Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: The Macallan Fine Oak 15 years

A good friend of mine was in Hollywood a month or so ago to attend his cousin's 40th birthday party.  His clan live pretty large.  Another cousin of his runs a hedge fund, uses a helicopter to get around NYC (to avoid those pesky traffic jams) and has been known to give a former president a ride on his leased jet.

Anyhow, I get a call from my friend.  He says he's on Rodeo Drive, and he was wondering what bottle of scotch I wanted. (Seriously! I can't make this pretentious sounding shit up!)  Being in L.A., he can pick up something that I can't get where I am.  Well, I scour the website of a purveyor of fine spirits that he is within walking distance of and after much deliberation (not!), I ask him to pick up a bottle of The Macallan 15 year old 'Fine Oak.'

This particular malt is available where I live.  I have had it before and reviewed it actually a few years ago (click here). At that time, it was pretty impressive but had a funky cooked fruit note on the finish.

So, why was I giving it another go?  Price.  In Hollywood, the Macallan 15 Fine Oak could be had for $85.  Back home I am looking at a $120 snakebite!

Nose (undiluted)
Sherry.  No surprise there.  Oranges.  Spices, peat and Marlboro smoke.  Interesting and inviting a sip.

Palate (undiluted)
Orange marmalade, slight vanilla, a transition to summer savory, and other herbal notes before the arrival of some oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Orange peel.  Mint and a little ginger/cinnamon before fading to heavy lashes of sea salt.

General Impressions
The Macallan Fine Oak 15yrs is produced by way of aging the 'new make' spirit in Spanish and American oak casks that previously held sherry and bourbon.

Macallan is a distillery famous for pronounced sherry bombs like the 12 and 18 year old editions.  The Fine Oak is much less so.  This is due to the considerable use of American oak casks that previously provided a home to bourbon.  The result is a malt with a much less sherried presence than its brethren.

The last time I had a bottle of this malt was three years ago.  A lot has changed in the intervening years.  This scotch used to be very impressive, though still not deserving of the high price.  Three years ago, you got a bigger punch of sherry, wine like oak and a red wine influence.

Now, it has gone totally orange.  Oranges!  Orange peel, big oak notes, some spices and salt and that's about it.  Light bodied too.  It is not nearly as complex as it was three years ago.  In fact, that is the chief weakness of this bottle.  No great complexity of flavors.  Just some rather flat orange, oak, spice, sea salt, a bit of ginger.  Maybe 'flat' is an over the top descriptor.  What I want you to understand is that these flavors are uninteresting and presented in very simple fashion.  Even at $85 this malt is not delivering.  It's decent, pleasant, but far overpriced.  The high price means no value for money.  There are so many better lightly sherried malts out there.  I think of Glenlivet 18yrs as being a far better and a much more affordable selection.

Sadly, this malt is the equivalent in Hollywood terms of a disappointing movie that goes straight to video.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Photo credit:  Hollywood sign photo by Cooke and Craddock who holds all license and copyright.  May not be reproduced without their permission.  Photographs of The Macallan by yours truly and I may permit you to reproduce if you ask nicely!


  1. Jason, Very interesting observations about what you observed, sherry-derived notes. I'd presumed for years (from my own tastings not too recent and some readings more recent) that the Fine Oak range was developed from need (an impending lack of sherry casks and desire to retain production levels) and is being produced instead using little or no sherry cask involvement. I had understood its influence derived from aging the spirit in a rather complex, changing mix of new and refill Kentucky Bourbon, French oak, and Spanish oak barrels. I'd not call the style of Macallan's Fine Oak series "sherry bombs" with much confidence, nor do I compare them much in nature with the likes of official bottling from Glenfarclas or Glendronach.

    1. JK, I gave the wrong impression that this is a sherry bomb. It is not. It is sherried but lightly and it really fails to be complex. I guess this malt leaves me wanting more sherry like the bombs.

    2. I edited the review to make the correction about the sherry bomb part. Thanks.

    3. By the way, the back label on the bottle mentions that oak casks seasoned in sherry were used, as well as bourbon. So, sherry is definitely a feature of this malt in terms of production and also on the palate.

  2. They must have changed the recipe in some way for it to be so different now.

    1. Possibly. Sometimes Master Blenders move on or the distillery changes cask suppliers too.

  3. Jason, My error about the sherry casks being in use ! I'd not read the label (oops) and haven't tried anything from the Fine Oak range in perhaps as long as six or seven years. Not much in its early incarnations made me wish to revisit it again, for its price anyway. With the 15Y product priced $70 US (regularly on discount across greater L.A.), the siren song of so many other bottle treasures seem to call me far more strongly. Tonight's Buchanan's 18y blend (of Macallan-like stylings, but of exceptional character and intensity) is hard to resist, for example.

  4. Hi Jason,

    Had the great fortune of picking the right local pub in Oak Brook to celebrate a friend's birthday on Friday. She has been on a serious diet for about 8 months that included no grains, no alcohol, and thus no scotch and was super pleased to be able to break her "fast" with a serving of Lagavulin 16 amongst the dozen or so scotches, including the full color JW line and nice representatives from all regions to keep any afficianado happy. I had the Oban 14 (not as toffee sweet nor viscous as I remember) and Macallan FO 15. I battled over the MFO vs JWG for my second dram, deciding on the MFO because it wasn't likely I'd buy a bottle of it. I found the nose to be sumptuous and the best part of it; the palate nearly your expression, but very tight and not unfolding that as I tried to explore it just caused an unpleasant parching and oak fade. Halfway done I gave up trying to find the majesty in the palate, put my regrets aside and added a little water to no avail. It was one of those things that I politely say was very nice and fine and maybe just too fine and fancy for me, or then again, for the moment, and I just should have anted up to her at the beginning and gone to the wild unknown Talisker territory while she was drinking Lag. My wife and my friend's beau laughed at us as we talked the scotch journey, but then my bride agreed that it's better than us listening to her friend's talk about their china patterns!

    Best regards and beautiful scotch!


    1. Scotch talk is always better than listening to chatter of China patterns!

    2. Scotch talk is always better than listening to chatter of China patterns!