Home > Food & Drink > Drinks > Master perfumer Roja Dove on his expert nose and working with The Macallan
Master perfumer Roja Dove on his expert nose and working with The Macallan

Each year, The Macallan releases a new whisky in its innovative Edition Series — and this year’s release may be the boldest one yet. In collaboration with master perfumer Roja Dove, Edition No. 3, The Macallan’s Master Whisky Maker, Bob Dalgarno, has crafted a whisky that specifically highlights the role oak casks place in the whisky-making process. Using his remarkable experience and his expert nose, Dove was able to describe distinctive aromas in particular oak casks, which in turn was used by Dalgarno to craft the end product.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the master perfumer has worked with The Macallan — their partnership goes back to 2009, when Dove first visited The Macallan distillery in Scotland. In 2010, Roja and The Macallan created a unique collection of 12 bespoke aroma oils, each evoking the common characteristics of whisky and the rich complexities of The Macallan. In 2013, they collaborated once again to create a set of perfumed candles to characterise the 1824 Series – Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby. And now, we have Edition No. 3.

To find out more about this new whisky we sat down with Dove to pick his brain about his work with The Macallan and the amazing world of aromas.

Roja dove


You previously collaborated with The Macallan on a new way of experiencing whisky, The Macallan Aroma Kit. Have you always been a whisky enthusiast or is this a new discovery for you since then?

When The Macallan asked me to collaborate I was very honest with them from the start — I hated whisky. To qualify why I made that statement — when I was 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. But after nearly a decade of working alongside them and Bob Dalgarno (The Macallan’s Master Whisky Maker), I can honestly say that I have now found a whisky that I absolutely adore – Edition No. 3. There aren’t many people in the world that can say they have had a whisky created for them.

Before I met with 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. Bob introduced me to a broad spectrum of flavour which I had no idea existed within the world of whisky. He gave me whiskies which smelt fresh and citrus (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.

On the surface it would seem that Bob and I came from disparate worlds. From the beginning it was obvious we shared much in common, which we have explored and developed in many different ways. The inevitable culmination of this collaboration was the creation of Edition No.3. We have worked together to master the balance of taste and aroma, resulting in an incredibly flavoursome, fresh and citrus whisky with enveloping sweetness. Edition No.3 is an exceptional example of the whisky maker’s art, where Bob has interpreted my thoughts so accurately, when combined with the extraordinary power of scent.

With your collaboration on The Macallan Edition No.3, what did you set out to accomplish?

We wanted to create a whisky evocative of the world of perfumery that takes you on a journey of the senses. We wanted to create a whisky that would not only satisfy existing lovers of whisky, but would also open the door to people who have never experienced whisky before — but have been waiting for one to come along that is creative, exciting and relatable.

What have you learnt about whisky creation during your collaboration with The Macallan? Is there a parallel that can be drawn to the creation of whisky to perfume?

When I first met with Bob Dalgarno (The Macallan’s Master Whisky Maker) at the distillery in Scotland, he had 16–20 whiskies ready for me to nose. We instantly hit it off and the 16–20 whiskies turned into 100–150 whiskies. He and I established a relationship very quickly as we 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 to taste other than salt, 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 — the limbic system — the most primitive part of the brain. So smell and taste are intertwined, and this is how we get flavour.

The greatest compliment of all came when The Macallan asked me to collaborate with them on 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 then 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 for that. Bob then took my observations and worked the six whiskies into one masterpiece: Edition No. 3.

When Edition No. 3 arrived on my desk, it was 100% exactly how I wanted the whisky to be. I did not ask him to alter it. It was just what I wanted. It was perfect. And the reason that is important to say — it has my name on it. I have only ever put my name on one other product which is not my own, and that was the scent I make for Rolls Royce. Every Rolls Royce showroom across the world is scented with a creation I was commissioned to make especially for them. Now it was going to be The Macallan. 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 the precise whisky I wanted.

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 flavour and odour profile I asked for, Bob knew how to pick these flavours out of a quarter of a million barrels. I think that says more about his skill than anything. He is, without question, a genius at what he does.

In your opinion, what is the best way to enjoy whisky and fully appreciate its aroma?

I think how you enjoy and appreciate whisky is a personal thing, much like the scent you choose to wear. For me, I like to slowly bring the glass to my nose, moving the liquid around in a steady circular motion and taking in the beautiful aromas. I then take a small sip, moving it around so that my entire mouth is covered. Once swallowed, I allow the whisky to work its magic as I try to pick out the different elements.

