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Affluent Page Presents: Macallan Strikes Back

Female nudes on the label of a recent limited-edition bottling byThe Macallan would probably have scandalized the label’s 19th-century founder Alexander Reid, were he alive today. But he would undoubtedly approve of the continuing tradition of his beloved single malt.

Some call it the Rolls-Royce of single malts. Wine & Spirits magazine’s Gordon Brown labeled it “the single malt against which all others must be judged.” A 1926 vintage Macallan sold for ,000 at Christie’s in 2007 remains one of the most expensive bottles of liquor ever sold.

Made in the heartland of Scotland’s malt whisky distilling region, this much-lauded single malt carries a Scotch whiskies’ elegance and complexity but also has a unique, classic style distinctively shaped by aging in Spanish sherry casks. At its best, it is redolent of dried fruits, orange, citrus, and spice, with a long, robust finish hinting of smoke, fruits, toffee, and even ginger.

Founded in 1824 by farmer Alexander Reid, The Macallan (it’s pretty much always “The Macallan”) is still made following the age-old traditions. Special barley custom-grown by local farmers imparts it with richness and an appealingly oily character. The copper of the stills and their small size stimulates formation of sweet esters and suppresses impurities. And only 16 percent of the “new make” is used: The Macallan’s vaunted “finest cut.”

Equally vital are the Spanish sherry barrels long synonymous with The Macallan. In the mid-1970s, when supplies became unreliable, the company began to have new barrels built and seasoned in Jerez bodegas to Macallan specifications for everything from how long the wood is toasted to the type of young mosto wine and dry oloroso sherries are used to fill each cask for seasoning.

The casks yield deep, rich colors and distinctive flavors, notably The Macallan’s Sherry Oak whiskies, the underlying velvety smoothness of which harks back to the whisky-making style of bygone centuries. Also exceptional is the Fine Oak series, the aging of which is done in casks of faster-growing, tighter-grained American oak, which yield exceptional delicacy of color and add notes of vanilla, fresh pear, and other fruit.

The Sherry Oak and Fine Oak whiskies are marketed in a number of bottlings by age-the Sherry Oak at 10, 12, 18, 25, and 30 years old, and the Fine Oak at 10, 15, 17, and 21. Even the affordable 10-year-old () is “robust … and delicious,” according to noted spirits expert Michael Jackson. The 18-year-old Sherry Oak (5), named the world’s best malt in a 2004 Whisky Magazine poll, inspires rhapsodies for its flavor (“rich dried fruits, with spice, clove, orange, and wood smoke,”) its nose (“dried fruits and ginger, with a hint of citrus, vanilla, and cinnamon,”) and its finish (“full and lingering with dried fruits, sweet toffee, ginger, a hint of wood smoke.”) Most Macallan whiskies are 42.8 percent ABV (alcohol by volume); cask-strength versions (58 percent ABV) are also available-and delicious.

Numerous limited-edition and limited-distribution lines showcase the diversity of The Macallan’s output. The 1824 Collection draws on some of The Macallan Estate’s oldest and rarest casks. In the Masters of Photography edition, each of the 135 bottles (,695 each) bears a one-of-a-kind label featuring an image taken on The Macallan estate by the preeminent Scottish-born photographer Rankin. And although farmer Reid may have been scandalized by the pictured nudes, Rankin’s golden-haired muse among them, he would have lauded the heady but supremely elegant malt, intensely flavored with macadamia nut and vanilla, hinting of sandalwood and black cherry.

Another limited-edition series features crystal decanters designed by famed French glassmaker Lalique. The most recent (with only 72 available in the U.S., at ,000 each) is filled with a particularly rare, softly sumptuous 57-year-old whisky, vatted from six casks of two species of oak. Recalling 1950s Macallans, it glows like rosewood, smells sweetly of polished oak and dried fruits, and tastes of raisins and oranges. Jackson got it right about “the magic of Macallan.” But when you close your eyes and get lost in the subtle, lingering finish of this particular Macallan, the name is only the beginning of the magic. The final auction will take place at Sotheby’s on November 15.