Whisky Review: The Macallan Sienna

The Macallan SiennaThe Macallan was founded in 1824 by Alexander Reid. It is located near the village of Craigellachie, in the Speyside region of Scotland. The distillery was originally called “Elchies,” and it looks out across River Spey. The Macallan is one of the largest distillers of single malt whisky in Scotland. In fact, it is third in total world sales for single malts, playing third fiddle to Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.

Although you can still find age statement whiskies on the shelves of your local liquor store, The Macallan, like many other competitive distilleries, has been moving in the direction of NAS (No Age Statement) releases for some time now. Sienna is one such release. Making use of The Macallan’s “curiously small and uniquely shaped” copper stills, it belongs to the 1824 Series of sherry matured releases, which takes its name from the year that The Macallan was founded.

As with all Macallan releases, high quality oak casks were utilized to impart a sophisticated wood presence. In the 1824 Series, everything comes comes from first-fill casks, which were split between European oak and American oak. I really like that kind of variety. It’s a rare treat to achieve a well-balanced middle ground between wood from these two venerable trees, which are used in wine-making, as well.

American oak has a higher concentration of vanillin and oak lactone than European oak, which means it tends to be sweet and mellow, with some vanilla overtones. On the other hand, European oak contains one and a half times more extractable solids, and twice the amount of extractable phenols, than American oak. It imparts spicy, peppery, and bitter flavors to the wood–all of which translate nicely into a more complex finish.

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A few weeks ago, I was eager to open my bottle of Sienna. Since that time, the whisky has had a chance to oxidize a bit, making itself comfortable like a genie in the bottle. This breathing room over a fortnight (yes, I drank the level down) should allow for a well-balanced and informed review-as opposed to popping the cork today, in a craven display of impatience.

Tasting Notes: The Macallan Sienna

Vital stats: 700 ml; 100% malted barley; 43% ABV / 86 proof; first released in 2013; 1824 Series; price varies between $70-100.

Appearance: Mahogany with highlights of henna. Legs run quickly down the glass, revealing the presence of a fairly young spirit.

Nose: Orange blossom, as well as orange marmalade, which exude sweet, aromatic notes. Upon first sniff, this nose hovers enticingly between floral and fruity. There’s also a more substantial underpinning of nectarine, and canary melon. Sweet notes of vanilla and glazed sugar also figure into the bed of delightful scents. Finally, I’m getting a few spicy notes from the oak, which remind me of cinnamon, along with a brush of tannin that smells like fresh coffee grounds (in a good way).

Palate: What a delightful dram this is for late spring and summer. Sweet, and yet not overpowering. Fruit and floral overtones meet dripping honeycomb, along with a healthy dose of malt. Hmmm. Interesting for a NAS release. I think this 2013 bottle has plenty 12-year-old casks in it, and perhaps even a few older ones still? Kind of hard to believe considering the price point.

In my second sip, I’m getting notes of orange marmalade and honey blossom, along with stewed fruits that remind me of golden raisins, plums, and peach cobbler. Yes, an orange-y presence is still in my glass, mingling with the rest of the flavors, which are turned down a few numbers on the “amp,” so to speak. We’re talking about melon, as on the nose, in addition to familiar orchard fruits. “Come buy, come buy!” On the back end, spices emerge, evoking crystallized ginger, cinnamon, and a few tracery grains of white pepper.
There’s a rather pleasing balance of oak tannins and sherry in the mouth. Length is medium to medium-long. Perhaps a bit surprisingly, this finish doesn’t feel forced in the least, although younger spirit with with a higher ABV must be helping to sustain the older, richer cask presence. At any rate, the two go reasonably well together.

The Takeaway

Odds bodkins...since we're now in the home stretch, I think it would be fitting to explore the 1824 Series, don't you? Unfortunately, it was supposed to replace the age statement Macallan range of whiskies, which included the 10-Year-Old Fine Oak, the 12-Year-Old Sherry Oak, and the 15-Year-Old Fine Oak offerings.

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After much throat clearing, the distillery released its first bottle in the series in autumn of 2013. Named "Gold," it was (and still is) the lightest in color. Shortly thereafter, three other expressions made their way into the busy world: Amber, Sienna, and Ruby. My bottle under review belongs to the second darkest of all four releases. Indeed, color is the benchmark by which these "four horsemen" can be judged.

Naturally, this begs the question: "Are we moving towards a 'whisky apocalypse' when it comes to age statement releases?"

I think so, at least insofar as core offerings are concerned--not just from The Macallan, but from quite a few other big distilleries, as well. That's the reason why I'm recommending that you pick up a few bottles of The Macallan 12 Year Old (sherry oak finish), the Fine Oak 10 Year-Old, or the Fine Oak 15 Year-Old, today.

It's also worth mentioning The Macallan 12 Year Old comes in a very cool half bottle size, as well as a 700 ml bottle. A half-sized bottle of decent whisky is rare, at least in the USA. 375 milliliters is the perfect size for a trip to the beach in summer, or a ski resort in winter.

As rumor has it, ye olde age statement Macallans won't last forever. Time's winged chariot is drawing near. Very soon, the shelves in your local store will be full of NAS offerings with fancy-schmancy packaging, even while age statement guarantees will either be a thing of the past, or will cost a heckuva lot more.

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