When whisky connoisseurs hear the name Macallan, they are usually quick to take notice. And that is no wonder. The Macallan distillery is a true bedrock of the Scotch whisky landscape. Like hardly any other, it is associated with the words single malt and Speyside. And like hardly any other, it polarises whisky connoisseurs and beginners. Let’s have a closer look at why that is.
The Macallan: Scottish Whisky Tradition with Prestige
If there is one Scottish distillery that is representative of Scotland’s centuries-old whisky tradition, it is probably The Macallan. The prestigious distillery on the banks of the Spey is one of the first distilleries to legally distil in Scotland. In the time it has been in existence, it has become one of the most important whisky distilleries in the country and is synonymous with exclusive spirits that enjoy world renown.
The Macallan is located in the village of Easter Elchis, Craigellachie and thus in the middle of the internationally renowned and one of the most important Scotch whisky regions, Speyside. It is also home to the Malt Whisky Trail, a tourist route linking eight of the distilleries located in this important region, as well as Scotland’s only cooperage, the Speyside Cooperage.
The distillates of the luxury distillery are as high-calibre as they are sought-after. In addition to classic single malts with varying maturation periods, a series of exclusive Special Editions offers numerous desirable collector’s items for whisky lovers worldwide. Perfectly balanced in taste, Macallan whiskies stand for Scottish distillery art par excellence.
Luxurious Scottish Single Malts for Discerning Palates
Exceptional distillates, matured in the finest oak casks: What distinguishes the whiskies from The Macallan production is their unique quality and outstanding taste. While the Macallan Whisky Double Cask is stored in two different types of casks for twelve years before bottling and thus develops its extraordinary aroma, the Macallan Whisky Fine Oak passes through three casks before it reaches the bottle.
Numerous tribute and special editions, such as the Quest Collection launched in 2018, a travel retail series to which the Macallan Lumina belongs, round off the extensive range with exclusivity and rarity.
The single malts reach maturity in hand-selected casks under the strict supervision of The Macallan’s Master of Wood, and are then perfected and refined under The Macallan’s Master Distiller and his team.
The quality of the later whisky depends to a large extent on the quality of the oak casks in which it is stored. Up to 80 per cent of the final character and aroma of The Macallan depends on the quality of the casks.
For this reason, the selection of the casks used in the Scottish distillery is, alongside the quality of the raw materials used for the distillates, the quality feature that decides on the taste and individual style of the later product even before distillation.
Masterfully distilled and highly sought after: Macallan Whiskies are among the most exclusive in the World
Single malts from The Macallan production are not only among the most sought-after, but also among the most expensive in the world: the 60-year-old Macallan Valerio Adami 1926, for example, achieved a price of almost one million euros at an auction in Edinburgh. In 2019, a bottle of the likewise 60-year-old Macallan 1926 Single Malt even fetched the equivalent of around 1.7 million euros.
The secret of these high-proof exclusives lies not only in the way they are produced and the taste that comes with it, but above all in their rarity – there are only 24 bottles of the Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 in the world. The rarity was distilled in 1926 and bottled in 1986 – after six honourable decades in oak casks.
Another special feature of these old prestige objects is the design of the labels on the bottles. Twelve of the 24 labels were designed by the pop artists Peter Blake and Valerio Adami. This increases their value not only among whisky lovers, but also among art collectors. In the end, the focus here is no longer on the spirit as such, but rather on its sentimental value.
The History of the Macallan Distillery
Compared to other Scottish distilleries, Macallan has had a turbulent history. This is mainly due to the frequent changes of ownership and the associated changes in production.
In the history of Scotch whisky, The Macallan occupies a special place. It was one of the first legal distilleries in the country. It began operations in 1824, when Alexander Reid was granted a distilling licence.
Over the following years, it changed hands several times. After the death of the founder in 1847, the distillery passed into the hands of Reid’s son Alexander.
In 1858 it passed to James Shearer Priest and James Davidson and was sold a further ten years later to James Stuart, who also ran the Glen Spey distillery at the time. Roderick Kemp steered the fortunes of The Macallan from 1882, and his family continued to run the company for the next 100 years, steadily expanding the distillery.
