Macallan has built its enviable reputation by focusing on the fact that they mature their core range in 100% sherry oak barrels.
'Macallan' is most likely derived from two Gaelic words, 'MAGH' meaning a fertile piece of ground and 'ELLAN', meaning 'of St Fillan', an Irish born monk who travelled widely in Scotland spreading Christianity during the eighth century.
For centuries, farmers in the area of Easter Elchies House have been distilling whisky in the winter from barley they have grown on their own land. At the nearby ford across the river Spey, cattlemen ('drovers') taking their cattle to the markets in the south would stop to rest and take refreshment before crossing the river. Their refreshment would have included whisky distilled on the local farms.
After 1814, travelers would have crossed the river Spey via the famous bridge, designed by the great Thomas Telford, downstream from The Macallan.
The common thread running through the history of The Macallan is the obsession with quality, which was established from the start by the founder of the distillery, Alexander Reid. In 1824, Reid, a local farmer, acquired a licence to distil whisky legally at Easter Elchies and The Macallan was born.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the owners of The Macallan were all local people, with a deep attachment to the countryside, to the produce of these lands and to the people living there. Almost 70 years after the distillery was first established, The Macallan was bought by Roderick Kemp. In the years following 1892, he set about establishing the Macallan's reputation for outstanding quality across a wider market. As a result, throughout the first half of the twentieth century, The Macallan witnessed increasing sales and a major expansion of the distillery took place between 1951 and 1963.
In 1999, The Edrington Group, which for many years had close ties with The Macallan, buys a majority shareholding.
The new millennium has witnessed great success for The Macallan. In 2002, The Macallan Fine & Rare collection was launched, winning accolades and praise from experts and connoisseurs alike. In 2004, The Macallan received its sixth Queen's Award for Enterprise and launched The Macallan Fine Oak to worldwide critical acclaim. In 2005, a single bottle of The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 achieved the world record price of £36,000 at auction. In 2006, The Macallan has launched a 'Mastery of Spirit & Crystal' with The Macallan 50 Years Old in Lalique and completed the final stage of Easter Elchies House refurbishment with on-site accommodation and opened the 'Story of Wood' at The Macallan Distillery in Warehouse 7.
Easter Elchies House and the Macallan Estate
Easter Elchies House sits at the heart of the The Macallan Estate. Built in 1700 of sandstone for Captain John Grant, Easter Elchies House is an excellent example of a Highland manor house, displaying many features typical of Scottish architecture of the period, including the crow-stepped gables and turret.
The size and diversity of The Macallan Estate is unique in our business. The Estate farmland is used for growing barley to make The Macallan, pasture for sheep and cattle, woodland and mown grassland to attract species of birds.
The river Spey, one of Scotland's most famous salmon rivers, borders the Estate to the south and south-east. The Macallan Estate lies in an area of great natural beauty and we farm it sensitively, in harmony with the environment, promoting best practice at all times.
Making the Macallan
Barley is the only cereal used to make The Macallan. It is the ideal crop as the tough outer shell, or 'husk', protects the grain inside from Scotland's cool and wet climate.
Barley to be distilled into The Macallan will be low in nitrogen and high in starch. This starch will be converted to soluble sugars for fermenting to alcohol, and subsequent distillation into whisky.
Farming & Distillation
Farmers have been growing barley on the lands around The Macallan distillery for centuries. In the spring, as now, the barley would be sown, growing through the summer, to be harvested in the early autumn. In the winter, with little activity on the farm, the barley would be fermented and distilled into whisky. The cold, wet weather provided plenty of cooling water for the stills. The whisky would be drunk new, straight from the still. Any surplus was stored for consumption in the summer or for transport to more distant markets. In the spring, the cycle would begin again.
The Macallan Estate Today
The Macallan Estate extends to 370 acres (150 hectares), of which 75 acres (30 hectares) are currently sown with high quality barley for malting. The farmland is very fertile, with light, alluvial soils, ideal for barley growing. The Macallan's Estate Golden Promise barley is sown in March as spring barley, as this is considered best for malting, and harvested late August / early September.
Our water is drawn from our own springs deep beneath the ground on The Macallan Estate, close to the confluence of the Ringorm Burn and the magnificent river Spey.
