Depression-Era Macallan

Last week I discussed some post-war Macallan bottlings from the 1950s. They were a pretty interesting trio of tastes, showing an evolution of style from a more flinty and minty profile to a much more traditional, recognizably Macallan (to today’s palates, at least) profile. I thought they were all really interesting. Unfortunately, the travel-exclusive replica came up short.

Today, courtesy of the same batch of samples, I have the opportunity to go even farther back and look at some Macallans distilled in the 1930s. These two 1930s Macallans are also in excess of 30 years old, so there must naturally be some comparison to Scotch & Ice Cream’s debut post which covered Macallan 30.

The 1930s samples under consideration are both Gordon & MacPhail bottlings from the latter 1960s for the Italian market. There’s no point in dragging this out with a lengthy preamble, let’s taste:

The first whisky is a 32 year old distilled in 1937 and bottled in ’69. The nose is a nice mix of lightly floral and slightly farmy notes – hay comes forward most noticeably. There’s a little green apple early on, which gives way to white pepper and the familiar mineral quality encountered in the 1950s distillations. In this whisky it’s very reminiscent of rain on gravel, with a weighty earthiness but a slightly metallic quality shows as well. There’s some gentle smoke underpinning it, which reminds of the aftermath of 4th of July fireworks, but not sulfury. There’s a light sherry presence as well as some oranges. A slightly minty quality is present and balanced by a more prickly evergreen (fir?) quality.

The palate is oily and full, but still lighter than most modern Macallans. It comes in with a nice but not too strong sherry quality that is still fairly dominant. There’s a nice taste of clementines, which are balanced by a smoky note which reminds me of pu-erh tea. There’s a light young (not waxy) apple fruitiness, some gentle and reasonable wood, and a light dab of honey.

The oranges lead the finish with some mint, and as a pair they balance against one treacle and sticky toffee pudding. There’s a quick emergence of sherry, which are a little more dry overall and don’t show a big nutty presence. It’s slightly waxy and faintly dusty and goes more woody after a bit.

This was a really enjoyable and nuanced Macallan. It doesn’t show its age at all; it’s got a lot going on but it never seems confused or fragmented. This old bottling really shows Macallan near its absolute height.

The other whisky from this era is a 32 year old distilled in 1936 – also a Gordon & MacPhail bottle. This one has a little more smoke on the nose than most Macallans I’ve had. While some have had light, wispy suggestions of smoke, this one is definitely moving into the territory that I’d comfortably call (lightly) peated. It’s rich smoke but not overpowering, and it mixes wonderfully smoothly with a gentle sherry presence. It has a lightly perfumey character that reminds me of older laundry soaps, but I wouldn’t call it “soapy” in the traditionally perforative sense of the term. It’s almost slightly floral, and has subtle hints of evergreen fir and mint.

The peat is obvious on the palate initially; it’s not overpowering but it can’t be missed. It almost leans to a slightly rubbery note (like a bicycle inner tube) but it’s not objectionable or off. It’s got a light dash of white pepper, and some faint orange. There’s a bit of dried fruit from the sherry, a touch of cranberry, a hint of nutmeg and some slight cinnamon.

The finish warms nicely with some spice – a gentle, light cinnamon presence. There’s some pleasing sherry sweetness, which sits nicely with the smokiness. There’s also some faint hints of black licorice.

This 32 year old is so much better than the current standard issue 30 that it’s not funny. It’s got an incredible nose – the smoke is rich and full but it’s not an aggressive blast like a lot of peated whiskeys can be. This, like the modern 30, again conjures up images of sitting by a fire at Christmas time and just nosing and enjoying it for a while. Unfortunately, it’s a bit unfocused on the palate and seems to have lost some depth (like the modern 30). It’s a heck of a lot of fun though.

Both of these whiskies from the 30s are really great and enjoyable. I’d gladly have more of either; the nose on the 1936 is just great. Again, I have the opportunity to compare the 1930s whiskies against a modern replica – this time the Macallan “Thirties” travel exclusive.

The nose on the “Thirties” is an oddly spicy and alcohol-heavy one, with a curiously integrated peat character. There’s some light vanilla and oak; the whole thing is sharp and going off in a dozen different directions. It’s got a lightly antiseptic character, and a hint of sherry, but everything is loud and drowns it (and a slight citrus character) out.

