Macallan 15 vs 18 | Sibling Rivalry from a Renowned Distillery

Seldom names command as much respect and admiration in the Scotch scene as Macallan. Comparing Macallan 15 vs. 18 Double Cask is an exploration into the realm of refined maturity and layered complexity.

With an extensive line of whiskies to explore, the brand has long captivated the hearts of whisky enthusiasts around the globe. Even the younger Macallan 12-year old Scotches stand as superbly strong entry editions in the distillery’s impressive portfolio.

But these two expressions unveil an entirely new dimension – the result of years spent in the embrace of oak barrels, where the harsh presence of alcohol has patiently transformed into a symphony of flavours that can only be unlocked with time.

From its rich history to its exquisite craftsmanship, Macallan has earned a reputation that sets it apart in the realm of spirits.

Macallan 15 vs. 18: Navigating the Evolution

Macallan is celebrated for producing some of the most sought-after and opulent whiskies in the Scotch market. The distillery’s rare and aged expressions often command jaw-dropping prices, reaching tens of thousands of dollars at auctions. Some may say you pay more for the name than anything. But Macallan’s allure is not just a matter of luxury; it’s a testament to the craftsmanship the Speyside distillery pours into every dram.

At the heart of Macallan’s allure lies its distinctly sherried flavour profile, which has become a benchmark for connoisseurs and amateurs alike. The brand’s signature character is a symphony of rich fruit, alluring spice, and the embrace of oak notes that dance on the palate. Each sip tells a story of meticulous ageing and an unwavering commitment to producing liquid gold.

Macallan 15 vs 18: Quick Look Comparison 

Bottle of Macallan 15 Double Cask Scotch whisky
NoseWood spice, raisins, caramel, vanilla.
PalateDark fruits, intense oak, butterscotch, dark chocolate.
MouthfeelA smoky, spicy, yet gentle texture.
FinishMedium to long finish, a strong oak aftertaste with hints of ginger.
Age15 years.
CasksAmerican & European Oloroso Sherry Oak Casks
Strength43% ABV / 86 Proof

Macallan 15 Double Cask
Bottle of Macallan 18 Double Cask whisky
NoseDried fruit, ginger, toffee, and baking spices.
PalateBaking spice, sultanas, raisins, ginger, vanilla, orange zest, honey.
MouthfeelWell-rounded, mature, gentle, creamy, and oily, it feels quite elegant but it is a bit dry.
FinishMedium, oak, sherry spice, sultanas.
Age18 years.
CasksAmerican & European Oloroso Sherry Oak Casks
Strength40% ABV / 80 proof
Price£360 / $450

Macallan 18 Double Cask
Close view of Macallan 15 year old Double Cask Scotch whisky bottle

Macallan 15 Double Cask Review

On the nose, The Macallan 15 possesses intricate notes of wood spice that strike you immediately. Expecting some pungency with younger whiskies is normal, but the sherry influence is undeniable. Caramel and vanilla infuse with the spice to balance out its aroma, blending with butterscotch and plump raisins. A hint of spiced apple crumble and oak peek through. There is a strong presence of dark fruits.

On the palate, the Macallan 15 unfolds with the richness of dark fruits. But its intense oakiness takes centre stage. Hints of butterscotch and dark chocolate travel across the palate as the flavour evolves. Dried fruits emerge in abundance, adorned with a sprinkle of cinnamon, candied ginger, and hints of orange peel. It combines sweetness, dried fruit, and dominant spicy oak, all harmoniously balanced within its gentle texture. As the experience progresses, it shifts gradually towards a drier profile.

The mouthfeel of the Macallan 15 possesses masterful contrast. Despite its dominant smokiness and spice, the texture is incredibly lightweight and gentle on your tongue. So light and effortless to savour, you could easily forget this dram in indeed liquid at all.

The finish of the Macallan 15 stretches between medium and long, resonating with a robust oak aftertaste accentuated by subtle hints of ginger. The presence of oak lingers along with a drizzle of honey and caramel. 

Is it Worth the Money? The Macallan 15 stands as a firmly premium Scotch whisky. Its price may deter you from indulging every day, but its value shines through in its rich and complex flavour profile. Aged for 15 years, it artfully bridges their younger and more mature scotches. The 15-year offers a smoother, more mature experience than its 12-year counterpart at a price point that avoids the exorbitant premium of an 18-year expression. 

Close view of Macallan 18 year old Double Cask Scotch whisky bottle

Macallan 18 Double Cask Review

On the nose, The Macallan 18 showcases notes of dried fruit, ginger, and toffee. An enchanting medley of baking spices permeates the senses. It exudes an aura of maturity and refinement, hinting at the intricate layers to follow. Congruous to the quintessential Macallan character, the 18-year-old expression exudes its signature sherry influence. While its ABV sits at a modest 43%, the aroma is robust, ushering in a full-bodied experience that envelops the senses.

