We Discover The Charms Of The Macallan Edition No. 3
Perfumery and whisky may seem unlikely bedfellows, but they share an important reliance on our olfactory sensitivity. And that is what makes The Macallan Edition No 3, the latest in the upscale Scotch maker’s limited-edition series, so inviting. A collaboration between celebrated British perfumer Roja Dove, and Bob Dalgarno, the brand’s master whisky maker, the amber nectar has a smooth, multifaceted character that keeps titillating the palate.
That it is concocted by a whisky maker, but with a perfumer’s nose directing it, is what gives the No 3 its unique edge. The aromatic influence this time around not only dictates the flavour of the drink, but also elevates it. You see, scent and taste aren’t disparate. In fact, as Dove elaborates, “Smell and taste are processed in the primitive part of the brain; and when combined, that’s what we know as flavour.”
Incidentally, the enigmatic Dove is a non-whisky drinker, favouring wines and the occasional gin as his preferred poison. He tells us that he has hated whisky since getting smashed on the drink once at age 15, and never touched it after, until his collaboration with The Macallan. Prior to that, he held the stereotype that whisky is “a very heavy, dark drink that old men drank… very spicy and peaty”.
The drink’s selected appeal, he feels, largely has to do with how the general whisky industry is “totally parochial, operating in a global marketplace”. He cites the jargon used to describe whisky, with expressions like “it’s peaty”. He laments, “Well most of the world doesn’t understand what peat is.”
When consumers cannot relate, the bottle gets passed over at the bar. For whisky to gain a wider appeal, he suggests the esoteric references be ditched. The Macallan was receptive to his critique, and so began their first project together: creating an aroma box that is now an educational tool for its brand ambassadors to convert the uninitiated.
In this box of scent strips and glasses are 12 perfumes made by Dove. The first six are captures of whisky characteristics: sweetness versus dryness; maturity versus immaturity; volatility versus stability. The next six are scent deconstructs of sherry oak and American fine oak that make the casks used by The Macallan to age its whiskies, giving them their distinctive aroma and flavour. It is a simple premise: use your nose as your guide, and that will determine your preferred Macallan.
Next, The Macallan told Dove they wanted to make a whisky with him. The script had been flipped. For a man who is constantly commissioned to create bespoke fragrances for others, it was Dove’s turn now to give the brief. And he did it in the language he knew best, that of aromas, balance and counterpoints—the tenets of perfumery.
He reckons, his brief to The Macallan’s master whisky maker, Dalgarno, was probably the most difficult to execute technically, because it was so exacting.
“I wanted it to have a bright, fresh citrus opening … then very quickly you get this vanillic (sic) toffee flavour, like buttery caramel with the toffee and vanilla.” It is followed by notes of bitter orange and then the intense yet soft (as opposed to crisp) sweetness of ripened apples.
It required Dalgarno to pull from his knowledge of 250,000 barrels of whisky, to whittle it down to a blend that would make the master perfumer’s cut, a feat not lost on Dove—“In his [Dalgarno’s] mind, he has the flavour description of a quarter of a million barrels of whiskies in his charge; that’s mind-blasting.” In comparison, perfumers need to commit to memory 3,000 raw materials for good fragrances; no small accomplishment on its own, and something Dove says, took him 15 years of training to achieve.
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When the bottle arrived at Dove’s office after 18 months of hard work, it was love at first sip and he proudly says, “So now the person who has told you he didn’t like whisky, now has a whisky he adores.”
It is akin to having a personal scent. And like the one that Dove makes for himself and wears, the No 3 is “multifaceted, yet smooth, well-rounded, beautifully balanced and effortless”.
It is precisely what Dove had in mind—an incredibly flavoursome, fresh and citrus whisky with enveloping sweetness, he shares, adding how the way the flavours are blended is similar to how he would make a perfume. “Except Bob had to do the hard work,” he chuckles.
Dove is not the only fan of this fine single malt. Even at an exceptionally high 48.3 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume), The No 3 is a particularly easy spirit to enjoy. It is decidedly smooth and balanced, despite the different counterpoints teasing the palate. With the velvety oiliness typical of a whisky by The Macallan, it has a citrus and floral bouquet to lend it vibrancy, and the mellow sweetness of toffee fudge and spice.
A whisky of many flavours, it is a blend that men or women, novice or connoisseur, will gladly savour.