The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

Between Aberdeen and In­ver­ness in Scot­land’s wild north­east is the mighty Spey River. Ris­ing in the Scot­tish High­lands be­fore me­an­der­ing to­wards the North Sea, the Spey’s pris­tine beauty is home to some of Europe’s finest salmon and sea trout. Its waters are also the lifeblood of many Spey­side and High­land Scotch whiskies, chill­ing and con­dens­ing the pre­cious vapours; towns such as Duftown, Rothes and Aber­lour, which grace the river and its trib­u­taries, are home to some of the finest sin­gle malts.

On a ridge over­look­ing the Spey River near the pic­turesque en­clave of Craigel­lachie is what many con­sider High­land Scotch whiskies’ pride and joy, The Ma­callan. It sits on a sweep­ing 370ha prop­erty, a grand es­tate of rolling green hills with ex­ten­sive Spey river frontage, all over­looked by Easter Elchies house, a man­sion hewn from lo­cal sand­stone for Cap­tain John Grant in 1770. The be­gin­nings of The Ma­callan, how­ever, were much more sub­dued than the grandeur of the mod­ern prop­erty would sug­gest.

The Ma­callan was founded in 1824 by lo­cal school­teacher and farmer Alexan­der Reid, who at first only rented a hand­ful of acres to sow with bar­ley. He used this to craft the first Ma­callan, in a small wooden shed us­ing two sim­ple stills. The name was drawn from a small church, the ru­ins of which can still be found on the prop­erty.

When it was founded, Ma­callan was one of the first dis­til­leries in Scot­land to be li­censed. Over time it has slowly in­creased its hold­ings, first with the pur­chase of the prop­erty that en­com­passed the dis­tillery and the bar­ley fields and then by ac­quir­ing the his­toric Easter Elchies house.

Like the prop­erty where The Ma­callan is crafted, its sin­gle malt style is im­me­di­ately im­pres­sive, yet with a dis­tinc­tive del­i­cacy. Low, squat stills pro­vide a ro­bust flavour pro­file while soft wa­ter, drawn from wells on the prop­erty, im­part a silky palate. Per­haps the most im­por­tant com­po­nent of The Ma­callan style is its pow­er­ful caramel and tof­fee fruit sweet­ness, driven by ex­tended age­ing in largely Span­ish Oloroso sherry casks. Such is the im­por­tance of oak that The Ma­callan’s mas­ter of wood, Stu­art MacPher­son, over­sees ev­ery step of the pro­duc­tion process with a small num­ber of hand­picked Span­ish cooper­ages, from se­lect­ing the wood in Gali­cia in north­ern Spain through to the toast­ing and sea­son­ing of the sherry butts, and in­creas­ingly, bour­bon casks.

What also sets Ma­callan apart from its neigh­bours is that it has never lost its links to the land, a con­nec­tion partly driven, no doubt, by the breath­tak­ing beauty of its home. To­day bar­ley still graces the fields, High­land cows won­der close to the banks of the Spey, and lo­cal fish­er­man take up van­tage points along the river and cast flies for wild salmon – all while more than 200,000 bar­rels of fine sin­gle malt whisky ma­ture close by, gen­er­ally be­low a typ­i­cally low and over­cast Scot­tish sky.

The Ma­callan, though, has faced its chal­lenges. Global de­mand has surged for this iconic sin­gle malt, with long-aged ver­sions reach­ing strato­spheric prices among col­lec­tors. For a brand so steeped in tra­di­tion, it pre­sented a unique chal­lenge: to re­tain her­itage and qual­ity and pre­serve the nat­u­ral beauty of its Spey­side home, while also pro­vid­ing a space where the fu­ture of The Ma­callan could be guar­an­teed for decades.

What has emerged is a new £140 mil­lion ($249m) ar­chi­tec­tural mar­vel that com­bines a state-of-the art dis­tillery with a unique ex­pe­ri­ence for the Scotch whisky en­thu­si­ast within a beau­ti­ful struc­ture that echoes the High­land hills.

Cov­ered with a mix of lo­cal grasses and wild­flow­ers, and set into a hill­side over­look­ing the Spey, the en­tire dis­tillery and vis­i­tors cen­tre is en­closed un­der a gently un­du­lat­ing wooden frame. It holds not only the 36 cop­per pot stills, but also tast­ing bars show­cas­ing the en­tire Ma­callan range, with 952 dif­fer­ent drams stretch­ing back to 1936 avail­able to pur­chase by the glass. At its core is a dark­ened tast­ing room, sur­rounded by bar­rels of age­ing Ma­callan where col­lec­tors are en­cour­aged to view and taste their pri­vate cask of Ma­callan, surely the ul­ti­mate prize for any sin­gle malt en­thu­si­ast.

The dis­tillery it­self was de­signed by Rogers Stirk Har­bour + Part­ners, the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed ar­chi­tect be­hind Lon­don’s Mil­len­nium Dome. They have cre­ated what is not only a new bench­mark for whisky tourism but also an al­tar for lovers of fine de­sign and sin­gle malt, all sur­rounded by the unique and stark beauty of the Scot­tish High­lands.

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