At the time of tasting I didn’t know what these were of course, but it’s an interesting experiment for sure. If I would’ve gone into this tasting with knowledge of the samples, things might have been different since those Macallans come with a reputation.
The Macallan Gold from the recent color scheme whiskies or whatever they named the series, together with Amber, Ruby and Sienna. Gold is supposed to suck. I hadn’t tried it before although they tried to sell me one as an exclusive when I hopped through the shop two years ago.
Then again, Fine Oak also comes with a reputation of actually being quite shitty Macallans and the first step of Macallan’s decline in popularity with whisky geeks. It came as a bit of a surprise after years of marketing ‘the best Sherry casks and only Golden Promise barley’ they suddenly had bourbon casks and supposedly inferior barley, and suddenly that was the big innovative thing.
And, lets be honest, great Macallans are sherried Macallans. The old ones preferably.
Sample 1: Macallan Fine Oak 10, 40%
It’s quite spicy on the nose, with a lot of malt. There’s some straw and some grass. Minerals, not bad but a tad thin. The palate is also slightly mineral like. Slightly waxy with oak. Some fruits too, banana and apple. The finish is consistent with the palate and fairly rich.
Sample 2: Macallan Gold, 40%
The nose is more flat than the previous one, but also a bit warmer. Grains, but watery. The palate is slightly gritty with some sawdust. Relatively rich and dry with oak. Sweet and slightly spicy. The finish is rather good and quite long.
I preferred the second one. I preferred the Macallan Gold. So much for reputations. Well, I didn’t finish any of the samples. These were not really bad whiskies, but neither of them was particularly interesting.
The Macallan Fine Oak is, in my opinion, an overpriced series of whisky that tries to fill its older brother’s shoes but doesn’t manage. The Macallan Gold is quite acceptable for a supposedly inferior NAS. It’s cheaper than the Fine Oak and therefore would have my preference, since I also think it’s a tastier whisky.
In the end, I think for good Macallan we have to look at the indie bottlers, or be willing to overspend.
Short review: I didn’t finish either sample. The Macallan Gold is better than the Fine Oak 10.
Macallan Fine Oak 10 years old, 40%
Macallan Gold, 40%
Concluding the Big Blind Tasting we can state the following, from my experience after these comparisons:
NAS is not necessarily better than entry level whiskies with an age statement. Neither is it worse. Also, I’m not very good at guessing entry level drams and NAS whiskies side by side. But, nobody will be surprised by my lack of blind-tasting-abilities.
The problem with NAS isn’t about quality, as it’s a form of marketing that can be applied to whisky of any quality – so quality is no argument for or against it. Furthermore, NAS isn’t a “type” of whisky, it’s a type of label – it doesn’t reflect a production process, as could be proven by removing all the labels on the bottles of your age-stated samples: you’ve just “made them NAS” but they are the same whisky. The real issue with NAS is, as I’ve said elsewhere, about the overall lack of internal logic about the importance of maturation: age, and age information, matters here, but doesn’t matter there (where it can’t be used for marketing) – its importance supposedly toggled on and off by a labeling decision made by marketers. Maturation has always been, and continues to be, one of the primary ways in which whisky acquires its character, but its relevance can now supposedly be simply “turned off” by sticking an NAS label on it and, one has to wonder, could the relevance of ABV, casking, and filtration just be “turned off” as well if/where they don’t serve industry marketing purposes? ? If age is truly “irrelevant”, why do industry “experts” continue to track it on every cask produced and to lose gallon upon gallon in angel’s share in its pursuit, and why aren’t whiskies that are 3 years and a day the equivalent of 20 y.o.+ whiskies if other factors are “more important”?
The problem isn’t the quality, it’s the contradictions.
Well, yup. All true. Seems like we’re on the same page here.
It’s not a type of whisky indeed, in itself. But there’s a certain division between NAS and not-NAS, in such a way that it’s almost an entirely different entity.
While I do understand many people objecting to what they see as very high prices for what they suspect is very young whisky as one of the major current issues with NAS, the “bad value/immature whisky” issue would still be around it these products carried an age statement, so I’m not really sure in what way NAS represents a “different entity”. If every NAS product beat every age statement in your comparison (or vice-versa, or if you removed the labels to “make” every winner NAS), it would still be impossible to make generalizations about product age (by definition), let alone product quality, based on age-statement vs. NAS labels. It’s for this reason that I find questions of “is this age-statement better than that NAS” a bit of the distraction from the main issue, because even if the industry withheld the ages of all its best products, premiumizing NAS beyond question, it still wouldn’t result in NAS making sense in terms of what it says about age and age information – that it matters here, but not there, depending solely upon the label used.
I disagree on it not being regarded as a different entity.
If you go to any masterclass containing NAS whisky, the host will tell you it’s all flavor driven and age is not important. If the next whisky is a 30 year old whatever they won’t stop rambling about vintage, heritage and other benefits of long maturation.
Add to that that most (not all) NAS whisky is targeted at a different audience, and you have a clear two track marketing policy going on with most producers.
From the interpreted words of producers: A lot of NAS whisky is targeted at folks who have a slight interest in whisky and want to try something else from the default age stated release without spending a lot more money.
Also, I regard it as a different entity because with NAS whisky, the price asked is in no way representative of the cost of making the product. This, together with availability, used to be a major factor in whisky pricing. Now, with NAS on the rise, it seems like a giant ‘free for all’ and distillers and bottlers are trying figure out at which point people will stop buying their product.
And sure, the lack of an age statement is in no way a guarantee of quality or the lack thereof. It’s just that the presence of an age statement gives you an inkling of a clue of what to expect.
Let’s just say I might buy a bottle with an age statement without tasting it, and I wouldn’t a NAS whisky. It’s just too random.
I see what you’re saying, but I’d point out that NAS being regarded as “a different entity” for marketing purposes – and I fully agree that this goes on quite a bit – and it actually being a different type of whisky are, quite importantly, two different things, and that it’s that difference which is at the heart of the industry deception.
The marketing approach on NAS is substantially different and, as you point out, lacks a lot of logical foundation: wide releases at close to premium prices with no real evidence as to why they should cost so much beyond what the distiller thinks the market will, or should, bear. Although it can’t really be confirmed (which is the entire point of the labeling), NAS is really just a way to premiumize a very large proportion of available young product while avoiding the discussion of age. Beyond that, it’s also a way to guide consumer tastes toward young profiles through the constant barrage of “this NAS is good” messaging, and young, “flavour-led” products are becoming the new “good”, based not so much on their quality, but on what the industry can most readily supply to the large majority of whisky drinkers and then influencing tastes to match. Yet, unless simply predominantly young whisky, the age of which no one just wants to discuss, can actually be described as (not just sold as) something substantially outside the realm of its older relations, I’d argue that NAS is a separate entity in marketing only – I can, after all, make NAS at home by ripping labels off while putting off feelings of foolishness at the advisability of doing so.
“Let’s just say I might buy a bottle with an age statement without tasting it, and I wouldn’t a NAS whisky. It’s just too random.” – truer words never written; once marketers realised that they could sell just about anything by putting a Gaelic name on it, that’s essentially what the bosses told the distillers/blenders to do, and the result is the whisky Wild West we see today.