Summer Celebration #2: Macallan 25 Sherry Oak

One year ago today, I launched Scotch & Ice Cream. At the time, it was an even mix of feeling like I launched it before it was ready, tempered with the excitement of finally having my personal outlet to share my reviews and recommendations as well as the life-in-progress with a lot of my friends I used to work with.

It’s been an amazing journey since then and I’m glad to have shared a large portion of it with everyone – either via twitter or here on Scotch & Ice Cream. It’s been a time of a lot of personal growth, and I honestly credit launching this blog last year as one of the major turning points along the way. You see, in the last year, S&I has been wildly successful beyond my imagination. I figured this would just be my private spot to publish stuff that had been accumulating in my Evernote file of tasting notes, hopefully letting some of my friends keep up.

But it’s been so much more than that. I’ve seen tens of thousands of hits, light-years beyond what I’d ever expected. In my old world, we’d call that a vanity metric and want to dig deeper – and so we shall. I’ve made tons of friends who I’m in regular correspondence with. I’ve met interesting people and have enjoyed some really fun sample swaps over time, getting to try all kinds of amazing whisky. Unfortunately for what I review here, that’s certainly had a tendency to make those “A” grades so much harder to achieve – so when they happen, it’s worth taking note.

That as a group, while fun, doesn’t really do much for me. I’d be happy to keep doing this in total obscurity even if I had a hundred hits one year later and was still working through the same stuff as always. For me this has been a major exercise in learning the value of “good enough” – because S&I launched before it was perfect (and it’s still far short), and succeeded on its own. That really got me thinking about not overthinking and overdoing. That’s been a major change for the better in my life. So remember: whisky blogging is good for the mind and soul.

One year ago, the first whisky I reviewed to mark the start of the blog as well as my son’s birth was Macallan’s 30 year sherry oak. This stands at the top of their range and was the virtually unobtainable high-water mark of likely perfection. I decided I needed to obtain some and had it and was fairly disappointed with the whisky. It wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t the legendary whisky that must be unbeatable (given distillery and age and my inexperience with whiskies in the 30y+ range).

The obvious whisky to try at the one year mark was the Macallan 25 – also a highly priced, long-aged whisky. I theorized that the extra 5 years in wood really did nothing for the 30 year old, and my operating theory was that the 25 might actually be the pinnacle of the range.

After a long week in northern California with a son who, it turns out, isn’t particularly fond of travel, I was ready to mark my return with a glass of the 25.

The nose was an immediate treat: Rich oak in abundance with some nutty sherry; molasses and treacle sponge pudding giving some dense, dark sweetness. Some of the youthful Macallan character was evident on the nose, a great sign. Orange and dried plum, a touch of apple and a light bit of spice gave some more body to the nose, and even a touch of shoe polish rounded it out.

The mouthfeel was full, rich and coating. The whisky immediately showed evidence of age – heavy but not overbearing oak; white pepper with a dash of cinnamon. The dried fruit came through, as well as a little plum. The sherry influence on the palate was rich and full, but it’s not a lopsided over-sherried whisky. The youthful Macallan character is still there (tempered by the signs of age), and complemented by a faintly earthy tone.

The finish was again, unsurprisingly, led by woody notes which started to dry. A little apple skin was evidence of age, and surprisingly a momentary kick of fresh celery brightened it up and added dimension, but didn’t make it bitter or rooty. There was a little orange and faint pear, as well as a much later kick of cherries and chocolate.

Macallan 25 is all about the wood, prominently featured on the nose and the palate. There’s a strong dried fruit component, which reminds me a lot of the Balvenie 1401 releases I love so much, but with the more zesty and bright Macallan spirit at the core, versus the more straightforward fruity, rounded Balvenie spirit. This is, for my money and with my now-complete experience of Macallan’s standard range, the grand dame of Macallan’s now-disappearing standard range. It’s a fantastically well-balanced whisky.

If you’re faced with the first-world problem of deciding between the 25 and the 30, buy the 25. It’s miles better and at a lower price. Can’t beat that.

At a Glance:

Macallan 25y (Sherry Oak) 43% ABV
Nose:  Rich oak upfront with some nutty sherry notes; a bit of molasses and treacle sponge pudding. Some of the youth of Macallan still comes  through. Orange and dried plum; a touch of apple and a light bit of spice. A little touch of shoe polish and leather.
Palate:  Full mouthfeel, rich and coating. Immediately leads with a heavy but not overbearing oak influence. Nice white pepper with a dash of cinnamon at the edges. Dried fruit again; a little plum note. The sherry is again rich and full on this but it’s not a lopsided sherried whisky in the least. Plenty of youthful Macallan character; a faint bit of earthiness.
Finish:  Wood which dries slightly. A little bit of apple skin and a momentary flash of fresh celery brightens it up but doesn’t detract. A little orange and a faint touch of pear. A little late kick of cherries and chocolate.
Comment:  This is all about the wood, with a prominent display on the nose and the palate. There’s a strong secondary dried fruit component – reminds me a lot of Balvenie 1401 but with the more zesty and bright Macallan spirit versus the more straightforward and fruity (but rounded) Balvenie spirit. This is unquestionably the grand dame of Macallan’s standard sherry oak range; a fantastic balance.
Rating: A-

