Monday, August 17, 2009

The Macallan 15 yr old Fine Oak - Single Malt Scotch Review

The Macallan distillery, the producer of a world famous single malt scotch is located in the Speyside region of Scotland. Although this distillery has a long history in Scotland, as far back as 1824 (and probably before that on an illegal basis), the single malt scotch was not available outside of Scotland until 1980.

Before 1980, the spirit was sold in the country as a single malt and the vast majority of the spirit was sold to other companies that would blend the Macallan with other single malts and grain whisky in order to produce a scotch blend. A notable example is the Famous Grouse Scotch blend. The Macallan is a key single malt in that blend and quite noticeable.  In 1980, the owners of the brand started exporting the malt.  Macallan was instantly popular. 

This is due to the unique flavor profile, one that is dominated by sherry. Production of this spirit involves storing it in oak casks that previously held Spanish sherry. In 2004 a new product line was introduced entitled "Fine Oak." This spirit is stored in European (Spain) sherry oak casks, but then it is transferred to American oak sherry casks and finally to American oak casks that previously held bourbon. This triple cask maturation of the spirit produces the 15 yr old Fine Oak.

Suggested Serving
This is an expensive single malt, so it goes without saying that is definitely not appropriate to use this in mixed drinks of any kind. If you want 'Rob Roy' or add soda, use Johnnie Walker Red. That said, how one enjoys their single malt scotch is up to the individual's personal taste. 

Neat (nothing added) is certainly appropriate. Take a little sip, let it roll on the tongue before swallowing. 

A little water, by little, I mean a drop or two of distilled or artesian water is certainly acceptable.  

Ice? A rather expensive proposition to dilute this malt, but many consumers like ice.  In any event, as it melts after about two minutes, a sip deliver a much softened flavor. If you choose ice, one cube only, no more than that because the drink will be overly diluted (some would argue a single cube does irreparable damage to the flavor profile).

Nose (undiluted)
Lots of vanilla and mango notes.

Palate (undiluted)
It goes without saying that sherry and oak are major adornments of the flavor profile. This oak is similar to a Californian red wine like Silver Oak. Unlike most scotch, there is a wine like flavor and texture to this that initially is very pleasing but unfortunately becomes prune-like the longer it is lolled around on one's tongue. There are fruit flavors at play also, but not of the citrus variety, but rather raisin, cooked apple and bruised tangerine. The flavors are delicately held together.

Finish (undiluted)
The cooked fruit, or warm fruit cup continues into the finish with a little spice and then disappears. The flavor does not remain long. Not a short finish, but I was expecting something longer lingering on the palate after it is downed.

General Impressions
This is basically a sherried scotch with lots of toasted oak flavor that moves towards an assortment of cooked fruits. There is a wine-like, prune oriented end to the tasting experience that I do not particularly enjoy.  As I drink this, I think to myself that the standard sherried 12 year old Macallan is better and cheaper to boot.

You will not offend anyone by serving it to them. They will enjoy a good quality single malt, but it will be on your dime. From a purely taste perspective, this is flavorful, distinguished, but ultimately a little flawed with respect to the cooked dark fruit notes. The reason I cannot recommend this single malt is because the price makes it unreasonable. It is too expensive for what it provides. The 12 yr, sherried version is cheaper and in my humble opinion, better.  Glendronach 12 or 15 would better choices for those seeking sherried Scotch whiskies.  

If you are seeking a show-stopper of a single malt, then pass this one by and go directly to the Macallan 18yr old sherry oak (not the fine oak).  The 18 yr old sherried bottling provides the quintessential Macallan experience. Please note there is a 18yr old Fine Oak, and I have not tried it, and therefore can't recommend it.The bottom line is I would not buy this one again because of the price and the unpleasant cooked fruit notes on the finish.

I revisited this malt a few years later and you can read that review here.


Jason Debly

© Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.


  1. Hi Jason,
    I usually like a little bit of extra oak in my whiskies. Laphroaig QC, for example. Your notes make 15FO sound pretty good. The question for me is whether I would respond the same way to that wine/prune ending.

    There's going to be a Macallan tasting at a local store soon, where for $10 we can sample CS, 12, 15FO and 18. That sounds like the perfect way to test the waters with this one.