This natural spring water, originally rainwater falling on the surrounding mountains and valleys ('straths'), gushes up through the world's oldest known geological rocks, known as 'Precambrian' (metamorphic, crystalline) rocks, which are over 550 million years old.
The water is soft and pure, with ideal levels of minerals and salts for the yeast to ferment the malted barley. This water is added both at the mashing stage and for reducing the alcohol strength of The Macallan, before despatch for bottling.
After the barley has been harvested, removed from the ?elds and stored, it goes forward for 'malting'. 'Malting' is the term used to describe the process for breaking down the cellular structure of the barley grain so that, later, we can convert the starch in the grain to soluble sugars.
Stage 1 : Steeping
The barley grains are put into large containers called 'steeps' and immersed in warm water for 48 hours. The presence of water, warmth and oxygen provides all the natural elements to start growth in the barley, as if it was planted in the earth. The cell walls start to break down through the release of natural enzymes. Moisture levels rise from 12% to about 45%.
Stage 2 : Germination
After removal from the steeps, the barley is spread out to continue growing, but at a slower rate, for 5 days. We want to ensure that most of the cellular structure has been broken down and that germination (the growth of the shoot and roots) has started. At this point we must stop further growth, otherwise the starch, which we want to turn to sugars, will all be used instead for plant grow.
Stage 3 : Kilning
We stop further growth by drying the barley over a ?re in a 'kiln'. The moisture content drops from about 45% to less than 5%. At this point, we have captured the maximum amount of starch in the grain for conversion in the next stage to soluble sugars.
The Macallan's malted barley is crushed in the mill to 'grist'.
This grist will mix easily with water at the next stage to allow the soluble sugars to dissolve. The grist comprises: 20% 'husk' (hard bits which won't dissolve), 70% 'grits' and 10% 'flour'.
The barley grist is put into a large container, called the 'mash tun'. Natural spring water, from our boreholes on The Macallan Estate, is pre-heated and added to the 'mash tun', which is fi?lled and drained three times with progressively hotter water, over a period of three and a half hours.
Mashing will extract all the carbohydrate in the starch from the grist. It will also obtain the maximum conversion of starch to soluble sugars, extract other materials to help fermentation at the next stage, and contribute to flavours. Mashing eventually provides a sugar solution, called 'wort', which will go forward for fermentation.
During fermentation, the sugar solution ('wort') is converted into a low strength alcohol ('wash') through the action of yeast on the sugars.
The 36,400 litres of wort from the 'mash tun' exactly ?lls one washback, the name given to the large, stainless steel fermentation vessels. At The Macallan, we have 16 of these washbacks.
At The Macallan, we use only fresh cultured yeast. Each batch of yeast made up for mixing with the wort consists of two varieties; 'MX' for speedy initial fermentation, and 'M' to withstand high temperatures. We believe that this contributes to the delicate complexity of The Macallan wash.
Conversion To Alcohol
When the wort and yeast are combined in the washback, the yeast begins to attack the sugars and convert them to alcohol. The rate at which we add the yeast, the speed of fermentation and the temperature of the wort will all contribute to the amount of aromatic substances produced and thus influence the flavour of the wash.
Fermentation can take between 48 to 56 hours to complete. Upon completion, the wort will have been converted to a wash with a low alcohol content of 8% by volume, similar in strength to some beers.
At The Macallan, distillation involves the conversion of the fermented wash (8% alcohol by volume) into a spirit of around 71% alcohol by volume.
This is achieved by heating the liquid twice, each time further concentrating the percentage of alcohol. As we heat the liquid inside or 'curiously small stills', the alcohol rises as vapour. We then turn the vapour back to liquid again through a 'condenser', cooled by water from the river Spey which borders our Estate.
The Macallan's stills are made of copper. Copper is the perfect material for stills; it is resistant to wear, malleable and conducts heat superbly. Copper is also a catalyst, enhancing the formation of sweet esters and minimising impurities, such as sulphur compounds, which can give the spirit unpleasant aromas.
The Wash Stills
First distillation takes place in The Macallan's five wash stills. Our wash stills remain directly heated by a gas flame underneath the still. The alcohol vaporises and is then condensed at a strength of 21% to 23% alcohol by volume. This is what we call 'low wines'. The residue, which is known as 'pot ale', is sold off for cattle food.
