The new Macallan distillery isn’t something you’d expect to see nestled within the unbridled vastness and serenity of the Speyside. Its smooth lines meander seamlessly with the rolling hills of Craigellachie — a small village in Moray, Scotland — and immediately call to mind an extraterrestrial structure that’s now settled into the earth after several years.
The striking distillery is also not what you’d expect to associate with The Macallan, a 194-year-old brand that has prided itself on producing generations of stellar single malt Scotch whisky. While the whisky remains unchanged in quality and taste, the brand has clearly grown from its Easter Elchies House roots.
The new landmark is a state-of-the-art initiative by Edrington that’s designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, who went beyond the call of merely creating a bigger facility. £140 million (S$249 million), 380,000 timber roof pieces, 1,800 single beams, 42 months, 400 people, and 25 different contractors were what it took to complete the new Macallan distillery. It’s believed to be the most expensive in the country, especially after going 40 percent over budget.
Unlike your regular distillery, the fluid architecture conforms to the surrounding landscape, with a dramatic undulating roof that’s been embellished with native grasses and wildflowers to better blend in. The six-year affair started with an international competition, where the London-based design firm (which was also behind London’s Millennium Dome) emerged victorious for marrying gracefulness with technical complexity within the hulking 50,000-square-foot facility and visitor experience centre.
It’s also located 400 metres away from the iconic Easter Elchies House, the original distillery which has doubled as the brand’s logo and core identity since 1824.
But within the serpentine construction is where The Macallan hopes to revolutionise the whisky experience for tourists, whisky pilgrims and even resident Scots. Echoing the unadulterated view from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows is the brand’s attitude towards transparency. “We wanted to share our secrets,” said The Macallan’s creative director Ken Grier.
True enough, the 36 new copper stills are exact replicas of the company’s first ones, and crafted by the same coppersmiths — Forsyth’s of Rothes — just five miles down the road. You’ll catch a glimpse of the establishment from the bar on a fine day.
Inspired by ancient Scottish brochs, the gleaming new stills are symbolically arranged in circular groupings. They’ll yield up to a third more in production for The Macallan, increasing from 10.2 million to 15 million litres of single malt Scotch annually. Guests can opt for a guided tour of the entire facility for £15 (S$26) in an intimate group of 12.
The multi-sensory experience covers everything from the nitty gritty of the production process, to interactive “pillars” and a historic collection of 398 special edition bottles, including royal bottlings and the legendary 72-year-old Genesis Decanter in all its Lalique glory.
The common theme throughout the tour is the fact that The Macallan hasn’t and never will take any shortcuts. For one, there’s no adding of artificial colouring in the whisky — a common practice amongst many brands for the sake of consistency. The casks contribute to 80 percent of the flavour, but are also fully responsible for the end colour. Factors like darker European oak and previously-held sherry casks, for example, would lend darker notes and colour to the whisky, while an American oak barrel that once contained bourbon would give a much lighter appearance.
When master blenders and distillers recreate an expression of The Macallan — regardless of whether it’s 12 or 18 years — they don’t just have to match the flavour profile to the previous batch of that expression; they also have to use their expertise in matching the colour profile, which is an incredibly challenging task to achieve.
The tour will also bring you into a dark glass room — essentially a building within the building — with 200 casks dramatically suspended from the wall around it. They’re all destined to be private casks, where whisky enthusiasts are encouraged to take their love to the next level by buying their poison not by the bottle, but by the cask.
The Macallan’s bar will house 952 bottles – including the elusive and iconic No. 6 and M, as well as The Genesis Decanter — for connoisseurs to sample. Of course, the view from the swanky spot doesn’t hurt too.
The whisky experience can be alienating at times, but the new Macallan distillery tears down the walls. The transparency of it all is testament enough to the brand’s confidence in its heritage and products. How else would it dare walk you through every single aspect of the process and then invite you for a tipple after? Whisky tours have always been one of Scotland’s biggest attractions, but The Macallan’s concept revolutionises the entire experience with its bigger emphasis on education.
The Easter Elchies House might take the role as a ghost distillery now, but we’re sure it’s proud to see its high-tech successor breathe life into single malt Scotch whisky again, under the Speyside sun.