Monday 20 May 2024
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Steven Bremner, The Macallan Harmony Collection: “Whisky and coffee are combined, for the first time, in a single serve”

The Whisky Maker: "The coffee bean husks are supplied by Italian coffee producer Agust, which for three generations has been traveling, selecting, importing, and roasting coffees from the best plantations in the world. The husks were then incorporated into paper created by Italian paper mill, Favini."

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MILAN – The Macallan Harmony Collection is an annual release series of single malt whiskies which shines a spotlight on the inherent curiosity of the company and its innovative and creative mindset. The series explores our packaging journey, with each release unveiling distinctive and innovative packaging that seeks to bring new life to organic by-products which have ended their usual course.

The Macallan Harmony Collection Inspired by Intense Arabica and The Macallan Harmony Collection Smooth Arabica, the single malt whiskies in this year’s release, celebrate the world of coffee and have been inspired by the Ethiopian Arabica coffee bean. Their hybrid packaging was created using repurposed and recycled materials including coffee bean husks which would have otherwise been discarded.

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Steven Bremner, Whisky Maker for The Macallan, told us the story behind this product.

With The Macallan Harmony Collection, for the first time, whisky and coffee combined in a single serve: how did you come up with the idea of taking the bean as an ingredient?

“The serves developed for the releases allow the consumer to experience the sensorial journey of two distinctive and complex drinks. Each have their own unique characteristics but share similar properties and processes in order to produce the exceptional flavours found in both whisky and coffee.”

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How did you manage to balance these two such strong flavours, in harmony, without one overpowering the other?

“The Harmony Collection is a project to inspire and I’m a big fan of coffee. The whiskies were created in such a way that they can stand alone. Whisky matured in sherry seasoned European oak casks produce strong and robust characters, due to the high level of tannins found in the wood, whereas sherry seasoned American oak bring sweetness and fruity characteristics. A careful balance of the two produced a whisky that worked together with the coffee to accentuate flavours but also showcase both as amazing standalone experiences.

With the coffee we used as a reference, many of the flavours and descriptors come together and are very similar. It was a big challenge to try and construct these coffee flavours and notes that are reminiscent of different styles of coffee serves within the single malts.”

What are the main difficulties in making this combination?

“The coffee notes in The Harmony Collection whiskies are not something you come across very often. To create them you really need to dig into your knowledge of how flavours interact with each other. The collaboration with the coffee masters highlighted how aligned the worlds of whisky and coffee are, the flavour wheels for both share many similar descriptors and characteristics so in terms of how we describe flavour is very aligned. The care and understanding of raw materials are key in both worlds, any changes in the process, whether it be in the coffee or whisky world, will be reflected in the final flavour.”

Which coffee did you select? We know it comes from Ethiopia, but can you give us more information about the processing, the origin?

“We selected the Ethiopian Harrar Arabica bean, as it originates from the renowned birthplace and home of coffee. We feel a deep connection to our home on The Macallan Estate, so this seemed very relatable.”

How did you use the coffee for The Macallan Harmony Collection? In filter extraction, espresso or directly from the roasted or ground bean?

“The coffee was prepared as an espresso initially directly from roasted beans, then as an
Americano and a flat white. I also tried the beans once ground through my AeroPress in order to see how the character of the coffee was influenced. I think it’s important to experiment to find out how best to enjoy your coffee, just as with whisky, it’s a very personal thing and increases the satisfaction and enjoyment of the whole experience.”

Steven Bremner collaborated with Kenyan farmer Asefa Dukamo, Scottish roaster Lisa Lawson, award-winning American barista Andrea Allen, British coffee artist Dhan Tamang and also a coffee historian, Professor Jonathan Morris: how did this collaboration lead to the final result?

“Exploring the world of coffee with our masters in the industry, who shared their knowledge, creativity, and love for their art, was both an education and an inspiration. There are many parallels between the approach to creating incomparable whisky and coffee. Each requires unique skills and craftsmanship to achieve depth and complexity of taste and both worlds aim to deliver an extraordinary consumption experience. The processes in whisky-making and coffee-making are very relatable and the similarities become apparent when you collaborate with the experts in each industry. The worlds of whisky and coffee seem very far away from each other, but they are surprisingly close.”

What are the differences between Smooth Arabica and Inspired Intense Arabica?

“In the Inspired by Intense Arabica expression, on the nose there are characteristics like tiramisu, cappucino, gingerbread, raisins, almonds, sweet oak, and vanilla. On the palate, it will turn into espresso, dark chocolate, and raisin, with the tiramisu note coming back again, some blackberry, vanilla, Brazil nut and into sweet oak, while the finish imparts a long, dark roast coffee style, but is balanced and sweet.

For the Smooth Arabica expression, on the nose there is ground coffee, hazelnuts, sweet raisins, dark cherries, a lovely toffee note with vanilla and sweet oak. The palate leads with an americano, followed by raisins, cherries, soft spices, walnuts, vanilla, and oak. And the finish leaves a lingering coffee bean profile, which turns sweet and creamy.”

Coffee is also in the packaging: what led you to process bean husks, and how did you recycle them?

“In homage to its coffee inspiration, The Macallan Harmony Collection Inspired by Intense Arabica and Smooth Arabica are presented in a beautifully crafted presentation box, made in part using special paper for the front and rear labels and box wrap which repurposes coffee bean husks, a by-product in the coffee-making process, which would have otherwise been discarded. The box is fully recyclable and biodegradable, and the paper incorporates process residues from coffee bean husks.

The coffee bean husks are supplied by Italian coffee producer Agust, which for three generations has been traveling, selecting, importing, and roasting coffees from the best plantations in the world. The husks were then incorporated into paper created by Italian paper mill, Favini.”

You will also think about mixing whisky with tea?

“This is not an area we have explored.”

In the future, do you plan to extend this limited edition to other origins beyond Ethiopia to discover new combinations?

“The Macallan Harmony Collection will continue to explore new territories and innovation to bring together whisky-making and our creative and innovative mindset by applying the art of using organic by-products which have ended their usual course.”

About The Macallan

Founded in 1824 on a plateau above the River Spey in north-east Scotland, The Macallan is renowned globally for its incomparable craftsmanship, creativity and innovation with each bottle of single malt whisky revealing its unique mastery of wood and spirit.

Social and environmental sustainability is at the heart of The Macallan, and as part of its commitment to establishing a positive legacy it revealed its award-winning new Distillery in 2018. Designed by internationally acclaimed architects, the building takes inspiration from the surrounding ancient Scottish hills and is located on The Macallan’s beautiful 485-acre Estate. To this day, the single greatest influence on The Macallan’s sought after portfolio of single malts is its sherry seasoned oak casks from which its whiskies derive their distinctive flavours, aromas and natural colour.

For further information visit the website.

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