottles will do more than enough justice.  

The Macallan -  Coronation Bottling - Cecil Beaton - 58.1% - 35cl

Nose: Initially, a lively zesty affair, but given a few minutes in the glass, this really is a breathtakingly sweet affair: vanilla bean-rich white chocolate, golden syrup, tonka bean, Victoria sponge cake and vanilla pipe tobacco notes swirl elegantly with a light orange blossom. Superbly light weight, perfumed and rich.

Palate: The strength gives this a punchy mouthfeel, but after a burst of spice (liquorice and ginger) the vanilla rich aromas are transported to the palate, with a buttery richness developing. Water calms down the spice and brings out more of the vanilla, with some sweet cereal notes helping to deliver a very pleasing and fatty mouthfeel.  

Finish: Lingering oakiness gives way to a return of the vanilla/golden syrup and a touch of menthol right on the very death.  

Overall: The Macallan, but wearing a plush velvet suit with a soft ermine collar. It's the sort of whisky that drapes itself over you - a comforting blanket of sweet treats and satin textures.  Superb stuff. 

Next up, a more mature and complex side to the Queen... The Macallan style...

The Macallan -  Coronation Bottling -  Julian Caulder - 55.7% - 35cl

Nose: If the Beaton bottling was white chocolate personified, this is its nemesis.  Layers of cocoa and fattened rum-soaked raisins and figs mix with an overly woody spice note of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The vanilla of the other bottling hasn't diminished completely, more pushed into the background to be discovered.  But when you do dig deeper, there are plenty of surprises.  Kirsch soaked cherries, toasted Brazil nuts, a touch of walnut and masses of dried fruit, all with a swish of creamy custard.  Hugely complex and very Macallan, but with such finesse.  

Palate: Like the Beaton bottling, it gets off to a hot start, but the spices drive through, with a warming cinnamon, liquorice and cola note leading into diced dates, raisins molasses, dark leaf tobacco and dark chocolate. Water simply adds to the complexity and helps develop the spicy notes and the length of the dark chocolate.  

Finish: Lingering raisins, sour cherries and cocoa help to emphasise the richness of the sherry influence. 

Overall: A Macallan through and through, this is a whisky that takes time to fully uncover, but rewards the drinker with complexity, spice and a darker, more robust side.  If the Beaton bottling was the Queen pottering round Sandringham tending to her roses in the summer, this is Her Majesty polling around the grounds of Balmoral on a cold autumn day in her Harris tweeds.  

All in all, both bottlings are so different to the other, but each definitively a Macallan and proud.  Another triumphant release - and one which we hope will not just sit on display in a collector's cabinet. For to simply gaze on these whiskies from afar is to do the whisky's creator, Bob Dalgarno a distinct disservice and possibly a Tower'able offence.  

The Macallan Coronation set will be priced at £350 and is limited to 1953 bottles, available from the Macallan Visitors Centre and online (UK customers only)