    Like you said...cost is going to potentially be an issue. Local prices for these Macallans is $34 for 12 year, $43 for CS and $66 for 15FO. The FO had better stand out in a very positive way if I'm ever going to put down an extra $23 over the CS!


  2. Jeff, the real issue, as you have noted, is cost. I just don't think it is worth the price. If you can participate in the tasting you mention above for $10, you should. Don't get me wrong, its a great scotch, just not so great to justify the sticker price.

    Thanks for the post.


  3. Very Nice review Jason.

    I think your tasting notes are bang on, and we only differ in the amount of appreciation we have for the overall effect of the flavours. I like this whisky far more than you, but even though we disagree on the 'worth' of the whisky your review was so well written that it helps me understand why I like the 15 Fine Oak as much as I do. In particular I really appreciated your recognition of the mango flavour which I identified only after reading your review.

    (You do seem to identify more dark fruit than I do which is probably just a difference in palate.)

    Well done!

  4. I've had the 15 yr FO, and teases with a little of the Macallan profile, and then the fruit overtakes....not bad but way overpriced. I'd much rather buy a bottle of Highland Park 18, or two bottles of JW Green!

  5. Ice for an already light and sweet whisky? Sure if your looking for a "mixed drink" effect.

  6. Jason,

    I am hoping to nip soon from a bottle of the 10 yr Fine Oak (I'm still a frugal college student. Wahhh.) Any experience with that one?


    1. I had it at a reception last year and on a couple of other occasions and I really didnt like it at all.

      Let me know how you find it.

  7. Jason

    For what it is worth, I do not at all get the negative tastes that you have referred to. I find it far more pleasant than the 100% sherry cask finished scotches which become boring after a while.

    I do like a wee (equals WEE!!) bit of ice - opens up the sweetness.


  8. Jason,

    Know zero about Scotch. Purchased as a gift ($90 US) for a Scotch drinker on the advice from a SALESperson. Do I just screw up as your review made me think I do, if so suggestions?

    Thanks in advance

    BTW - this post just might show a few times, had issues with the publish tab

    1. Paul, this is not a terrible whisky. It is just not worth the price. No value for money.

      That being said, any Scotch drinker who receives this as a gift will be very pleased. First of all, Macallan is one of the most popular single malt whiskies in the US and so it is highly likely your friend will be very pleased. Secondly, he or she will know you spent a lot of money and they will appreciate the gesture. Thirdly, this Macallan always tastes better when someone else paid for it.

      Don't worry, this whisky will please your friend.


  9. I recently picked up a bottle, about $120 here in Hawaii. It's fallen (very) short of expectation. It's not bad, but it's not worth the price - a frequently echoed sentiment in this thread. Try it, taste it, just don't buy it.

  10. Hi Jason. I haven't tried the 15 year old you reviewed, but i just opened the Maccalan Select Oak i bought in a free shop. I know there are millions of Maccalan fans world wide, but i'll give my independent view on this whisky.
    Nose: I can definitely sense peach and apricot and some dried fruit (plums or figs), but unfortunately, there's an overwhelming presence of an unpleasant smell (from the sherry casks probably) which immediately activates the gland secretion in my throat similar before a person is going tho throw up. This is the worse whiskey nose so far by a distance. I thought for a second that i sensed some citrus notes, but then i saw my daughter on the couch peeling an orange....
    Palate: A little bit of toasted oak, dryness on the tongue, again some plums, figs, ginger bread. Palate is bearable, or should i say half decent.There's no bite which probably means it's aged 10 or more years (there's no age statement).
    Finish: They advertise this whisky as"Long and luxurious finish". I had longer finish yesterday when i ordered Jim Beam white label in a pool bar, a whikey that costs 13 dollars in a supermarket. The Maccalan Select Oak costs 62 dollars, and for this money consumers deserve much better drink. I wouldn't recommend this to any one. I wonder how i'm going to finish this bottle?

    1. I agree! Macallan is really been disappointing since they abandoned the age statements. The only good one is the Sienna but the price makes it not one i will buy regularly.

      I really dislike the Select Oak too.

      My suggestion is add a lot of ice and find a good cocktail recipe book.

  11. Jason - as always, thank you for your thoughtful insights. They always provide an instrumental component to this layman's purchases. If you'd be so kind & have a moment to consider - what are your thoughts on a whiskey rock with this? It slightly chills the whiskey, but leaves the flavor unchanged & undiluted?