On the palate, the Macallan 18 offers an array of complexities and flavours. Potent orange notes and the juiciness of citrus fruit are intertwined with layers of clove, nutmeg, and other baking spices. Oak spice, sultanas, and raisins form the heart of this experience, elegantly accompanied by the warmth of ginger, the sweetness of vanilla, and the zest of orange. Honey notes add to its depth, rounding it off. 

The Macallan 18’s mouthfeel is a testament to its maturity—well-rounded, mature, and gently creamy. It blankets the palate in a veil of oiliness that underscores its elegance. Yet, within this refinement, a hint of dryness emerges, that adds a layer of complexity to the sensory journey.  

The finish of the Macallan 18 is a medium-length encore, featuring the harmonious interplay of oak, sherry spice, and the enduring presence of sultanas. It’s a graceful departure that lingers on the palate, leaving behind a trail of warmth and richness. 

Is it Worth the Money? The Macallan 18 is inarguably a delicious Scotch whisky, boasting a palate of refined elegance and an intricate sherry-forward profile. However, whether it’s worth the substantial investment arises is up for debate.

While it is indeed a delightful dram, the Macallan 18 may not present a marked improvement over the 15-year expression that makes the higher cost easily justified. If you have the financial freedom to indulge, enjoy yourself. It is a truly great whisky.

For the rest of us mere mortals, it’s most likely best suited as a collector’s item or a very generous gift. A bottle of Macallan 18 might be the ultimate gesture to impress a whisky-buff guest, a treasure reserved for special occasions or moments when sharing a unique experience takes precedence over the price.

Close view of whisky drinking glass on table

Macallan 15 vs. 18: The Comparison

Nose Comparison: The Macallan 15 opens with intense wood spice, raisins, and caramel notes. It displays a robust and engaging aroma, inviting exploration. In contrast, the Macallan 18 exudes a more refined and complex profile with dried fruit, ginger, and toffee leading the way. It promises a sophisticated tasting experience. While the fragrances are similar, the Macallan 15 is much heavier on the spice, and not nearly as sweet.

Palate Comparison: The Macallan 15 continues its bold journey with dark fruits and an intense oak spice, accented by butterscotch and dark chocolate. The Macallan 18, on the other hand, embraces a smoother and creamier approach, unveiling oak spice, sultanas, raisins, ginger, vanilla, and honey. It possesses a much more complex flavour profile, one that can only be appreciated once any trace of harshness has been removed during its long maturation process. However, the Macallan 15 is lightweight and intricate enough that it’s still a fairly comparable experience.

Mouthfeel Comparison: The Macallan 15 has a smoky and mildly spicy texture, that still manages to be somewhat gentle as it glides across the tongue. In contrast, the Macallan 18 takes on a more balanced character. It envelops the palate with a creamy and oily sensation that enhances its satisfying texture.

Finish Comparison: Macallan 15 extends with an impressive length, carrying the weight of oak and sherry spice, alongside hints of ginger. It’s got an intensely oak-forward aftertaste that becomes drier and lighter towards the end of its cycle. The Macallan 18’s finish is medium in length, exuding elegance with a graceful combination of oak, sherry spice, and sultanas.

ABV and Price: Both expressions share the same ABV of 43%, showcasing their commitment to maintaining a balanced alcoholic strength. However, price-wise, comparable ABVs may influence your purchasing decision.

The Macallan 15 is priced at £135/$162, whereas the Macallan 18 is nearly double, sitting at about £359/$450.

While the Macallan 18 offers a sublime and more complex experience, the question of value arises when contemplating whether the price difference is truly justified. Neither dram is incredibly intense, which is normal for lower ABVs. But the Macallan 18 might not be twice as good as its 15-year sibling, despite its refinement and depth.

That makes the Macallan 15 a compelling option if you want excellence without breaking the bank.

Bottles of Macallan 15 and 18 year old Double Cask whisky side by side

Macallan 15 vs. 18: Final Thoughts

Both the Macallan 15-year and 18-year expressions demonstrate the artistry and dedication that define the Macallan distillery. Both offer distinct experiences through flavour that can only be achieved with craftsmanship and time.

If you’re looking for a bold, spicy encounter with intense wood spice and an engaging character, then the Macallan 15 may be for you. Seeking a smooth, velvety delight? Macallan 18 offers layers of dried fruit, toffee, and ginger in harmony.

Both share an ABV of 43%, but prices vary – Macallan 15 at £135/$162 and Macallan 18 at £359/$450. The decision rests on your adventure style: opt for affordable intensity with 15, or splurge on the refined luxury of 18.

