Not everyone could convert the name of an anonymous local distillery into one of the world’s most well-known whisky brands in only 30 years, but The Macallan crew have done just that. The Macallan Distillery lies on the Macallan Farm on the banks of the river Spey, strategically placed next to an old ford where farmers used to cross on their way to the lowland markets. The house to the right in the picture is the Easter Elchies, a Jacobean Manor which was built in the sixteenth century. The Manor used to house the Macallan Visitor Centre but the centre has been moved to another building.
Easter ElchiesAlexander Reid ran the distillery when it became legitimate in 1824. At this time it was called the Elchies Distillery. In 1847 Mr Reid formed a partnership with James Priest and James Davidson and they owned the distillery together until 1868 when it was bought by James Stuart. The distillery was sold again in 1892 to Roderick Kemp who immediately renovated and modernized it. Kemp also changed the name of the distillery to Macallan-Glenlivet. Highland Distilleries bought Macallan together with Suntory in 1996 in a hostile takeover. Since then, Highland has been acquired by The 1887 Company which is a joint venture between the Edrington Group and Wm Grant.
In 2004 Macallan launched a new series -Fine Oak. The Fine Oak whisky does not have the same pronounced sherry flavour as the other Macallan bottlings. It is also slightly milder and has clearer notes of vanilla. Fine Oak is a combination of whisky matured in European and American oak casks, which have previously held Sherry or Bourbon.
Production at The Macallan
For the fermentation process Macallan use water from underground springs which lie approximately 150 metres below ground. The water is soft and slightly peaty. The cooling water is taken from the river Spey. Macallan only use the Golden Promise Barley which is considered to be the finest in Scotland. Some Golden Promise Barley actually grows right next to the distillery, but in spite of this Macallan still buy all their malt from central suppliers.
The Mash tun is made from stainless steel and holds seven tons. One mashing period lasts three hours and 20 minutes. Since the process is repeated seven times a day this means round the clock production. The Draff (the solid by-product from the mashing) is used as cattle food. The sixteen washbacks are all made from stainless steel and hold 36 000 litres of wort each. The fermentation begins as 125 kilos of yeast are added to each washback. The fermentation process in each washback takes approximately forty-eight hours. To achieve a good flow in the production the washbacks are therefore filled with one-hour intervals. The resulting liquid is called the wash and has an alcohol content of approximately 7 percent.
Between 1965 and 1975 the number of stills at Macallan was increased from six to fifteen. All stills are onion-shaped. An interesting fact is that their spirit stills are very small; two spirit stills are needed for each wash still. The five wash stills each hold 12 000 litres and are heated by an open gas flame. The slight burning of some yeast particles at the bottom of the wash still adds a caramel taste to the distillate. The ten spirit stills are heated by internal steam coils. All stills have sharply declining lyne arms, a fact which according to the distillery contributes to a richer and more intense whisky. The raw spirit is led in pipes from the stillhouse to the Filling Store approximately 50 metres away. The spirit is reduced from 74 percent to about 68.5 percent before is is filled into casks for storage and maturation.
The whisky is stored exclusively in sherry casks, primarily Spanish. The casks are made from Redwood trees growing in northern Spain. Only 14 percent of the threes are fit to be used for making casks. The inside of each cask is charred to expose the wood to the wine. The casks are then filled for a few months with a ‘fermentation wine’ to further condition the casks. Finally the casks are filled with the Oloroso Sherry and are stored for three years. After the Spanish have emptied the casks they are shipped to Macallan. No cask is used by Macallan more than twice since they believe that the cask has lost too much of its ability to interact with the whisky after the second fill.
Macallan have several warehouses on site with a total capacity of 150 000 casks. The current count is 130 000 casks. Most warehouses are traditional with bare earth floors and store the casks two in height although one large warehouse exists where casks are stored eleven in height. Casks from the same year are stored in different warehouses for security reasons; if one warehouse should burn down they otherwise risk loosing an entire vintage. In 1989 the output was 5.5 million litres. Approximately 70 percent is sold as single malt. Much of the remaining 30 percent is used in the popular blended whisky Famous Grouse. The Macallan whisky is bottled in Drumchapel outside of Glasgow.
Contact The Macallan
The Macallan Distillers Ltd., Easter Elchies,
Craigellachie, AB38 9RX
Phone: +44 (0) 1340 872 280
Visitors: The Distillery is open to visitors all year, although opening days and hours vary. Each tour is limited to ten people. The tour is free and you may also have a taste of The Macallan. An individual tasting can be arranged for £15 per person.
Easter – Oct, Mon to Sat, 9am till 6pm
November – Easter, Mon to Fri, 9am till 5pm
(Last guided tour starts at 3.30pm.)
The gift shop is filled with a selection of bottlings, clothes and other merchandise. From the end of June until the middle of August each year The Macallan stops production to carry out maintenance. At this time the tour does not include the distillery. They have three kind of tours, the free 30min, £8 for the 60 minutes tour, and £15 for nosing and tasting tour.
Owner: The Edrington Group.