Today's post is written by Lou Bustamante. Lou is a contributor to publications including the SF Chronicle, SF Weekly and Wine & Spirits.
Anyone who is into whiskies will tell you one thing: it is a rabbit hole of knowledge and bottles. Just like with bread and cheese, a handful of ingredients can produce almost endless variations. There is always something interesting you’ve never tasted or that is historically interesting. It seems like every whisky comes with a story.
I recently got a chance to try a very rare flight of Macallans from the 1940’s and was amazed by one important difference from the flagship Sherry Oak and Fine Oak lines: the presence of peat smoke.
The Macallan used Speyside peat in the malting process from inception in 1824 through the late nineteenth century when railways brought more heat efficient fuels like coal. By the 1930’s, peat was still there, although it is only lightly discernible. But the World War years limited the supply of fossil fuels, so the peat was used again for a while; effectively disappearing in the post-war years.
The whiskies I tried were not old bottlings, but part of their Fine & Rare vintage line. The releases are not regular, but rather determined by the Macallan whisky maker Bob Dalgarno. Dalgrano selects casks for the line as he deems them ready and at their peak. Each cask selected in the series also has an interesting historical aspect to it.
Here are my notes on the five that I tasted, which, except for the 1947, were all bottled in 2002. All were tried with a little bit of water in stemmed flared glasses:
- 1945 Fine & Rare (56 years old); 51.5% abv: Sherry fruit melds with smoke perfectly, herbal, marzipan
- 1946 Fine & Rare (56 years old); 44.3% abv: Peat, savory, more herbal that the 1945
- 1947 Fine & Rare (15 years old); 44.3% abv: The most unique of the line in that this release was originally bottled in 1962, went to a private collection, then was repurchased by the Macallan and rebottled again in 2008. Yeasty funk, lighter smoke, shiitake mushroom savoriness
- 1948 Fine & Rare (53 years old); 45.3% abv: Honey, malty, apple, brown butter, malty sweetness, oak tannin bitterness
- 1949 Fine & Rare (52 years old); 41.1% abv: Dark spice, brown sugar, raspberry, pineapple, maple syrup
If you’re curious to give some a taste of these sold out bottles and your wallet can handle it, some of the Fine & Rare line whiskies are featured in the French Laundry’s new spirits program.