“This spirit can restore you / It’s the finest I have seen / With my own eyes / With my own eyes,” sings whisky bard Robin Laing in his beautiful piece “Macallan” from the acclaimed “Whisky For Breakfast” album. While I have already seen the cherished Speyside distillery’s excellent product dance in the glass more than once, there is one thing I had not been fortunate to see before: The place where The Macallan is being made. Thankfully, this has changed now that I got to attend the distillery’s extensive “The Six Pillars” tour.
To reach there, my girlfriend Nadine and I took the bus from Elgin. Unfortunately, we forgot to get out at the correct stop. So we drove a little further to the nearby town of Craigellachie from where we walked all the way up to The Macallan Distillery by foot. On the plus side, this little detour made us to cross the river Spey and get a glimpse of its beauty from close by. On the minus side, it extended our journey by more than half an hour, a significant part of which we spent scrambling up a steep hillside. Consequently, we were a little sweaty and out of breath when we arrived at our destination. But we were also helluva excited to finally get to see the home of The Macallan from up close.
The tour, which was co-hosted by two lovely ladies from the Visitor Centre called Sally and Samantha, was a silent one. This means that the production facilities were not in use when we checked them out. The reason for this is simple: The Macallan has recently built an all-new distillery adjacent to the old one. While the construction of the novel unit is still underway, work in the former buildings has already been ceased. As nothing got dismanteled yet, this tour did actually present us with one of the last opportunities to inspect The Macallan Distillery in its traditional form. If you want to do the same, you better hurry. Starting this summer, the classic tour will no longer be available (though there is a chance that part of the former equipment will be kept for preservation purposes).
One of the highlights of the experience was seeing the distillery’s “curiously small stills” that are responsible for the oily texture and rich character of the spirit they give birth to. As our guides assured us, their form and functionality will not be tampered with at all in the future. There will, however, be more of them in the new production site to make sure The Macallan can meet the market’s high demand for their premium-class whisky. Another very cool part of the tour was the museum-like room in which we learned about wood management and cask usage at The Macallan. There really was a ton to explore in this amazingly decorated chamber!
Once we had been to every part of the distillery and learned about “The Six Pillars” on which the fame, success and uniqueness of The Macallan is grounded, we were treated to tasting in the Visitor Centre. Besides four different single malts (Amber, Sherry 12yo, Fine Oak 18yo and Edition 2) we were also given a glass of new make. This was particularly cool as it constituted a rare chance to get to know the DNA of The Macallan before the casks stepped in to work their magic. Invigorated by five top-notch drams, Nadine and I then rounded our amazing visit to one of Scotland’s most iconic production sites off with a stroll by the legendary Easter Elchies House (which graces the label of every original bottling of The Macallan out there) and the frontsite of the new distillery (which kinda reminds me of a mixture of a Hobbit village and a space station). Of course, I am very curious to find out what this subterranean marvel will look like from the inside. So I guess I have to make a return in the not-too-distant future. For the time being, however, I am more than happy with the manifold impressions I got during my first visit. So for now, let me close my little article the same way as I started it, namely with a Robin Laing quote: “Macallan, bravo / Macallan, fly high / Away down below there’s a river running by”.
Name: The Macallan Distillery
Type: Whisky distillery
Address: The Macallan Visitor Centre, Easter Elchies, Craigellachie, AB38 9RX, Scotland
Opening hours: Mon to Sat from 9.30am till 6pm (April till September), Mon to Fri from 9.30am till 5pm (October till Easter)
More info: http://www.themacallan.com/ (Website)