The Ma­callan is ush­er­ing in a new era with a spec­tac­u­lar state-of-the-art dis­tillery built into the Scot­tish land­scape. Oliver Giles gets a first look

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life | Whisky -

he small Scot­tish vil­lage of Craigel­lachie feels as if it’s been frozen in time. A bridge in and out of the ham­let is marked by two tur­rets that look like they’ve been plucked from the top of a me­dieval cas­tle. Charm­ing stone cot­tages line the main road, and hills cov­ered in pine trees roll to­wards the hori­zon. Craigel­lachie even has a res­i­dent herd of fluffy High­land cat­tle, all of them glossy enough that they could star in a cam­paign for Scot­land’s tourism board.

But just out­side this pic­turesque vil­lage there’s a strange sight. Bulging out of a grassy hill­side are five smaller mounds. These hillocks per­fectly mimic the sur­round­ing land­scape, but there’s a sliver of glass at the front that re­veals they’re en­tirely man-made. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously rem­i­nis­cent of the an­cient world but oddly sci-fi, they could eas­ily be the in­nocu­ous fa­cade of a Bond vil­lain’s high-tech lair.

The re­al­ity isn’t quite as out­landish but is still sur­pris­ing. This ser­pen­tine, grass-cov­ered roof houses The Ma­callan’s new dis­tillery, a fac­tory so cav­ernous that St Paul’s Cathe­dral could com­fort­ably fit in­side. Four years in the mak­ing and ru­moured to have cost as much as £120 mil­lion, this sub­ter­ranean build­ing will boost The Ma­callan’s pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity by 30 per cent, mean­ing the brand’s fa­mous whisky can be en­joyed by more peo­ple than ever. But the build­ing is more than sim­ply a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity. It also houses the vis­i­tors cen­tre, a restau­rant and a whisky li­brary. As Toby Jeav­ons, one of the lead ar­chi­tects on the project, puts it, “It’s the home of the brand.”

The Ma­callan en­trusted ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dio Rogers Stirk Har­bour & Part­ners with the job of de­sign­ing this era-defin­ing new build­ing. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the brief, Graham Stirk, one of the stu­dio’s se­nior part­ners, im­me­di­ately turned to Scot­land for in­spi­ra­tion. “There were three im­ages we used of par­tic­u­lar Scot­tish forms which date back to an­tiq­uity,” Stirk ex­plains. “One of these was a burial cairn, which are burial mounds made out of boul­ders and rub­ble that have been grown over. The land­scape has reap­pro­pri­ated what was a man-made form.”

The new dis­tillery is next door to Easter Elchies House, a manor house built in 1700 that sits at the heart of The Ma­callan es­tate. Al­though this tra­di­tional build­ing could not be more ar­chi­tec­turally dif­fer­ent from the dis­tillery, Stirk wanted to link the two, so de­signed a walk­way that stretches from one to the other.

“For the walk­way, we looked at an­other an­cient Scot­tish form: a well in Mo­ray that was cut into an earth mound. The cut through the earth is al­most like go­ing into an Egyp­tian pyra­mid,” ex­plains Stirk. The path­way ta­pers dra­mat­i­cally to a small en­trance­way that looks as if it’s lead­ing un­der­ground. When vis­i­tors step through the doors, the un­du­lat­ing roof soars above their heads.

While the build­ing’s ex­te­rior is de­signed to blend in with na­ture, the interior fully em­braces its role as a fac­tory. There’s only a sheet of glass sep­a­rat­ing the vis­i­tors area from the man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity, so as soon as you walk in you can see the enor­mous steel vats, cop­per stills and miles of pip­ing that make the base spirit that, af­ter years of mat­u­ra­tion in oak casks, be­comes The Ma­callan whisky. You can stay this side of the glass and ex­plore the store, restau­rant and whisky li­brary or—with a tour guide—you can ven­ture into the fac­tory proper.

“We didn’t want to hide the pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity away,” says Jeav­ons. “Most peo­ple who come here won’t just want to learn aca­dem­i­cally about whisky; they want to see how it’s made.”

Whisky con­nois­seurs will be pleased to hear that you can do more than see The Ma­callan— you can taste it, too. Part of the vis­i­tors cen­tre is a ca­sual restau­rant, though its laid­back style be­lies the amount of ex­per­tise that’s gone into the menu. “Our chef has been work­ing with the Roca broth­ers on the menus for our open­ing par­ties,” re­veals Gail Cleaver, the gen­eral man­ager of the new dis­tillery, re­fer­ring to the fa­mously cre­ative Span­ish chefs be­hind El Celler de Can Roca, one of the world’s best restaurants. “They’ve been talk­ing about things like a char­cu­terie board, but made with lo­cal veni­son and game.” Nat­u­rally, all dishes pair per­fectly with whisky.

And, of course, there’s a bar. Bot­tles of vin­tage whiskies line the walls and VIPS are ush­ered into plush, in­ti­mate rooms where they’re pre­sented with a menu that lists al­most ev­ery whisky The Ma­callan has ever made. The most ex­pen­sive, it’s ru­moured, costs £15,000 per dram.

That price may seem ex­treme but, sit­ting be­neath the soar­ing roof of The Ma­callan’s dis­tillery, it’s not sur­pris­ing that wealthy whisky fans are will­ing to splurge in this unique set­ting. For whisky lovers, this is a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence, equiv­a­lent to an oenophile drink­ing Bordeaux in the halls of Château Mar­gaux or a fash­ion­ista vis­it­ing Louis Vuit­ton’s ate­liers to watch ar­ti­sans make the brand’s be­spoke trunks.

So while the new dis­tillery ful­fils a prac­ti­cal pur­pose—an in­crease in the amount of whisky the brand can pro­duce ev­ery year—it also ce­ments the sta­tus of The Ma­callan as a lux­ury prod­uct sought af­ter by fans around the globe. It will be a place of pil­grim­age for those fans, and will no doubt help win over a new gen­er­a­tion of whisky drinkers. How­ever you look at it, one thing is clear: this dis­tillery shows that The Ma­callan is look­ing to­wards the fu­ture—and it’s think­ing big.

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