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April 29th 2002

Macallan - A Swedish Triumph

"This leggy blonde appears to have got up and walked."
"It's silky and sensuous."

Anyone peeping round the door seeing 35 men seated in a room looking up at a table at which six men and one woman are seated and hearing these expressions could have been forgiven for thinking they had interrupted some sort of sex therapy meeting. The presence of photographers would then have worried them! But they would have been wrong.

image Ulf Buxrud and Helen ArthurThis was Ulf Buxrud's special tasting of The Macallan, held on 20th April for a large group of his friends and fellow enthusiasts and also to celebrate HM The Queen's Golden Jubilee. The event was held at the Landmark Hotel in London. Ulf is a whisky collector and connoisseur from Malmo in Sweden. The audience came from around the world and the event was chaired for the day by Helen Arthur. The top table panel of writers, apart from Helen, were John Hansell from Malt Advocate in the USA; Michael Jackson - need we say more; Jack Milroy of the renowned whisky brothers; Charles MacLean - of the excellent whisky books and Marcin Miller of Whisky magazine. Naturally, Ulf sat there too. Quite a collection in itself before they even started the whiskies.

Ulf was born in 1942 when very few whisky companies were able to distil due to war - The Macallan was one of the few. He bought a bottle of The Macallan 1942 for 300 and today it is worth 3,000 - but Ulf's isn't worth that anymore, because it was one of the whiskies included in the tasting. Ulf Buxrud is known to many in the whisky industry for his impressive collection of malt whisky. He started collecting in 1970 with a bottle of Port Ellen and has since collected around 800 bottles. But Ulf doesn't just collect whisky to look at it, he drinks it! A very sound practice in our view - that's what it's for.

To start the ball rolling Ulf proposed a toast to HM The Queen with a special 1952 Highland Park bottled in 1977 and opened on 20th April 2002 to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.

Image of AudienceA second toast was to Ulf himself as he celebrated his 60th birthday the day before. Ulf explained the tasting wasn't because it was his birthday, but because he wanted to do something different and share the joy of The Macallan with a group of special friends and whisky writers. London was simply a good location to gather people from many places and to honour the Queen. The Scottish end was held up by the use of blue and white funnels - to represent the flag - in the bottles where participants could create their own vatting from all of the samples! Nice touch there.

The tasting started with the 1942 and a 1946 bottling and several other specials. Then a series of 18 year old whiskies from 1960 to 1984. After that younger cask strength samples took over to 1999 plus three samples of spirit from 2000, 2001 and 2002 - and every single one The Macallan.

And the reference to a leggy blonde? Well Helen Arthur was describing a bottling of The Macallan 1978 at 18 years old, which belied its age and appeared to have no "legs". Helen also spoke of sitting in front of a warm log fire at her home in the country with a glass of The Macallan Private Eye.

image of Michael JacksonMichael Jackson also chose to use more sensual imagery to depict the whiskies and he described the 1963 18 year old 'as having good legs'. As for the 1974 18 year old, he chose to talk about it "as having a very smooth body - silky - difficult talking about body in this way but it slides like silk - you know what I mean". When talking about the younger whiskies he spoke about the "thrill of getting younger".

Charles MacLean seemed to get onto a rubber tack - he referred to the 1972 18 year old by saying that 'Germans adore rubber - in whisky I should add!" and that they would enjoy the hint of rubber in this from the European oak. This was also reflected in his description of the 1983 version and by the time he got to the younger whiskies he was enthusing about engine oil and polished oak as well. Listeners at the keyhole would certainly have been bemused.

John Hansell said that by the time he got to the fourth set of 10 glasses in Flight 4 that he felt 'a bit like the guy in Groundhog Day who kept waking up to the same day. I keep seeing ten whiskies, have a taste, then I go to the bathroom - but like him I am having fun!' John and his wife Amy had come straight from Chicago where they had their own whisky show a couple of days before.

image of Macallan rangeEveryone agreed that tasting 53 whiskies was a mammoth task and the panel tried to restrict their swallowing to those in each flight on which they were supposed to comment.

Jack Milroy with his whisky entrepreneur hat on, looked at the promise in some of the younger vintages and was especially positive about the 1989 13 year old. 'Despite its young age - great dram at cask strength with a big luscious mouthful of burnt barley, caramel.' Get your wallets ready now - it will be worth it.

Marcin Miller was the first to describe the colour of the whiskies - a special feature of The Macallan is its warm amber glow. Marcin enthused about Russian gold and amber hues.

The audience were asked to participate at the end of each flight and some very interesting comments came from there. The audience did include some past and present Macallan people such as Willie Phillips, David Robertson and Bob Dalgarno who were able to talk in more detail about some of the samples.

Willie Phillips, retired MD of The Macallan, added some words of wisdom to the discussion about the earlier bottlings, which the panel had found disappointing - in particular the 18 year olds from the early 1960's. Apparently at that time batches were smaller, made from, say, a maximum of 5 casks without any thought as to whether they would be replicated in the future. It wasn't until 1963 that the decision to work towards a more consistent quality which could be confidently marketed was made.

image of Milroy, Arthur and MillerThe three youngest samples, immature spirit from 2000, 2001 and 2002, were introduced by Macallan's own ambassador, David Robertson, whom many of you may have seen at whisky shows round the world.

One clear lesson learned when doing a large tasting of this especially of such special old malts. Don't add water beforehand! Certainly pour a small sample into another glass and add a little water to that before spoiling the whole glassful. Many of the older whiskies simply fell apart and faded away.

After the event Helen compiled a succinct and interesting set of brief tasting notes from all the experts who commented on the various whiskies. We may use them in future to compare with out own views if we ever get our hands on some of these vintages again.


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