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FIRST, a disclaimer. I occasionally drink whisky, mostly scotch over bourbon, and I do appreciate single malt over blends, but I am not remotely considered a whisky lover. Being a wine enthusiast for close to three decades now, I am just simply enthralled by the emerging public interest on single malt whiskies.
Attending Whisky Live and talking whisky with whisky experts like “the one and only” Jim Murray, and our own Philippine connoisseur Johnssen Li, made me extremely interested in this single malt category. Both Murray, during my short interview with him at the inaugural Whisky Live! Manila way back in 2016, and my friend Johnssen Li have said to me that wine people are normally better trained at describing and even appreciating whiskies because of the sensory sensitivity of our nose and palate. After all, it is way different to smell and taste alcohol at the 40-50% (in the case of whisky) range versus one at 12-15% (in the case of wine). And so, I took advice from these two wise men and on occasions would drink single malt whisky, especially over crappy by-the-glass wine selections in bars and restaurants.
MACALLAN RULESMacallan was founded in 1824 on a plateau above the River Spey in north-east Scotland, and since 1999 has been part of the huge Edrington Group spirits company based in Glasgow.
As far as I can remember, Macallan has always been the de facto go to single malt brand. In fact, Macallan often has stock-availability issues in the Philippines given its strong demand. When the single malt category exploded in the country a decade or so ago, Macallan was able to capitalize on this.
Right now, an entry level Macallan 12-year-old is around P8,000 for a standard 700 ml bottle, while other big single-malt brands like a Glenfiddich and a Singleton would retail their 12-year-old counterparts at less than P3,000 a bottle. While these age-stated Macallan whiskies are their top sellers, Macallan is also renowned for several non-age stated limited release whiskies including, if you check out their website www.themacallan.com, the recently launched Harmony Collection II series.
THE THEATRICS OF COFFEEOn March 9 at the Garden Pavilion of the Grand Hyatt BGC, I attended a media launch of the Macallan Harmony Collection II, inspired by its coffee whisky. This is called the Harmony Collection II because the first one was inspired by cacao and called the Macallan Harmony Collection Rich Cacao (launched over a year ago).
This was a walk-through session catering to 15 participants or less. They had several sessions over three days. The entertaining session was hosted by Macallan brand ambassador Hans Eckstein, who was assisted by Gio Visitacion of Good Cup Coffee, and Mitch Chopitea, Edrington brands manager from Macallan’s Philippine importer, Future Trade International. The session itself was less than an hour long, with another 30 minutes thrown in for chitchat and photo-ops.
There are actually two variants in this Harmony Collection: Inspired by Intense Arabica, and the other is the Smooth Arabica. In these sessions, we all got to taste only the former, the Intense Arabica. The session started with a short talk about Macallan, then it shifted quickly to coffee — the venue was ornamented with coffee bean dispensers and grinders that were used both as props and accomplices for the ensuing show.
As participants, we were each given a bowl and told to choose from three of the coffee bean dispensers which coffee beans we want to grind. After grinding, we were asked to bring our bowls with ground coffee to the big round table where we had assigned seats. Each participant had a tray in front of him/her which contained a bowl of popcorn and the Macallan Harmony Collection whisky in a snifter glass. Intermittently through our sit-down session, we were shown videos of coffee experts that Macallan collaborated with, as well as of Macallan whisky maker Steven Bremner. The videos were all short and sweet. We were asked to smell, again and again, our bowl with ground beans to make mental imprints for later reference, and we were also served freshly brewed coffee — all building to the suspense of finally tasting this new coffee-inspired whisky.
And after we got to taste the Macallan Harmony Collection inspired by Intense Arabica, the floor was opened for questions. Interesting enough, the first question asked was, “Is there no coffee added to the whisky or to the barrel?” And the answer was an obvious “NO.”
Here are my own tasting notes: intense nose with vanilla, coffee latte, even cacao, hints of licorice and cinnamon, thick and flavorful on the body with very long raisin-like charred or roasted bean finish (it does sound like I am describing wine).
This whisky was quite impressive to my not-so trained whisky palate. My preference for single-malt whisky is more on the slightly peated style like what I found with Highland Park whiskies.
Quoting from the first paragraph of the PR material given to us, it says: “The Macallan has unveiled the new expressions that form the second edition of The Harmony Collection, a limited annual release series driven by the brand’s inherent curiosity and its innovative and creative mindset. A collection exploring The Macallan’s future packaging journey, each release features distinctive packaging that incorporates organic by-products and gives them new life.”
The “Inspired by,” with a play on the word “inspire,” really has zero relation to coffee, other than an environment-friendly packaging angle.
Macallan has once again leveraged on their leadership card to release this whisky at a P30,000/bottle retail price with no age statement. This is already in the price range of the Macallan 18-year-old double cask. I am sure there was so much craftmanship put into this whisky so there is no disrespect on my part, but more as an admiration on how Macallan markets these new releases. This is a true testimony to how a strong brand can command amazing prices, much to the envy of every competitor in the single-malt whisky industry. Kudos to Macallan for this — I probably would enjoy my coffee, preferably an Illy Arabica, without the added alcohol bliss better, and not pay an arm and a leg for such pleasure. But that is me, a wine person speaking. I am sure whisky collectors are already disagreeing with me now.
By the way, is Earl Grey or English Breakfast Tea next in the Harmony Series?
The Harmony Collection Inspired by Intense Arabica will be available on a limited release at premium liquor stores and online stores. For further queries, you may e-mail Mitch Chopitea at email@example.com.
Sherwin Lao is the first Filipino wine writer member of both Bordeaux based Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux (FIJEV) and the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, please e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check his wine training website https://thewinetrainingcamp.wordpress.com/services.