THE MACALLAN HAS BUILT UPON A SOLID HERITAGE TO SECURE THE FUTURE OF ITS PRIZED SINGLE MALT.
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.