10 thoughts on “Summer Celebration #2: Macallan 25 Sherry Oak”

    1. I think if you’re unwilling to lay out for a bottle (completely understandable given the outlay), this is a must-try once, especially at $50. I was in SF this weekend and they were asking $75. If I knew then what I knew now (and didn’t have a bottle at home) I probably would have done it. It honestly is playing a very similar game to Balvenie 1401, and I think my opinion on that one is pretty clear at this point…

      1. definitely agree. $50 for a generous pour at my local up-scale pub. Very well worth it. Nose is fantastic. Color is superbly dark, rich mahagony. When you first sip it, and have it linger in your mouth, then pause, savor, and finally enjoy the finish. Great drink. I have yet to try a 30, or even a place that has 30 for a decent price, but I will eventually one day try it to so that I can compare. I hope I’m not as disappointed as you were. I bought a bottle of 25 for 525 shipped, these days, I can only find it (usually in CT) for about 625 shipped. I don’t understand. Every year another batch of 25 comes on the shelf. Is Macallan making less or demand has gone up!?

        1. Obviously I’d say don’t waste your time on the 30 but I understand the need, as it were, to try it. 25 beats the 30 in virtually every phase of the game; unless the 30 has improved markedly since I tried it I can’t imagine ever wanting to have it again.

          As far as the 25 price increases: Welcome to the effects of increased whisky demand, a valuation bubble, and constant pressure on stocks. Sherry casks are obscenely expensive and as I recall, Macallan virtually has a side industry in keeping itself supplied with sherry casks (as the UK has largely lost its taste for sherry, so no demand). That ever-increasing cost plus the pressure to release more stock sooner (resulting in the Gold/Sienna/Amber releases in the UK, the phasing out of all sub-18y age-stated whiskies and the termination of the Fine Oak line) means keeping a supply of the 25 is more difficult than it’s been in a while. Since prices increase regularly these days and the market has as of yet not turned away, it’s inevitable that these older (especially sherry-matured) whiskies are going to keep rising in price.

          An interesting case study for that has been watching the Glendronach single cask releases which have been gaining steadily in price from release to release.

    1. Thanks much! I appreciate the nod. I’ve been having fun and there’s always improvements to be made, but with a little guy, just not enough time in the day. Plus, since I deal with web stuff during the day, there’s a definite push-back on my part to keep this very easygoing.

  1. Congrats Tim!! This is a fun site and I like your tasting notes. Your senses seems to react to Scotch similar to mine. As much as I bash Macallan for their high prices, I have to admit they do make great (and very consistantly great) whisky. About twenty years ago now, I purchased a bottle of 1959/1984 25 YO Macallan. I bought it for a very long-time friend of mine, he was born in 1959. I originally bought it for one of his milestone birthdays but the darn thing has become so valuable I struggle with the thought of opening it. We just aren’t in that income bracket. Anyway, I’ll hang on to it and we will end up probably opening it in a few years. I can’t wait. A 1959 Macallan would mark the oldest expression I will have tasted.

    Anyway, great site Tim…keep up the dramming!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you have found it useful.

      Macallan is a tough one for me. While I think they definitely go overboard with price and kind of Jack Daniels-esque special editions (same juice, more expensive package), it’s hard to deny how good their “better” whiskies can be.

      The 1959: I reviewed an (independent) ’59 and have to say, that was an absolutely incredible whisky and one of the very best Macallans I’ve ever had. A phenomenally great execution of what has become the standard Macallan profile these days, just turned up a couple notches. That one in particular had a lot in common with the current style, when even 3 years before they were substantially more mineral.

      The expensive ones are very hard to open, and I’ve even got ones I’ve seen creep up in value (… some of my Port Ellens: those things seem to be skyrocketing in price!) so I sympathize, but I don’t think it’s quite as intense of a good problem to have as you’re faced with.

      Here’s my take, and it’s just one for the things to think about pile. I’m trying to make sure to regularly sprinkle in rare and nice whiskies because life is short and who knows – I could get hit by a car (and then they’re sold in some auction for way less so my family doesn’t see the benefit of some multi-thousand-dollar whisky I’d stashed away) and never enjoy it. I think while you’re not in the income bracket, you were when you purchased it and you have what’s become kind of a special bottle. Maybe it’s crazy to open it, but I’d find the next appropriate milestone and crack it open with a friend. It’ll be one you remember, possibly moreso given the back and forth you’ve likely felt on it.

      I’ve been the beneficiary of some friends’ largesse on the whisky front and I try to extend that forward as well. I don’t feel like I could ever possibly square the account given the unbelievable generosity some have extended, but I’m all for giving it a try. I don’t want my fun bottles to go un-drank. The questionable micros? Well.. that’s OK if they maybe get missed.

      Anyway, not trying to tell you how to do it or anything, just putting myself in your shoes. I’d love to hear about it when you open it; I imagine it’d be incredibly good.

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