Set on a 485 acre estate on the edge of the Cairngorms National park in the North-East of Scotland, The Macallan is a name that needs little introduction. For centuries farmers have been producing whisky in Speyside, making use of surplus barley during the harsh winter months. The Macallan story leads on from this tradition, with close to 200 years of history and producing one of the world’s leading single malts.
Founded by Alexander Reid in 1824, The Macallan gets its name from the old Gaelic name for the area “Maghellan”, taken from “magh” meaning fertile land and “Ellan” from the Monk St. Fillan who was connected with the church that stood in the estate grounds until 1400. The Macallan was one of the first distillers in Scotland to be legally licensed and has since followed six guiding principles that are the foundations for its character and spirit.
The Six Pillars
The Spiritual Home is the first of these principles. Nestled in the hills above the River Spey, Easter Elchies House was built in 1700 from locally quarried sandstone and was used as a holiday home by Captain John Grant of Elchies. Over a century later, Alexander Reid rented the house in 1820 and shortly thereafter established the first licensed distillery on this site in 1824.
The Curiously Small Stills are the second of The Macallan’s pillars. As some of the smallest stills in Speyside, their unique shape and size are famous, with their image even having appeared on £10 Bank of Scotland notes. The 24 stills are crucial in the production process, with their smaller size giving the spirit maximum contact with the copper. This helps to concentrate the spirit and provides the characteristic rich and fruity flavours of The Macallan.
The Macallan’s third pillar is their Finest Cut. When the clear, colourless spirit in the stills is just below 70% ABV, The Macallan selects a small portion, or ‘cut’, of the finest quality spirit from each still. This can be as little as 16% of the spirit in the stills, which ensures the spirit carries its signature full-bodied richness and is the starting point for all that The Macallan produce.
Fourth in The Macallan’s set of principles are the Exceptional Oak Casks. The Macallan spend more per cask than any other distillery, from sourcing and crafting to seasoning and caring for the casks. The Macallan Master of Wood, Stuart MacPherson, works closely with fully integrated ‘tree to finished seasoned cask’ companies in Spain to select, fell, saw, dry and season the oak. The demanding standards of the team are understandable when one considers that up to 80% of The Macallan’s final character and flavour are dependent on the quality of the cask.
The Natural Colour of The Macallan is its fifth pillar. All its whiskies’ colours are natural, taken from the oak casks in which they are matured. This ensures the colour remains fixed and doesn’t fade with time or exposure to sunlight, as an artificial colour would. It is through the skill of The Macallan’s Master Whisky Maker that the natural differences in each wooden cask are monitored and managed so that consistency between bottlings is attained.
Finally, the sixth pillar at The Macallan is Peerless Spirit. In their own words “The Macallan is the result of such defining mastery and intricacy, it is unmatched; peerless in each and every way”.
Legacy and Collaborations
The Macallan’s outstanding pedigree has been reaffirmed in recent years at auction houses all over the world. In 2018, one of the 40 bottles of the legendary The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 sold at auction for a world record breaking £1.2 million – this was also the first individual whisky to ever surpass £1 million. The following year, another bottle from the same cask was sold for £1.5 million. In addition, since 2005 The Macallan has worked in collaboration with Lalique, the epitome of outstanding glassware production. Together they have created a range of decanters and products which have become akin to works of art. The unprecedented demand for these elusive, rare, master-crafted bottles highlights not only the surge in whisky’s popularity, but also the weight that The Macallan name carries.
Over three and a half years, a new £140 million distillery was built on The Macallan estate and opened in July 2019. Designed by internationally renowned architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the new distillery was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize for excellence in architecture; the roof is one of the most complicated timber structures in the world, with 380,000 individual components and atop that is an idyllic roofscape that encourages biodiversity. The project was designed around The Macallan’s sustainability aims to lessen the impact on the environment. From their packaging, 98% of which is made from recyclable and sustainable materials, to their work with accredited farmers, The Macallan is committed to creating a better world for future generations.