Changes are afoot at Macallan with the building of a completely new distillery for the modern age on the extensive Easter Elchies site near Craigellachie. This has been the original home of the Macallan since 1824 when Alexander Reid applied for a distilling license. Back then it was actually called the Elchies distillery and was a farm distillery of humble origins.
The 1823 Excise Act was the catalyst and prompted several former illicit distillers and entrepreneurs to establish legal distilleries and included illustrious names such as George Smith (Glenlivet) and John Cumming (Cardhu). History remembers the successful, but not the fallen and unfortunately many underestimated the ordeals and finances necessary to run a distillery. The Elchies distillery changed ownership several times including a corn merchant in Rothes, until 1892, when Roderick Kemp rebuilds the distillery completely and sees fit to change its name to Macallan-Glenlivet. This Elgin merchant was extremely successful and clearly a man of business acumen having already acquired the notable Talisker distillery on the remote Isle of Skye.
With the establishment of a trust, the distillery remains in family hands and continues to enjoy tremendous success. The number of stills are doubled from 6 to 12 in 1965 and this prompts the need for additional finance. Macallan becomes a public company shortly afterwards to meet the bill for additional inventory and what is essentially a separate distillery latched onto the existing building. Eventually 2 shareholders in the form of Highland Distilleries and the Japanese giant Suntory, purchase enough stock to take a controlling interest. A deal is struck by Highland Distilleries (now named Edrington) in 2001 to assume total control of Macallan.
Further work takes place at the distillery in 1974 when the number of Macallan’s distinctively small stills increases again to an impressive 18, with this figure increasing the following year to a mighty 21. The separate still house was closed in 1990 due to a decline in demand for whisky, but reopened once again thanks to the upsurge in 2008, with 14 in total being utilised today across both units. This revival commemorated with the release of the 12-year-old Reawakening that was a distillery exclusive and limited to 1002 bottles. Now the 390-acre estate is dominated by the presence of temperate controlled warehouses of an impressive scale; reminiscent of those utilised by Heaven Hill in the United States.
For its new distillery only the best will do, with the architects behind Heathrow’s Terminal 5 being commissioned to create a plant that marries distilling naturally with its environment. The end result is a distillery concept like no other, which when it opens will offer a unique facility and visitor attraction. The cost of the build is projected to be at least £100 million and the plant will be future proofed with the option to expand capacity and therefore production. Work finally started in 2014 and is due for completion very soon. Once established the existing distillery area will be mothballed just in case its annual capacity of 11 million litres is required. What will happen thereafter is undecided but it could eventually become a similar scenario to that currently seen at Clynelish, which replaced the older and illustrious Brora distillery next door.
Today, the Macallan is the leading single malt in the world and the most desired whisky. Assisted by a range of limited editions and its perceived luxury status, it has ensured a devoted following amongst enthusiasts, collectors and the curious. Along with Glenfiddich its the whisky you’re most likely to come across when visiting other countries and luxurious establishments. Whilst many of its releases remain out of reach of your everyday whisky drinker, the Macallan offers a considerable range of expressions. These tend to focus around the wood casks deployed with the Fine Oak, Double Cask and Sherry Casks being the entry level expressions.
Traditionally Macallan is famous for its use of sherry casks and this has been underlined with the recent release of the Edition range. A duty free series called the 1824 Collection offers more variety including the peated Rare Cask Black. At the top of the Macallan tree is Six Pillars Collection, but the classic Macallan expression remains the staple 18-year-old bottling which is highly recommended.