It’s no secret that I love whiskey.
Like a wise bar sign once said, “Whiskey is sunlight held together by water.” And while bourbon is beautiful and the Irish types get me feelin’ nice, the brightest sunbeam of whiskey is the granddaddy of them all, Scotch.
Yes, God’s greatest liquor hails from the harsh, rugged north of Scotland. For the uninitiated, Scotch is as much of a part of the nation of Scotland as its citizens are. Even as much as the very rocks that make up the northern tip of the British Isles.
In a way, the very liquid itself stands for the elements of fire, water, air and earth—manifested in smoke, spring water, salt air, and peat. How could you argue with the Captain Planet of alcohols?
I could go on about the glories of Scotch, but sometimes there’s one that rises above the rest. In this case, it’s The Macallan Rare Cask.
Now, experience tells us that many of the brand stories we want to believe are really just bullshit—especially when it comes to the over-inflated spirits industry. It tells us that new products and flavors are really just the same thing as the old stuff, bottled with a little more branding and a little more marketing.
The thing about Scotch, however, is that across all brands, distilleries, and distributors, they don’t really go for that sort of thing—nor can they.
Heritage and craftsmanship are built into the very nature of the liquor itself, with each region, township, and even barrel possessing its own unique identity and character. Every scotch has to be imported because it can only be made in Scotland.
Every cask, bottle and dram come from the same small, humble beginnings they’ve always come from.
Simply put, Scotch doesn’t need puffery and deceptive advertising to sell itself. The truth tells its brand better than any story could, and its character is defined not in a boardroom, but in a barrel.
So when a Scotch brand with as much pride and pedigree as The Macallan tells you they’ve made something particularly rare and personally invite you to join in a tasting, you don’t just accept; you leap at the chance.
Before the main event – The Macallan Rare Cask tasting – I met brand manager Jeremey Fonicello at that rich Chicago staple, Chicago Cut Steakhouse for a “dram or two.”
After a brief hello and a handshake, a cadre of waiters seated us by a window overlooking the Chicago River. Without pause, Jeremy ordered a sweep of seafood appetizers (he apologized for not having time to order a steak), a Macallan 15 with a large cube for himself, and a Macallan 12, 15, and 18 for myself—clearly to help paint the full picture for me.
While we waited for our libations to arrive, we talked shop; about what initiated our love for scotch, our travels, and our outlooks on the world around us. Frankly, it was a conversation between two gentlemen that you hear used to happen all the time, but rarely participate in: Just another reason burying your nose in scotch is better than burying your nose in a cell phone.
As we crushed some stone crab claws and sucked down the lobster escargot, Jeremy walked me through a full private tasting of the family of scotch, and what each year meant to the character of Macallan, tracing it all the way back to the Estate on the River Spey in northeast Scotland.
It was here that I realized while many brands call themselves ‘lifestyle brands,’ very few truly are. But the story of Macallan Rare Cask, the spirit of this spirit, was just that.
It doesn’t start in Scotland. It starts in Spain, in the dense forests of Jerez in the north. While many malts use American oak casks, the Macallan Rare Cask uses Spanish Oak, renewably sourced via a partnership with the Spanish government going back nearly 200 years.
The Macallan’s wood policy is unrivaled, a ‘tree to finished seasoned cask’ operation beginning on foot, selecting the trees by hand—a sustainable policy that’s Greenpeace certified. The prime oaks are felled and shaped into staves, then shipped to the south for several months to dry. Once dried, the casks are coopered, that is, turned into casks. Only the finest casks are selected to advance to the next step, which is to be filled with fine Spanish sherries to ‘season’ the cask wood itself.
After 18 months of aging with the sherry inside, the casks are emptied and shipped back to Scotland to reach the final step of their wooden journey, to be filled with the Macallan ‘new make’ spirit itself. Once across the English channel, the casks face yet one more hurdle.
From the thousands of exquisite, precious casks that have spent months of preparation and survived the journey from Spain to The Macallan’s distillery, the Master Whisky Maker handpicks the finest cut from less than 1% of the casks maturing there.
One percent. Rare indeed.
The result is possibly the most elegant whiskey I’ve ever tasted. Its ruby copper hue glows within the bottle. Poured in a glass, its nose is light and fruity, but stirring with a deeper, oaky complexity you can’t help but try. One sip opens your palate to an unrivaled complexity of flavors of rich oak, warm vanilla, mellow spices and a light citrus zest that pulls the body together.
The Macallan Rare Cask is just what its name implies: the rare example of when a premium spirit is not only worth every hour that went into it, but every drop you can savor as well.