The palate is very thin. It’s got a light mix of peat and white pepper. It’s got some sherry undertones, and a bit of cinnamon that’s a bit sharp, and black pepper comes up later on. There’s also a very faint show of oranges later on.

The finish has dry wood, white pepper, moderate sherry and a faintly rubbery peat influence. Unfortunately, the same as the “Fifites” replica, this is just an uninteresting whisky. It’s got a slight peat influence, but it doesn’t have the effortlessly great integration like the 1936. It’s definitely trying to go in the direction of the 1936 whisky, but it’s clearly a much younger whisky that needs a lot of time in the wood to settle down and develop. The peat lacks any sort of richness and is just young and aggressive still. It’s not really worth hunting down unless you can try a sample.

This has been a fun run through some old and special Macallans, and once again, thanks to my friend Chris for providing the samples. It’s been a really interesting education in older style Macallans. If you have an opportunity to try them out at some point, I highly recommend it.

At a glance:

Macallan 32y (Gordon & MacPhail). Distilled 1937, bottled 1969. 40% ABV
Nose: 
Nice mix of lightly floral and slightly farmy (hay) notes. A little green apple early, which gives way to a white pepper and mineral quality again – very much the rain on gravel kind of earthy yet metallic quality as well. A light bit of gentle smoke underpins it, kind of like the aftermath of a fourth of july blast, but without a heavy sulfur kick. Light sherry underneath with some oranges. A slightly minty quality is also balanced by a more prickly evergreen (fir?) quality.
Palate:  Oily and full but not as full as modern-day Macallans. Comes in with a nice, not too strong sherry quality that still dominates. Nice tastes of clementines which have a slightly smoky balance and almost reminds of pu-erh tea. Some light fruitiness – apples that are still young but ripe (not waxy), gentle and very well-behaved wood, and a light dab of honey.
Finish:  Nice lead of oranges with a mint top-note that also simultaneously dances with a rich treacle and sticky toffee pudding undertone. A very quick shift to sherry notes which lead the way, a little more dry and nutty than on the palate. Slightly waxy, faintly dusty. Goes to wood after a moment.
Comment:  Tons of nuance. Doesn’t show its age at all; just a lot going on in abundance, but not confused or all over the place. Really great.
Rating: A-

Macallan 32y (Gordon & MacPhail). Distilled 1936, bottled 1968. 40% ABV
Nose: 
A little more smoke on the nose than most Macallans and it’s definitely pushing well into peated territory. Rich but not overpowering smoke mixes nicely with a gentle sherry presence. It’s lightly perfumed and reminds of older soaps but I wouldn’t call it “soapy” in the usual perjorative sense. Almost slightly floral. Light hints of evergreen fir, slight mint. 
Palate: 
The peat presence is obvious initially – not overpowering but unmistakable nonetheless. Slightly leaning towards rubber inner tube, but not to the point of being objectionable. The lightest dash of white pepper, some faint orange influence. A bit of dried fruit, a touch of cranberry, a hint of nutmeg. Slight cinnamon. 
Finish: 
Warming gently with nice spice – a gentle, light dash of cinnamon. A pleasing sweetness from the sherry which balances agreeably with the slight trace of smokiness. Faint hints of black licorice. 
Comment: 
This is so much better than the standard-issue 30 it’s not even funny. It’s probably best on the nose and the finish has a nice tingle which, like the modern 30, would be great around a Christmas fire. Unfortunately it’s a bit unfocused on the palate and seems to have lost a little depth. A heck of a lot of fun though. 
Rating:
B+

Macallan “Thirties” 40% ABV
Nose:
  An oddly spicy and alcohol heavy nose with a kind of curiously integrated peat to it. There’s some light vanilla and oak there; the whole thing is sharp and going off in a dozen different directions. Lightly antiseptic. A slight suggestion of sherry but everything is quite loud over it. Slight citrus.
Palate:  Very thin on the palate. Light mix of peatiness and white pepper. Some sherry undertones to it, a bit of cinnamon that’s somewhat sharp; black pepper later on. Very faint show of oranges.
Finish:  Slightly dry wood, white pepper, moderate sherry and a faintly rubbery peat influence.
Comment: Same as the Fifties, this is just uninteresting. It’s got a slight peat influence but it’s not sitting in beautifully like the ’36. It’s definitely in the same direction as the 1936, just a lot younger and needing many, many more years in wood to settle down and develop. The richness of the peat in the 1936 is utterly absent. I’d pass unless you get a sample.
Rating: C+

 

 

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