Whisky Showdown! Macallan 12 vs. Macallan Cask Strength

A fantastic matchup today, the Macallan 12 goes up against the Macallan Cask Strength. I normally pit cask strengths against like products, but given the two products eminate from the same distillery, I am curious as to how these whiskies compare.

Both products look similar with the only difference being a slightly deeper shade of red on the cask strength. The legs run a tad slower and thicker on the Macallan 12.

On the nose, the Macallan 12 is softer than the Macallan Cask Strength. The latter is less fruity than the former and more of the wood and smoke comes through. Otherwise, there is little difference between the two.

On the palate, the differences are more readily identified. The Macallan 12 is softer, less obviously fruity, stronger in vanilla, and lighter in texture. The Macallan Cask Strength pulls no punches. The fruit is powerful, the texture is deeper, it is bolder in bringing out the wood from the cask, sweeter overall, and stronger with the smoke.

The finishes on both are satisfying and complex. The cask strength is nuttier and a bit longer. The 12 is somewhat more bitter on the finish.

Overall, these are two nice whiskies. However, there is a clear winner in this showdown and I am at ease in declaring the Macallan Cask Strength the victor. The cask strength is a more complex experience. The stronger flavours are coupled with a degree of variety seldom experienced with whiskies so young. It is more malleable as well, allowing the drinker to experiment with the alcohol quotient and arrive at a level most suitable for his taste.

Therefore, budgets allowing, I strongly recommend the Macallan Cask Strength over the 12. If you buy it during a promotional period, as I did, you can have it for a bargain. It is currently available in ample quantities in Quebec and New Hampshire. However, Ontario has limited quantities of a different batch than the one I have reviewed in these pages.


The Macallan Cask Strength

Macallan’s Fine Oak series was born out of the distillery’s misplaced notion that consumers prefered lighter, bourbon cask aged whiskies. Thankfully, their core products were not discontinued and Macallan decided to join the growing ranks of distilleries producing cask strenght bottles. I picked out up recently at the SAQ for about $96, but was given a gift card for 15% of that amount as a reward for purchasing above the promotions price point. The LCBO in Ontario carries the bottle for about $100.

This whisky is aged in Macallan’s famous sherry oak casks from Jerez, Spain at 60.1% abv. I remark that the bottle contains a neat little hologram of Easter Elchies House, the “spiritual home” of the Macallan. Perhaps this is to prevent counterfeits. Of note, I recently learned that guests of the distillery can stay at the Easter Elchies house.

Instantly, I am impressed by the deep, rich amber/copper colour of the whisky. A stunning display of how high quality sherry casks can impart their qualities on a whisky which I assume to be aged a short period as no age statement is given on this bottle. Some distilleries may age their products longer but use lower quality casks, Macallan seasons its casks for two years with aged sherry before shipping the selected barrels to the distillery in Scotland.

The whisky runs quick, thin legs in my glass after a good swirl.

The nose is intense with caramel, orange, spice, oak, dried fruit, chocolate, and a touch of vanilla.

The palate swells with dried fruit, orange, warm figs, and a hint of vanilla.

The finish is long and full, leaving spice and fruit behind.

I tried this one first without water and added some more until it reached about 50% abv. I normally water down cask strength whiskies to about 45% to 50% and find that this works best in optimizing the tasting experience. However, this is a matter of personal preference and cask strength products allow a degree of experimentation.

The water intensifies the orange on the nose and makes the vanilla more clear.

The palate showcases the dried fruit again, adds some caramel, and strengthens the vanilla. It still warms the tongue when held a few seconds and reminds me of warmed figs, but the intensity is not as strong as before on this level.

The finish is longer still and zestier than before. The spice lingers and memories of oak and orange with the faintest hint of smoke follow.

This is a fantastic find and well worth the price of admission. I hear, however unconfirmed, that the product is discontinued. If this is the case, I implore that you seek out a bottle at your nearest dealer of fine spirits and add this one to your collection.


Macallan Cask Strength 3