The power of fragrance is undeniable. Perfumer Roja Dove knows all about it: his first unpleasant drinking experience was with a bottle of whisky, and he’s still haunted by the scent. So when he was approached by Bob Dalgarno of The Macallan to collaborate on creating a special edition, he could think of nothing worse! But it was precisely the evocative power of aroma that Dalgarno wanted to harness in the latest in The Macallan Series, Edition No 3. The duo had first worked together to craft a series of whisky aroma oils and candles as part of the 1824 Macallan Series.
How did this unusual collaboration come about? The story starts nearly 10 years ago. I met Ken Grier, The Macallan’s creative director, who said he would love to work with me. I was very honest from the start. I told Ken that I would love to work with him, but that I absolutely hated whisky. To qualify that statement interview about 15 years old, the first drink that I drank and got drunk on was whisky. In my mind, especially because smell is all about memory, I had an aversion to it.
Unfazed, they sent me to their distillery in Scotland where I met Bob, The Macallan’s master whisky maker. He had 16 to 20 whiskies ready for me to nose. We instantly hit it off, and the 16 to 20 whiskies turned into 100 to 150 whiskies.
Bob and I discovered our worlds share an enormous commonality of language and raw materials. I think that it is very important to explain something: you do not taste anything with your mouth. Your mouth has no capacity for taste other than salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. But most people don’t realise you also do not smell anything with your nose. Smell is processed in the same place as taste — in the limbic system, the most primitive part of the brain. So smell and taste are intertwined, and this combination is how we get flavour.
When The Macallan asked me to collaborate on its Edition No 3, I started to think about the type of flavour I wanted in this whisky and how, if I were creating a perfume, I would work these flavours into a scent.
Bob came with six whiskies that he thought would give me the flavour profiles I was looking for. So I nosed them at 100%, and we recorded my observations. Then we cut them with 50% water and nosed, tasted, and recorded my observations again. Bob took my observations, and worked the six whiskies into one masterpiece.
When Edition No 3 arrived on my desk, it was exactly how I wanted the whisky to be. I did not ask Bob to alter it: it was perfect. And the reason this is important is because it has my name on it. I have only ever put my name on one other product that is not my own: the scent I made for Rolls-Royce. Every Rolls-Royce showroom across the world is scented with a creation I was commissioned to make especially for the brand. I was very clear from the beginning that I would not put my name on something if it wasn’t 100% right. From my description of how I wanted the whisky to taste, Bob created precisely what I wanted.
This whisky is 100% The Macallan, but 100% unlike any other The Macallan ever tasted
I think it is an extraordinary testament to Bob’s craft and his knowledge. It blows my mind that Bob has 250 000 barrels of whisky in his charge. From the profile I gave him, Bob knew how to pick these odours and flavours from a quarter of a million barrels. He is, without question, a genius at what he does.
What were your thoughts about whisky aroma before the project? Before I met The Macallan I had a clichéd idea in my mind of what whisky was about. From a non-whisky drinker’s point of view, I thought of an older man drinking a heavy, dark, unpleasant liquid. I was wrong.
What are your thoughts after the project? Bob introduced me to a broad spectrum of flavours that I had no idea existed within the world of whisky. He gave me whiskies that smelt fresh and citrus-like — the antithesis of this stereotypical dark, heavy drink I had in my mind — and whiskies that smelt of flowers — rose in particular. I had no idea you could find a flower lurking in a bottle of whisky.
I can honestly say that — from hating whisky — I have found a whisky that I absolutely love (because The Macallan very kindly made one for me. There aren’t many people in the world who can say that).
What are your thoughts on wood and how it builds the aroma in fine whiskies such as the Macallan? The nose is reminiscent of a fine fragrance, leading with vanilla, fresh-cut oak, and delicate florals. Orange oil provides subtle grandeur, while ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg flit in and out. Vanilla imparts sweetness, leading citrus fruits forward, then allowing chocolate to show. Burnished oak delivers a soft ending. The palate is sweet citrus and vanilla, while ginger and cinnamon are balanced with a light, resinous oak finale. The finish is long, sweet, and fruity.
How would you describe the aroma notes of this whisky? When you first nose it and taste it, you get this enormously diffuse burst of citrus — specifically lemon. People have commented that it feels brighter and a lot more diffuse than other whiskies from The Macallan. Within seconds of being in your mouth, in the background, you start to taste this vanilla, toffee, and caramel. The caramel evokes the coming together of the butter and sugar — it has this beautiful butteriness to it. Suddenly there is this fantastic flavour of bitter orange, which is a counterpoint to the sweetness of the vanilla. It has a tiny touch of sweet spice and a hint of florals, before the apple takes control of your whole mouth.
How will the aroma affect the experience of drinking this whisky? So far we have launched Edition No 3 in New York, London, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The feedback from lovers of The Macallan is that it is very fresh, very bright, very soft — and that it tastes more complete and rounded than other whiskeys from the distillery Interestingly, one person said: “This whisky is 100% The Macallan, but 100% unlike any other The Macallan ever tasted”.