From 1965 onwards, for example, the number of stills was gradually increased significantly: first, in 1965, it was doubled from the existing six to twelve, followed by a further six in 1974. By 1975, there were a total of 21 stills under the roof of The Macallan.
In 1996, the distillery on the Spey was taken over by Highland Distillers Ltd, which at that time also managed the Scottish distilleries Bunnahabhain, Glenrothes and Highland Park. Finally, in 1999, the Edrington Group took over.
When he also died in 1858, it was bought by James Shearer Priest and James Davidson. Ten years later, they sold it to James Stuart, then owner of the famous Glen Spey distillery. He sold it in 1998 to Roderick Kemp, in whose family business it remained for 100 years. During this period, it was also significantly expanded. The number of stills was increased from just six in the beginning to 21 in 1975.
In 1996, the distillery became the property of Distillers Ltd, which also owns the well-known brands Bunnahabhain, Glenrothes and Highland Park. In 1999, Distillers Ltd. was bought by the Edrington Group, to which The Macallan still belongs today.
Passionate Distillers, Masterful Whiskies
The Macallan Scotch Whisky is also an excellent investment today, as the bottles from the Scottish high-end distillery combine the most exclusive aromas to create a very special kind of enjoyment experience.
Enthusiasm for the product single malt whisky and the highest demands on its quality have characterised The Macallan’s approach to production since the very beginning of the distillery’s history. Since its foundation by Alexander Reid in 1824, the distillery has continued to evolve, combining traditional values and production steps with innovative approaches and modern marketing opportunities.
The distillery’s location on a picturesque plateau above the River Spey has remained unchanged to this day. The distillery is surrounded by a 150-hectare estate, the centrepiece of which is Easter Elkies House.
While The Macallan products were initially popular for blended whiskies, the single malt from The Macallan production was also bottled as a soloist for the first time in the 1960s. Initially, it was only available as a whisky in the Speyside region until 1980, when it was decided to distribute it throughout Great Britain and later worldwide.
Interesting Facts about the Distillery
The distillery owns two mash tuns weighing a total of 12.6 tonnes. In addition, there are 22 wash backs with a combined volume of 770,000 litres. Distillation takes place in seven wash stills with a capacity of 12,000 litres each and 14 spirit stills with 4,000 litres each. Total production amounts to 5.5 million litres per year. This clearly places The Macallan among the larger distilleries.
What do Macallan I and Macallan II mean?
If you’ve been studying Macallan for a while, you’ve probably come across the product line names Macallan I and Macallan II. The reason for this is that Macallan never has all of its stills working at the same time. Therefore, a distinction is made in this regard. Macallan I means that the whisky was produced in the modern plant.
The main difference to the bottling plant for the Macallan II product line is that metallic stills are used here instead of wooden ones. This results in different taste characteristics, which always trigger heated discussions among Macallan fans.
Here you will not infrequently come across the view that only the bottlings of Line I are the true ones and that the newer ones cannot keep up.
Things to know about the Production
As with all other distilleries, Macallan has a number of manufacturing features that are responsible for its distinctive taste. To give you a better understanding of where the different Macallan lines get their distinctive flavours, let’s take a closer look at them below.
Water and Grain from the Region
Macallan’s marketing managers like to point out the importance of the spiritual soil on which the distillery stands. But what is really remarkable is something quite different, namely the underground supply of water.
There is no open water source in the immediate vicinity of the brewery, which is why groundwater has to be pumped from the depths – a whole 150,000 litres a day. This water is used exclusively for the mash. For cooling the plant, there is another separate connection that is fed by Spey water, again with a considerable amount of up to 1 million litres a day.
For the barley, Macallan relies on regional cultivation. The 500 tonnes of barley needed each week come from 15 Scottish farms and England. However, Macallan has not malted its own barley since 1952. Everything comes ready-made from special suppliers.
Another reason for the special taste of Macallan bottlings is the particularly small stills with their short necks. As a result, the reflux that typically occurs during distillation is particularly low, which makes the finished spirit very compact and dense in flavour. This effect is further supported by the acute angle of the so-called Lyne arm. This is the pipe through which the alcoholic vapour is led into the condenser. It, too, is credited with a significant part of the flavour.
