Travel, Food & Drink

The Macallan Whisky: Where Innovation Meets Tradition

A brand new distillery and a recent landmark Christie’s sale have shone a spotlight on this highly collectable whisky

One of the key factors in the quality of The Macallan comes from its superb oak casks. It is said that 80 percent of a whisky’s character comes from the material it is aged in, and at The Macallan the quality of wood is unmistakable. Matured mainly in old oloroso sherry casks, The Macallan has introduced a number of different finishing casks to its range, with bourbon and other barrels now used to finish the whisky.

Unrivaled Quality

“Our reputation is characterized by the exceptional oak casks for which The Macallan is renowned,” says Geoff Kirk, Head of Brand Development, The Macallan. “Sourced, crafted, toasted, and seasoned under the watchful eye of The Macallan Master of Wood, the hand-picked casks are delivered to the demanding specifications of The Macallan Master Distiller and his team.”

Round room filled with casks
The quality of the whisky is dependent on the character of the oak casks it is matured in, as well as the quality of the 'new make' spirit distilled from water, yeast, and barley. Photograph: Joas Souza.

The Macallan uses three types of cask for its trio of expressions, and spends more per unit on sourcing, crafting, seasoning, and caring for barrels than any other distillery. “With up to 80 percent of The Macallan’s final character and flavor determined by cask quality, the oak cask is the most prominent factor in ensuring and delivering the quality and style of our single malt,” says Kirk.

Our reputation is characterized by the exceptional oak casks for which The Macallan is renowned

Sherry Oak expressions use exclusively European sherry-seasoned casks, which create a richness and flavors of dried fruit—classic The Macallan style—while the Double Cask expression unites hand-picked American and European oloroso sherry-seasoned oak barrels. Finally, for the Triple Cask Matured expression, a complex character is drawn from European and American sherry-seasoned and ex-bourbon American oak casks. “This unique combination of oaks produces a Highland whisky with a distinct freshness and vibrant citrus, lightly oak, and with velvety cocoa and wood spice,” says Kirk.

Vast copper stills at The Macallan distillery develop the whisky and create the alcohol content during the first stage of production, before a second phase takes place in “curiously small stills,” concentrating and enhancing the flavor. Photograph: Simon Price/PA Wire.

Proven Collectability

“The Macallan features throughout our sales at Christie’s, with the limited, numbered bottlings commanding exceptionally high prices,” says Chris Munro, Head of Wine Department, the Americas. “A new kind of collector has emerged in the last three or four years, who views these often extremely rare, single-cask bottlings as secure investment vehicles. Prices have risen accordingly, and the distillery is now our leading selling spirit.”

Bar in wood-ceilinged distillery
The Macallan Club, a bar area within The Macallan distillery’s visitor experience, allows guests to take in the architecture and savor the renowned single malt. Photograph: Joas Souza.

Indeed, a 1926 bottle of The Macallan whisky sold for £1.2 million ($1.53 million) in Christie’s Finest & Rarest Wines & Spirits sale on 29 November in London, a record for whisky sales. One of only 40 to be released by the distillery, its label uniquely hand-painted by the Irish artist Michael Dillon.

Boxed whisky bottle with certificate
A bottle of The Macallan 1926 with a label hand-painted by the Irish artist Michael Dillon went under the hammer at Christie’s London last month, fetching £1.2 million ($1.53 million).

“This 1926 92-year-old bottle of The Macallan is very rare, so it is exciting to see it come to market and establish another auction record for single malt scotch. The Macallan is renowned for its quality and desirability, and the Christie’s auction marks a significant achievement,” says Scott McCroskie, Managing Director, The Macallan.

A New Home

Officially founded by Alexander Reid in 1824, The Macallan is one of the oldest legally licensed whisky distilleries in Scotland. The area where it stands was originally named Maghellan, from the Gaelic word ‘magh,’ meaning fertile ground. This year, a new distillery opened its doors on the site, designed by acclaimed architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. Built into the slope of the land on The Macallan’s Easter Elchies estate near Craigellachie in Moray, Scotland, an undulating roof completes the dramatic but harmonious design.

Plans for the new distillery conceived by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, which was designed to blend in with the Speyside landscape. Image: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.

“It was especially important to minimize the visual impact of the building on the Speyside landscape,” says Kirk. “By covering it with grass and flowers, it not only fulfils this, but maximizes the dramatic effect and aesthetic beauty of the distillery.”

More than 14,000 square meters (150,695 sq ft) of turf was used to cover the undulating roof, which Kirk says embodies the rolling hills of the Scottish countryside, and blends seamlessly into the landscape of the Craigellachie cliffs. To keep the turf from drying out in the summer, water from the River Spey is used to irrigate it.