Author’s pick 

Both of these whiskies offer undeniably enchanting noses, mouthfeels, and complexities. However, only one can shine as the winner of this head-to-head comparison, and the crown of superiority rests upon the head of Macallan 18.

Predictably, The Macallan 18 is the better whisky, boasting a warm and mature flavour profile with the intricacies that only time can weave. Its journey across the palate is simply delightful. Yet, the margin between Macallan 18’s excellence and Macallan 15’s allure is quite small. The astronomical price difference, however, brings pause. Is the superiority of Macallan 18 so pronounced that it justifies the hefty splurge?

The truth is, Macallan 18, while technically superior, may not resonate equally with every whisky enthusiast. A blind taste test might even challenge the most discerning palates to distinguish between the two. In other words, if you want to enjoy a great whisky without putting a strain on your budget, Macallan 15 is most likely just as good.  

In the grand whisky narrative, Macallan 18 is the victor in this duel of distinction. Yet, the harmonious notes of Macallan 15 and its friendly price tag make it, in many ways, the more enticing option. In the end, the choice is yours, as both whiskies promise a journey that’s nothing short of remarkable.

Now, I’ll rank Macallan 15 and 18 to determine the champion. Let’s break down their scores across various categories to see which emerges on top and why.

Macallan 15 Double CaskMacallan 18 Double Cask
Total 35/5040/50

Colour: Both Macallan 15 and 18 present a captivating amber hue. This detail is undoubtedly thanks to Macallan’s commitment to natural colouring, a quality that resonates visually with whisky enthusiasts.

Aroma: Macallan 18 pulls slightly ahead with an 8/10 in this category, promising a more intricate olfactory journey compared to Macallan 15’s still commendable 7/10. While the 15-year whisky does provide plenty of nuances, the more matured 18-year is richer, fuller, and gentler on the nose.

Mouthfeel: Macallan 18 reigns supreme with a 9/10. Its luxurious, velvety texture elevates the tasting experience. Macallan 15, though with a respectable 7/10, finds itself only a notch below. It possesses a lovely texture that’s easy all the way down. But, the creamy, oiliness of the Macallan 18 is difficult to deny.

Palate: In the realm of taste, Macallan 18 claims the lead with an 8/10. Its mature, complex flavour profile edges out Macallan 15’s notable 7/10, showcasing a refined palate. There are certainly many lovely flavours to enjoy in Macallan 15’s profile. However, Macallan 18 is slightly more full-bodied and has had the harshness of alcohol removed during its longer ageing process. The quality here is a grade higher, so it wins on a technicality despite both drams possessing excellent flavour notes.

Finish: Macallan 18 continues to impress, securing a 7/10 for its finish, while Macallan 15 rounds off with a 6/10. Both deliver satisfying closing notes, but Macallan 18’s grace gives it the edge. I do not always find long finishes to be enjoyable, and the aftertaste of the Macallan 15, while pleasant, slightly overstays its welcome. Macallan 18’s medium finish lingers long enough for you to enjoy its presence, but knows when to make its exit. 

Total: Adding up the scores, Macallan 18 emerges as the victor with a total of 40 points, while Macallan 15 stands strong with a commendable 35. The numbers reflect the nuanced differences in their performances, but they may not speak fully to your personal preferences. It’s not that Macallan 15 is bad, it is just that Macallan 18 is better. But, that does not mean you should not treat yourself to the 15-year whisky. Macallan 15 is quite comparable to the 18, without the hefty price tag.

Large copper pot still within the Macallan whisky distillery

The magic of Macallan

Steeped in tradition and history, Macallan is one of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland. Its legacy stretches back through time, intertwining with the very fabric of whisky production in Speyside. No doubt, the heritage Macallan carries with it adds to the prestige of every bottle bearing its name. But its fame is not without cause.

In keeping with Macallan’s ‘six pillars’ of whisky production lies in its unique use of sherry oak barrels sourced from Jerez, Spain. Unlike many other distilleries that primarily use American oak barrels, Macallan’s preference for sherry oak brings a distinctive layer of complexity to its whiskies. The rich, fortified wine previously held in these casks imparts a symphony of flavours, infusing the spirit with notes of dried fruits, spices, and a warm, embracing sweetness.

But Macallan’s devotion to detail doesn’t stop at its barrels. The distillery’s choice of notably stout copper stills further shapes the temperament of its whisky. Macallan employs smaller copper stills than some of its competitors, allowing for greater interaction between the liquid and the copper. The size and shape of these stills play a pivotal role in refining the spirit, creating a smoother and more refined distillate. Using copper also helps to remove unwanted impurities, resulting in a cleaner and more vibrant final product.

These inherently important nuances of Macallan’s production cascade into the flavour profile of their sought after whiskies. The marriage of rich fruitiness from the barrels and the influence of copper distillation crafts an experience that is simultaneously robust and delicate, bold yet nuanced.

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