Short centre Barrel and no Colourings
Macallan’s middle run is relatively short. It amounts to just two hours. At the end of the distillation process, the new make has a correspondingly high alcohol strength of 72 – 69 %. If you try different Macallan bottlings, you will still clearly taste the strong notes. Another special feature that we would like to point out briefly in this context is the absence of colouring. At Macallan, all whiskies have only the natural colour that they have drawn from the cask. So this is a whisky for purists.
The Casks – Macallan relies on Sherry
If you take a closer look at the production characteristics of whisky, you naturally cannot avoid the casks. After all, they have a decisive influence on the taste. This is especially true for Macallan.
The distillery has been famous for its use of sherry casks for decades. This began in the 1980s when the Sherry Oak range was released globally. The use of the casks goes back to Roderick Kemp. He recognised early on the aromatic possibilities offered by Spanish casks.
For a long time, used barrels from the Spanish region were used. In the meantime, they produce them themselves. Macallan currently has over 40 suppliers of wood from the USA and Spain. Sustainability is also a priority. For every oak that becomes a cask, three new trees are planted.
A special term that comes up again and again in connection with Macallan casks is paxarette. To understand it, we have to backtrack a little. Macallan has always been known for its sherry flavours. This is especially true for the bottlings from the 1980s, which still have a legendary status among connoisseurs today.
Here, however, a little trick has been used. They pressed about 500 ml of boiled grape must into the wood under pressure. Originally, this technique was used to restore some of the aroma to barrels that had been used several times. Today, however, this technique is no longer permitted. Fans of the old bottlings, in particular, naturally mourn this and never tire of emphasising that everything was simply better in the past.
And there is another point to be made about the casks. As a result of the frequent changes in ownership of the distillery, new cask philosophies have been adopted time and again. The year 2004 is particularly worth mentioning here, when the fine oak bottling series was brought onto the market.
Fans were indignant because the days of cheap bottlings with high age specifications, as known from sherry casks, seemed to be over. Today, they are often only available at record prices.
The Macallan Product Range
Macallan offers a relatively diverse range that has something for every taste. Essentially, there are five different series, which we will take a look at below.
Macallan Sherry Oak
For a long time, the Sherry Oak line was the clear focus of the range. Although the product orientation has shifted a little over time, it still contributes significantly to the taste characteristics of the Speyside distillery.
You should try this series if you like Scotch aged in sherry casks. Relatively new and expensive oak casks are used here, which were previously filled with Spanish brandy. There are currently five different levels of maturity available: 12, 18, 25, 30 and 40 years. As you can see, this is a good place for connoisseurs who want to spend a little more on a bottle of whisky.
In terms of taste, the Sherry Oak series moves into cosy, wintry areas. Here you can taste aromas of sultanas, spices and chocolate.
Macallan Double Cask
The Double Cask series is characterised by the fact that the whiskies here were not only matured in a sherry cask, but also in a bourbon cask. After a few years, they are decanted so that they can absorb even more aromas and become even more complex. So far, there is only the 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky in this line, which is highly praised by critics and buyers alike.
Macallan Fine Oak
Do you prefer somewhat lighter and milder whiskies that still have an interesting complexity? Then take a look at the Macallan Fine Oak series. Here, the bottlings are triple matures. This means that they were matured in sherry casks made of European and American white oak and also in bourbon casks from the USA. The flavours are correspondingly diverse.
Here you will discover many sweet notes, especially through the bourbon. Connoisseurs can taste citrus fruit, vanilla and coconut, for example. There is also a wide range of vintages. These include bottlings with 10, 12, 14, 17, 18, 21, 25 and 30 years. So you see, here you get something suitable for both the budget and the more sophisticated tastes.
Macallan The 1824 Series
The name of this production series refers to the date of the distillery’s founding. Here, each bottling is matured 100% in a sherry cask. Also, as is typical for Macallan, there are no colourings. This also gave the distillery the opportunity to name each whisky after its colour. In addition, the buyer can quickly recognise the age of the whisky even without a label. Basically, it gets darker with increasing age.
The youngest vintages are Gold and Amber. They are followed by Sienna and Ruby. The dark, particularly long-matured premium whiskies include popular highlights such as Rare Cask, Rare Cask Black, Reflexion, No. 6 and M. However, these are limited special editions, so it is sometimes not so easy to get hold of a copy.