The Macallan Distillery

Highly prized and sought after by collectors, Macallan has cultivated a reputation for producing some superlative single malts, along with a sense scarcity despite having a production capacity only surpassed by Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. This is partly due to marketing and PR, and partly because this vaunted distillery has indeed made many of the world’s most spellbinding and rare drams. Legally founded in 1824 when Alexander Reid obtained a licence under the 1823 Excise Act. Prior, Macallan has been one of the original farm distilleries of Speyside. Some years later, the lease was obtained by James Stuart, who rebuilt the grounds, selling Macallan in 1892, when it was sold to Roderick Kemp, a giant of Victorian distilling, who had previously owned Talisker. Dependents of Kemp, the Shiach family, retained ownership until the 1996 takeover by Highland Distillers, now Edrington.

Although Macallan’s total production is indeed significant, it is also peculiar owing to the relatively small size of the stills, sitting at just 3,900 litres. Originally a wooden shed with only two stills, there has been a steady expansion, starting in 1954 when three more stills were added (two wash, three spirit). In 1965, a new stillhouse featuring seven stills was built, with further development culminating in 21 stills by 1975. Up until the mid 1980s, most of Macallan’s production was geared towards blends, with a downturn in fillings leading to a push into the relatively nascent single malt marketing. Here, the marketing nous that has come to define Macallan was forged, as the management team positioned their malt as ‘first-growth whisky’, piggybacking on the prestige of classed growth Bordeaux Châteaux.

Of course, market success is only possible when you have a good product to peddle. And boy did Macallan have a unique malt. The small stills produce a really heavy, oily new make spirit, replete with dense fruit character, which marries oh so beautifully with dried fruit and nut notes derived from ex-Sherry casks sourced from Jerez, Spain. This delightful combination brought many admirers who loved the full-bodied style—something whisky lovers all over the world seek to this day. Yet, there was, apparently, not enough to go around. As popularity grew, Edrington took the decision to introduce a range of whiskies aged in ex-Bourbon casks, showing a lighter, sweeter side of Macallan to woo new whisky drinkers in emerging markets—or at least so the unofficial story goes. With the increase in ex-Bourbon whiskies, and non age statement releases under the 1824 range, the appetite for the classic Sherry cask whiskies grew, with apparent scarcity more of an issue in historic markets. Combine with rising prices and market inflation, what used to be a relatively affordable single malt has now been all but priced out of the hands of the everyday whisky drinker. Following the construction of a new £140m distillery, which officially opened in 2018, there is hope that the balance can be redressed and those classic Sherried single malts for which Macallan is know can once again be available to the many, not just the few.