Curiously Small Stills
The second distillation takes place when the low wines are pumped into The Macallan's ten spirit stills. Our curiously small stills are the smallest on Speyside. Their unique size and shape gives the spirit maximum contact with the copper, helping to concentrate the 'new make' spirit with those rich, fruity, full bodied flavours so characteristic of The Macallan. These stills are so famous that they appear on the back of a Bank of Scotland £10 banknote!
The Finest Cut
Only some 16% of the spirit collected from the spirit stills is taken for filling into cask. This is the best of the best, often called 'the heart of the run'. This finest cut is so extraordinarily selective, we believe it to be one of the smallest in the industry. It is the prime reason for the full-bodied richness of The Macallan 'new make' spirit (it cannot be called whisky until it has matured for at least three years in oak casks). The spirit is collected from the spirit stills at 71% alcohol by volume, and is colourless. This distinctly robust and characterful 'new make' spirit is the starting point for all Macallan. The spirit that is not collected (the first part, or 'foreshots' and the last part, or 'feints') is fed back into the spirit stills for distillation with the next batch of low wines.
The quality of our oak wood casks is the single biggest contributor to the outstanding and distinctive natural colours, aromas and flavours of The Macallan.
All our casks are handcrafted or hand-picked in Spain or North America. No expense is spared to ensure The Macallan's casks are the best quality, and best cared for, in the industry.
The casks are made of either European or American oak. They are either filled for the first time, or a second time (re-fill casks). Most have been seasoned with sherry in Spain, a few with bourbon in the United States.
Cask Types At The Macallan
Most of the casks used for The Macallan are 'Butts', with some 'Puncheons', 'Hogsheads' and 'Barrels'.
The Macallan insists that all colour is natural. Unlike lesser Single Malts, no artificial colour is added. It is the interaction of spirit and wood alone which delivers the rich diversity of colour.
European Oak Casks
European oak casks begin life in the ancient forests of Northern Spain. From this tannin-rich timber, the staves are hand-fashioned in the province of Cadiz and the casks are hand-crafted and toasted in the cooperages of Jerez.
These casks are then filled with aged sherries and left to season for two years before being emptied and shipped to The Macallan distillery.
American Oak Casks
American oak casks are crafted from timber sourced in the woodlands of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas.
The staves are handcrafted into casks in the cooperages of Kentucky, where traditional charring of the cask wall takes place.The casks are then filled with premium bourbon and left to mature for up to eight years before they are emptied and begin the two thousand mile journey to The Macallan distillery in Scotland.
Staves crafted from American oak are also shipped to Spain. Here, they are handcrafted into cask, filled with aged sherries and left to season for two years before they to are emptied and journey to Scotland.
The spirit from the spirit stills is pumped across to the filling store, where it is reduced to 69.8% alcohol by volume using spring water from the Estate's boreholes. It is then filled into the various casks used to mature The Macallan.
All the casks are stored in The Macallan warehouses which include 16 traditional 'dunnage' warehouses, cool and damp with earth floors and stone walls, holding 33,000 casks.
There are also five more modern 'racked' warehouses, which hold a total of 104,000 casks. In these warehouses, some Macallan will be maturing in oak casks for fifty years or more.
Vatting and Marrying
Every bottle of The Macallan is a marriage of many types and sizes of casks brought together by The Macallan Whisky Maker to give us the natural colour, aroma and flavour characteristics typical of the particular Macallan expression to be bottled.
The Macallan Whisky Maker and his team draw samples from up to 200 different casks for nosing in the sample room. Each sample will be carefully assessed for its colour, aroma and flavour. Through a careful process of selection, a composite sample will be produced from some fifty casks. When married together, this will deliver Macallan as identical as humanly possible to previous bottlings.
Great skill is required to achieve consistency of natural colour from bottling to bottling, and to balance the aromas and flavours from many different types of cask.
When the final sample has been passed by The Macallan nosing team, the individual casks are then emptied into a vat, reduced in strength to 46% alcohol by volume with Estate spring water and put back into old casks for the whiskies and water to 'marry' together in perfect harmony for at least three months.
After marrying, a final sample is drawn from each of the casks for assessment by The Macallan nosing team. It is then finally reduced with de-mineralised water to bottling strength, before being bottled.
Character and Style of Macallan
- Fruit Cake
- Dried Fruit