It’s a tricky concept ‘bespoke.’ Just as anything that is bespoke is undoubtedly tricky.
As I have come to understand, if something is bespoke, it’s an expression that is uniquely tailored to an individual or objective that isn’t preceded by anything. It’s a one-of-a-kind, so therefore, by nature, it’s basically the end of the line. It’s both the first and last in one beautifully original package – a full circle.
Million-dollar Rolls-Royce motorcars come to mind, as does a man’s suit that’s been designed, crafted, and tailored to his physique stitch-by-stitch. The same can be said for whisky. No two barrels are ever the same, let alone the vast catalogue of whisky distillers around the world that pursue the art in their fantastically different ways.
And in my opinion, the concept of bespoke is actually two fold. Originality is key, sure, but being the absolute best example of anything in the world is the second, both of which bring us to The Macallan.
The iconic whisky distillery from Speyside has recently attempted to capture the uncharted territory that lies between the processes of both whisky and chocolate making in The Harmony Collection’s first expression – ‘Rich Cacao.’ I think it could be the most layered and considered exploration of whisky and chocolate ever created.
So why whisky, why chocolate, and why marry them together?
Despite both being delectable delights in their own right, chocolate and whisky share a harmonious chorus of scents and flavours that are heroed and crafted in remarkably similar ways.
Let’s start with the former. In 2020, the Roca brothers opened Casa Cacao, a hotel and chocolate factory in central Girona, Spain, the same town as their three Michelin star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca. Led by famed chef Jordi Roca, he and his compatriots at Casa Cacao are widely accepted as the absolute pinnacle of the chocolate industry.
Following a visit by The Macallan Whisky Maker Polly Logan, she and her team were captivated by the synergies shared between chocolate and whisky. They subsequently spent countless hours sifting through the casks that lay patiently within the depths of The Macallan distillery to find any that oozed indulgent chocolate notes, as they knew it was a truly unique opportunity to bring out the best of both manufacturers for a special collaboration.
And there are numerous – if not an unquantifiable – amount of chocolate notes you might find in a whisky. This comes from the spirit penetrating the char layer of oak sherry casks to draw out the wood extractives, particularly vanillin and other oak-derived congeners. You can get anything from milky and fruity flavours to tobacco, espresso, and even bitter 100% cacao.
To balance these variations, Logan landed on a blend of traditional sherry seasoned European oak casks with a hint of vanilla from a handful of sherry seasoned American oak casks to soften this bitterness.
“I went on a journey of discovery, learning of the craftsmanship, passion and creativity which goes into making chocolate,” said Logan of her time with Roca and his mentor, chocolatier Damian Allsop.
“As I immersed myself in this world, I uncovered a great synergy between the whisky-making process and that of chocolate. Both take time and exceptional attention to detail, with even the slightest changes to the process encouraging different aromas and flavours to emerge.”
The lifecycle of the whisky making process, including the longevity of the casks used during maturation, struck a similar chord with Roca, who has also strived to embrace the full-circle process of sustainable artisan manufacturing at Casa Cacao.
He and his team were recycling the skins from the cacao beans well before their introduction to The Macallan, using them to craft their own paper to wrap their chocolate bars. When Polly Logan and The Macallan decided to bottle this first edition of The Harmony Collection, they agreed that the Venn diagram of chocolate and whisky should also overlap in regards to sustainable packaging, not just flavour.
For example, from the labels on the bottle to the construction of the box itself, The Harmony Collection Rich Cacao utilises organic cacao shell, post-consumer waste and FSC virgin fibre to minimise the footprint of the final product overall.
The Macallan has always placed its connection to nature as paramount to the whisky’s identity given its Speyside distillery is intrinsically linked to the vitality of the land it has called home for almost 200 years.
So how does this cyclical existence of both Casa Cacao and The Macallan translate into a bottle of special edition single malt?
The nose is undoubtedly naughty. You crack the same cheeky smile that you do before diving into a big block of chocolate at the end of the night. Think chocolate fondant, a tickle of sweet honey, zesty lime and even ginger.
As the dram explodes in the mouth, the bitter cacao and rich dates shine through, balanced with a hint of vanilla and even cinnamon. But it’s the finish that really pulls no punches. It’s long, it’s rich, and just like when you let chocolate melt in your mouth, the intensity builds along the same trajectory as your enjoyment.
The best part? This is the first in an annual release for The Harmony Collection. We seem to have found the pinnacle of whisky and chocolate, so I’m really excited to see how the new collection challenges the idea of what premium whisky can be, in terms of both the exploration of flavour and the shared future of sustainability across the next subcategory.
The Macallan Harmony Collection Rich Cacao is now available across leading venues and liquor retailers in Australia for an RRP of $275. If you’re looking for a truly unique after-hours delight, this is unequivocally it.