First introduced in 2016, The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old whisky has made it to the top of whisky lists and shelves of Scotch aficionados. Thus, it is only logical that the renowned Scottish brand has decided to extend its range and present more bottles–The Macallan Double Cask 15, 18 years old, and the luxurious 30 years old. How did The Macallan combine two worlds in one bottle and what kind of flavour should whisky fans expect from these releases? We looked into the bottles and the details of their production to review whether The Macallan Single Malt Whisky Double Cask range would pique your attention.
OAK CASKS AND WHISKIES
You don’t need to be an expert to know that a great number of factors contribute to the quality of the final product. When it comes to whisky production, the oak cask is what impacts the liquor’s character and colour the most. If it wasn’t for the almighty oak, whisky would remain bland and clear. Bringing that toasty flavour and caramel colour, oak has been the wood of choice since the Roman Empire. Of course, it’s not enough that an oak grows into a healthy and mature tree to become a cask at The Macallan estate. It takes a couple of years of resting, air drying, charring, and seasoning before coopers craft the perfect oak casks.
Originally, The Macallan used mainly European oak casks for maturation and they still do for some of their whisky ranges. European oak, aka Quercus robur, is a less popular choice in the whisky universe compared to its American relative. It is a more porous, slower-growing, and higher-maintenance tree. Nevertheless, this wood gives liquor a wider and more complex range of aromas, the inimitable spiciness, and dried fruit notes, The Macallan’s signature profile. On the other hand, there is American oak, or Quercus alba, a faster-growing and more dense tree that results in sweet, vanilla, and coconut notes. To marry those two flavour profiles, The Macallan developed the Double Cask range.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT
How does it work exactly? How do cask-wood origin and type make such a significant difference in the taste and aroma? Let’s talk science a little.
The chemical structure of the wood varies and so does the interaction of wood, distillate, and air. When the new-make spirit is stored in casks, it extracts the wood contents that contribute colour and flavour–these are tannins and lactones. Tannins contribute dry notes, leather and walnut flavors, and a dark color resembling sherry. Their excess can overpower whisky and leave an unpleasant aftertaste. Hence, it’s crucial to balance the tannin level in oak during wood preparation and cask seasoning. European oaks have a higher tannin concentration, therefore whisky matured in European sherry casks features a robust aroma and stronger taste. Lactones are another essential substance in the whisky flavour.
Another process that is directly reflected in the taste is charring the inner surface of the cask. The carbonized layer acts similarly to a charcoal absorbent soaking in some components of liquor and activating chemical reactions between the liquor and wood. Additionally, this process gives the whisky its smoky notes.
While the whisky is maturing, pores in the wood “breathe in” atmospheric oxygen resulting in the oxidation of alcohol. Not going too far into the chemical process, it is important to mention that oxidation is responsible for the subtle fruity notes in whisky. Since European and American oaks’ density is not the same, the oxidation occurs differently affecting the whisky’s character.
What’s in the glass
So after months of meticulously curated multi-step production, Double Cask whisky is bottled, labelled, and ready to be consumed. While they have some similar notes, three bottles from the Double Cask range have their own distinctive flavour profiles. The first one of the series to review, caramel-coloured The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old is a very satisfying single malt with dried figs, walnut, orange peel aroma, and a mix of honey, citrus, and ginger flavours.
After three more years of maturing in oak sherry casks, The Macallan Double Cask 15 Years Old becomes more layered and offers a dried fruit palate with sweet raisin and sultana, chocolate, warming spice, and a bit of nutmeg, toffee, and ginger. Its older 18-year-old brother has a stunning rich amber honey shade and features notes of dried fruits, ginger, and toffee. The warm oak spice finish, recognizable in The Macallan’s whisky, is balanced by citrus flavours of sweet orange and vanilla from the American oak.
Usually, the rule of thumb is that the older the whisky, the more complex its flavour and the smoother it is. Moreover, the liquor loses a substantial part of its volume while it matures, the phenomenon known as “Angel’s Share”. The longer the whisky ages, the larger the “Angel’s Share”. Thus, older whiskies are rarer and more expensive. So if you are looking for a luxurious gift for a fellow whisky aficionado or wish to extend your home bar selection with a premium collectible, take a look at The Macallan Double Cask 30 Years Old. This incredible liquor offers a multi-layered palate of cinnamon, ginger, Madagascan vanilla, dried fruits, and oak with sweet oak, soft spice, and a toffee finish.
All in all, The Macallan Double Cask range demonstrates the importance of stepping beyond classic methods and traditions. Experimenting with techniques and combining the best of two worlds often results in innovative and extraordinary products. And that’s exactly what happened with The Macallan Double Cask single malts.
Photo credit: The Macallan