The master of wood may be one of the more unusual job titles in the world of spirits, yet Stuart MacPherson, the holder of this position at Speyside distiller The Macallan, is one of the key thinkers behind the brand’s whiskies. Interestingly, his day-to-day work is carried out not only in the dunnage warehouse in Scotland, but also in the remote forests of Galicia, Cantabria and Asturia in northern Spain, and whisky fans around the world will be able to taste his influence on the distillery’s latest iteration, The Macallan Rare Cask.
This particular expression of The Macallan comes from the choicest 256 of the roughly 250,000 casks currently sitting at The Macallan distillery, all of which MacPherson played a pivotal role in sourcing. All of the selected casks are made from sherry-aged Spanish or American oak. Crucially, many of these casks are also being used to mature whisky for the very first time.
“A first-fill cask will give you maximum colour and flavour, because the only thing the cask will have had in it would be sherry wine for 18 months in the bodega,” David Cox, The Macallan’s Director of Fine and Rare Whiskies, says. “So first fill is very important, because it’s that first opportunity that the maturing spirit has got to get all the colour compounds, the sugars and the other flavour compounds in the wood, so you’re going to get maximum extraction.”
The result is a rich whisky that has notes of chocolate, walnuts, raisins and citrus fruit. This comes contained in one of The Macallan’s distinctive sculpted bottles, though sharp-eyed whisky drinkers will notice that Rare Cask belongs to a new breed of single malt called NAS – no age statement – which enables the whisky maker to expand the selection of whiskies to give greater flavour and complexity.
“We want to start educating people that there are other ways of making whisky and using casks at a much broader range of ages that we can bring together to create beautiful whiskies with lovely colour, lovely aromas, but don’t necessarily carry an absolute age on the label,” Cox explains.
“If you think about it, all an age label does is tell you that that whisky is 18 years old minimum or 12 years old minimum,” Cox adds. “With Rare Cask we have a bigger story to tell.”