Spirits: Best of the Best New Releases: The Macallan Gran Reserva 18-Year-Old Single-Malt Whiskey

  • Richard Carleton Hacker

Macallan’s 18-year-old offerings have long reigned as the monarchs of full-sherried malt whisky. But the distillery surpassed this outstanding achievement a few years ago with the discovery of a small number of barrels containing whisky that can best be described as super-sherried. For whatever reason (even Macallan’s master distiller can’t explain it), the aging whisky and the oaken barrels fused with extraordinary intensity. Stored during three consecutive years—1979, 1980, and 1981—these unique groupings of barrels exhibited a character so dramatically different from typical aged malt whiskies that the distiller decided to reserve them for a special bottling. In recognition of the richness the meticulously selected Spanish Oloroso sherry casks impart, this whisky was christened Gran Reserva; it has emerged as the deepest-hued, fullest-flavored 18-year-old Macallan has ever produced.

The number of Gran Reserva barrels is extremely limited. The 1979 vintage yielded only 3,000 cases worldwide. Not surprisingly, the supply quickly sold out. Now comes the 1980 Gran Reserva, of which even fewer barrels exist: Only enough whisky was available to bottle 1,100 cases. And like its predecessor, this vintage has superseded all others in character, body, and individuality.

First transferred into oak on December 4, 1980, the 1980 Gran Reserva was bottled in November 1999 and released in the summer of 2001, giving it an age of almost 19 years. When compared with the 1979 vintage, the 1980 Gran Reserva reveals a somewhat familiar yet noticeably different taste profile. This variation is due to the distinctive nature of the barrels in which this particular vintage was stored. This whisky is not as floral as the 1979, and the coffee nuances are not as pronounced. Instead, the 1980 Gran Reserva is heavy on citrus, leaning toward spicy dried fruits with raisin overtones. This combination melds with an almost oily, resinlike texture that receives an elegant polish of oak and vanilla from the wood. And unlike the 1979, the 1980 offers a hint of peat, which can be found in the very long, rich, and slightly dry finish. Although Macallan’s other whiskies, including its fabled 18-year-old, are bottled at 86 proof, Gran Reserva is bottled at 80 proof to keep its intense flavor in check.

As its deep mahogany color, wooden box, and special labeling suggest, the 1980 Gran Reserva is unlike any other single malt from Macallan—or any other distillery.

The Macallan, 800.358.6002, www.macallan.com

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