What are the aromas we can expect to find in The Macallan Edition No.3?

When you first nose it and taste it, you get this enormously diffusive burst of citrus – specifically lemon. People have commented that is feels brighter and a lot more diffusive than other Macallan whiskies they have tasted. Within seconds of being in your mouth, in the background, you start to taste this vanilla, toffee, and caramel. In my opinion, the caramel is reminiscent of the butter and sugar coming together – so it has this beautiful ‘butteryness’ to it. Suddenly there is this fantastic flavour of bitter orange – which counterpoints the sweetness of the vanillic aspect. It has a tiny touch of sweet spice and a little floralcy, before the apple takes control of your whole mouth.

With regards to The Macallan Edition No.3, what strikes you about its flavour profile?

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 Macallan whiskies. Interestingly, one person said, “This whisky is 100% The Macallan, but 100% unlike any other Macallan ever tasted”.

You have an expert nose that can identify hundreds of scents. What are some of the most powerful or evocative aromas in the world for you?

Scent is intangible. It can touch us, move us, and inspire our very being. Sit with someone and breathe in their scent, and they give you one of the most beautiful of all gifts: the gift of memory. You may not have seen someone for years but, with one breath of their scent, the memories come flooding back, dreams are revived, love is rekindled.

A photograph is cold, two-dimensional and, in time, will fade; a perfume brings back moments in our lives in vivid, glorious technicolour. Nothing but perfume, in my opinion, is able to transport us in this way. Scent can evoke the warm fields of Provençe, exotic pleasures of the East, or bright, fast cities full of elegant, polished women and slick men. It has the ability to bring a smile to our lips, or tears to our eyes. I have always used the simile that odour molecules work like a cat-burglar — they intrude unannounced into our mind and soul. When revisited, they unlock the floodgates of memories and emotions, leaving a profound imprint. Smell is, arguably, the most intimate of our senses.

I adore orris. Orris is the rhysome from the Iris flower, which comes from the bulb. The jasmine we use is from the town of Grasse. It takes 5 million flowers, picked by hand before the sun comes up and touches them, to make just one kilo of the oil. This costs me around £34,000 per kilo and is the finest jasmine in the world. Most people don’t use it in scent because of its cost and rarity. I am probably one of about three perfumers in the world lucky enough to use it, and I make a candle out of it. Likewise, rose de mai is considered the finest quality rose in the world. It is extraordinarily complex, much deeper than what you normally think of with a rose. It comes also from Grasse and takes around 306,000 flowers to make 1 kilo of oil. The entire year’s production is less than one day’s production of the Bulgarian rose, so it is extremely rare.

As a master perfumer, what are your top three tips for using fragrances the right way? What should people avoid doing?

Applying your chosen scent is an art form. For those of you gaily dabbing it behind each ear, don’t — it’s a cardinal sin. The sebum-producing glands will interfere with the perfume and alter the scent that develops. Instead wear it on your wrists, elbows and collarbone – don’t rub it in, just let the perfume unravel and work its magic on your individual canvas.

A body lotion or cream with the same fragrance as your perfume a great way to make the odour last. Always apply your fragrance first and the lock it in with the lotion or cream afterwards – not only does this increase the lasting quality but the alcohol in the fragrance doesn’t break down the cream so the moisturising factor is maximised.

When to apply perfume: In the morning, but don’t do it in a rush as you’re running out of the door. Instead, spray on your perfume as soon as you’ve dried off after showering/bathing – before you’ve even stepped into the dress/suit. Your body heat will intensify the base notes of a fragrance so the sooner you apply it, the better.

If you’d like to post about this story or The Macallan Edition No. 3 on social media, be sure to use the following hashtags: #MacallanCreates #Edition3 #Macallan #WhiskySense #Whisky #Whiskey.

Michael Alan Connelly
Head of Digital Content
A Chicagoan by birth and a New Yorker by habit, Michael has more than a decade of experience in digital publishing at leading titles in the U.S. and Asia. When he's not checking out Hong Kong's newest restaurants and bars or jet setting around the globe, you'll find him hanging out with his dog Buster and enjoying an Aperol Spritz.
Sign up for our newsletters to have the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Yes, I agree to the Privacy Policy

Never miss an update

Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates.

No Thanks
You’re all set

Thank you for your subscription.