What Does Cask Strength Mean?

When I first started enjoying scotch, I was like every novice, I thought that more was better. The older the bottling, the better the scotch, right? The higher the alcohol by volume, the better the scotch, right? But like many things, older doesn’t mean better and neither does more.

When whisky is made, it’s stored in casks, or barrels, for many years. This new make whisky, as it’s called, can have an alcohol content anywhere from 60%-75%, depending on distillation. It’s potent stuff. As it matures, it loses some of its potency, known as the angel’s share. When it’s removed, depending on how old it is, it can still have a fairly high percentage of alcohol.

Normally distilled water is added to normalize the alcohol content to the standard bottling levels, however sometimes they normalize it at a might higher alcohol content for cask strength bottlings. For example, The Macallan Cask Strength, which has no age statement, has an alcohol by volume of 58.5%.

Is cask strength better? That’s debatable. At 58.5%, the burn of alcohol overpowers many of the subtle flavors in scotch. However, some people like the idea that you can get a taste of what it’s like straight out of the barrel, before water is added to bring it down to more pedestrian alcohol by volume levels. You can adjust it to your liking, instead of accepting the more standard levels of 43% or 40%.

I think it’s worth a try but unless you like your nose hairs singed off, I’d avoid getting a whole bottle.

Balvenie "Discover Rare Craftsmanship" Sweepstakes

Balvenie emailed me a special sweepstakes they’re running for the holidays – you can win a scotch whisky aroma nosing kit.

Balvenie Scotch Whisky Aroma Nosing Kit

Just in time for the holidays, The Balvenie is offering the chance to win a one-of-a-kind prize: An exclusive Scotch Whisky nosing and tasting kit. This unique kit contains 24 separate aromas and a dedicated nosing guide, as well as other essential whisky tasting tools. The lucky winner will also receive an exquisite Balvenie hipflask.

One of the coolest parts of the Macallan tour was their coopering and nosing areas where we could smell various aromas (it really highlighted the difference, at least for us, between dried and fresh fruits). This nosing kit is that fantastic experience in a kit and it’s appropriate that another premium scotch producer, Balvenie, is the one to come up with it. I’m a huge fan of their DoubleWood and at the moment I have a PortWood I bought in Heathrow duty-free just sitting in the case… waiting for the perfect occasion.

This would make a fantastic holiday gift, but I don’t believe they sell it.

Celebrate the Macallan at 1 Hazelton

In early October, I, my wife, and a couple of my friends, went down to Washington D.C. to a Celebrate the Macallan scotch tasting event. Unfortunately for us, they overbooked the event and we didn’t get farther than the room of small eats and a sampling of the Macallan 10. They did make it up to us by pouring us generous helpings of the Macallan 18 so it wasn’t a terrible waste of a trip. 🙂

Through the power of the internets, I know now what actually happens inside the tasting room courtesy of David at Scotchblog.ca. From the photos, the event seemed to be much like the tasting room at the Macallan distillery tour. Tasters were treated to the 12, 15, 18, and 21 (plus the 10 in the beginning), making it a pretty good tasting considering the price (free).

As an added bonus, each taster was given a leather-bound, velvet lined shoe box with a Fine Oak 10, 12, tumbler, and pen. Not bad!

Standard Macallan Bottles Not Available in Duty Free

Macallan 1824 Travel Retail CollectionWhen I visited Macallan in Craigellachie (we stayed at the Lynwood B&B, which is literally a minute away from Macallan and run by the most lovely and inviting of people), I really wanted to pick up a bottle of the sherry oak Macallan 18. I didn’t only because we figured we could buy it in the duty free shop at Heathrow and, since we still had a week left in our European Vacation, I didn’t want to carry around a bottle all the time (for weight and fearing that I’d break it!).

Unfortunately, the duty free shop at Heathrow doesn’t carry any of the standard bottles of The Macallan. Much like how The Macallan Elegancia was created for duty free and travel retail outlets, all of the Macallans at Heathrow (and I suspect elsewhere) had special names and lacked an age statement!

As it turns out, they announced on July 21st, 2009 (we started our trip before the announcement!) that they were launching The 1824 Collection specifically for the Global Travel Retail market! There are four expressions: The Macallan Select Oak, Whisky Maker’s Edition, the Estate Reserve, and the 1824 Limited Release.

While Macallan has spun this as a exclusive offer available only in duty free, maybe they did this so that you couldn’t just wait to buy the sherry oak or fine oak Macallans on the cheap in duty free. 🙂

Celebrate the Macallan Event – Oct 6th, 2009

Last night, my wife, two friends, and I went to a Celebrate the Macallan event in Washington D.C. We drove down from Columbia, hopped on the D.C. Metro, and walked about ten minutes or so to the Andrew Mellon Auditorium on Connecticut Avenue. When got there at around 8:20ish for an 8:30 event and the line was pretty long, but we weren’t worried.

We weren’t worried until one of the staff walked to the group in front of us and warned that the building only held 200 and they were around 220. Yikes. We didn’t travel nearly an hour just to turn around and go back!

The Outer Room

The Outer Room

Fortunately, they decided to let everyone in but only take the first 200 into the actual presentation and event. We first went into the entryway of the building, where small tables were setup along with a bar. As you entered, you were given a gold Macallan token that you could trade in for a sample of their 10 Year Fine Oak. We immediately made our way to the bar to get our sample!

As we waited in the next line to get into the presentation, we discovered that we were the first group to be denied entry. 🙁 When we peeked inside, we saw that the other room they were in was packed to the gills. Even if we were let in, it wouldn’t have made for an all too pleasant experience.

We stayed in the outer room where very light h’orderves were served and were treated to samples of the Macallan 18, a treat we certainly accepted as a nice consolation prize. All in all, we still had a good time. They offered to put us on the VIP list for another event this week, which simply meant we were given priority to get in, but we didn’t think we’d make the trip a second time.

In the future, I hope Macallan fixes their RSVP system so that they don’t have this problem but they handled the circumstances quite well.