Our Distillery of the Month for August is one of Scotland’s most famous and most successful. They are responsible for creating some of the finest malts to have ever been produced, they played a huge role in the development of the single malt market and are hugely popular around the world today for those very reasons. This is of course, the outstanding Macallan Distillery.
A Little Bit of History
Founded in 1824 by barley farmer and school teacher, Alexander Reid, the distillery was built in the ‘Maghellan’ area. This small pocket of Speyside was known to have rich, healthy and fertile ground that was perfect for producing top quality barley.
Whisky had been produced by the barley farmers there for decades before Macallan was born, but the distillery was to become the first legal whisky producer in the area and one of the first legitimate distilleries in the whole of Scotland.
Reid knew the quality of the barley that he was producing and he knew that it made good whisky (he’d most likely been drinking plenty of it throughout the cold Scottish winters). In fact, he thought his whisky was so good that people all over Scotland would want a taste, and he was right.
Unfortunately for Reid, while his spirit surely became renowned in the local area, Scots in further reaches of the country wouldn’t get a taste for some time and so, his business plodded along quite nicely but never turned into the giant that it was to become until after he had sold it on.
In 1968, The Macallan was sold on to James Stuart who took it upon himself to rebuild the plant, updating the processes and technology to fit with the times and significantly increasing production.
His tenure was to be relatively successful, but also quite short. Just as with Reid before him, he sold it on after around 30 years. This time Roderick Kemp took over.
Kemp was something of a name in the industry at the time, having previously owned the Isle of Skye’s Talisker distillery. He knew how to operate a distillery, how to create fabulous new-make spirit (something that Macallan was already doing, but he no doubt improved this with his expertise) and how to market his whisky in Scotland and abroad.
While Macallan would later go on to become renowned for their outstanding single malts, at this stage the excellent spirit that they were producing was mainly used for blending.
The Growth of Macallan
Though the early days of Macallan saw the distillery change hands several times, under Kemp and his ancestors that followed, it entered a period of relative stability and success. In fact, the distillery remained under the control of this family until being taken over by Highland Distillers (now the Edrington Group) in 1996.
The Kemp and Schiach family (Schiach being the surname of Kemp’s ancestors) ran the Macallan distillery well. Their spirit was known to be excellent for blending and as such there was high demand.
This led to an upgrade in 1954, when five new stills were added, and another in 1965 when a new stillhouse was built containing a further seven new stills. This showcased huge growth for a Scotch distillery at the time, but they weren’t about to stop there. By the time 1975 came around, the Macallan distillery was home to a whopping 21 stills. This is both a sign of the success they were experiencing and the ambitions of the owners.
Macallan Single Malt Whisky
But this growth and success wasn’t about to last forever and Macallan’s relatively smooth history (when compared to other distilleries) was about to get a little rougher.
As the 1980s approached and the whisky crisis that forced many Scottish distilleries to close loomed large, the distillery owners knew that they had to do something drastic if Macallan was to survive and go on to meet their ambitions.
The demand for blending spirit had dropped significantly and at this point the owners made the bold call of turning their attention to single malt whisky.
At the time, single malt was enjoyed by many but, in the grand scheme of things, it was only just getting started and certainly hadn’t taken off in the way it would in the years to come, so there was definitely some element of risk involved in this move.
Fortunately for Macallan, the owners and the workers, it was a gamble that paid off.
Single Malt exploded towards the second half of the 80s, partly thanks to the excellent expressions coming out of the now Speyside master, and their expressions quickly gained notoriety around the world.
Their oily, rich and full-bodied character made them stand out amongst the crowd and the distillery then developed an obsession with wood-management that still exists today.
Macallan went to extreme lengths to ensure that the wood they used for maturing was (and still is) the best of the best.
The distillery got involved in every step of wood selection, from sourcing, crafting and toasting right down to seasoning. The result was outstanding casks that offered so much to any spirit that was put inside them, never mind top quality Macallan spirit! They sourced these works of art from the finest coopers in Spain and beyond and this resulted in drams that were a class above the competition.
According to their website, as much as 80% of the final flavour and character of their drams comes down to the wood they were matured in, so it’s easy to see why they paid so much attention to this part of the process.
Today, Macallan are as successful as they have ever been. Their stringent wood selection processes still define their whiskies and their single malt expressions are adored across Scotland, America and around the rest of the world too.
Their official bottlings have won hundreds of awards and their single cask expressions (often released by indie bottlers) have been sold for extortionate prices at auction, simply because of their quality.
If you’re looking to try an excellent Speyside whisky, Macallan is a fantastic place to start as it sets the benchmark for all other distilleries in the area.
It has become a fan favourite, a Scottish hero and an institution of Scottish culture, whisky craft and mastery.
It is for that reason that Macallan is our Distillery of the Month for August.
To celebrate the distillery we’re offering 10% off all of their bottles for the entire month. Just enter promo code “MACALLAN10” at the checkout. For our full range of Macallan whisky, click here.