“From Glen Spey we drove to the above Distillery, which belongs to the same proprietors. This old-fashioned establishment is situated in the hilly district above the Spey, and is one mile from Dandaleith Station. It was established in the year 1824, and its internal arrangements are similar to the other Spey-side Distilleries. The Whisky is Highland Malt, and the product, like that of Glen Spey, mostly finds its way to the English market. The annual output is about 40,000 gallons.”
Those few lines were all that Barnard wrote about Macallan distillery, the shortest report in his entire book. 7 lines in the book, 80 words. I wondered if I too could sum up a combination of my trip to the distillery, the surrounding landscape, the distillery operation and the whisky produced in just 80 words. No chance! Sorry, you are going to have to read through another one of my essays if I am to do any justice to this world famous distillery.
Barnard noted that his party drove to Macallan from Glen Spey distillery as at that time James Stuart was the owner of both and they are just a few miles apart. He had held the licence at Macallan since 1868 but bought the distillery land outright from the Seaforth Estate in 1886. In his report heading Barnard recorded the location as ‘Rothes,
I was staying in Craigellachie on this stage of my journey and I walked round to the distillery to take one of their tours. The walk there took a little longer than I anticipated, up hill for most of the way on a busy country road with no footpath. Barnard has the distillery location as “situated in the hilly district above the Spey” – well that narrows it down a bit Alfred, well done! – but he does qualify this comment by noting that the distillery was also one mile from Dandaleith station.
When the Morayshire Railway line south of
|Dandaleith Station embankment retaining wall|
|Macallan church ruins and mausoleum|
Back to 1654 the Blaeu Atlas only records the word Elchies for the estate and a previous house, although the north side of the Spey was largely unexplored for that map and others into the 1700s. Variations of Elchies appear in later maps up to the mid 1800s but the name Macallan is not recorded then. An 1836 church presbytery report records the "parish of Macallan or Elchies” and the Second Statistical Account of Scotland records a distillery “at Macallan, [conducted] by Mr Reid” in 1835, although that is inconclusive as to the actual distillery name at that time. A very detailed map surveyed in 1870 has the distillery (and church) named as Macallan, two years after Stuart took over the licence. Stuart sold the distillery to Roderick Kemp in 1892 and he added –Glenlivet to the name in line with many other distilleries around here.
|Easter Elchies House|
Macallan was one of the earliest distilleries applying for a license under the 1823 Excise Act, although there is record of unofficial distilling here prior to that. Easter Elchies House is now considered the spiritual home of Macallan as that was where the distilling license was signed, a drawing of the house now also the distillery logo on their bottles, replacing the Macallan crest that appears around the site. The house had gradually fallen into disrepair in the early 1900s until it and the surrounding land were bought by the distillery in the 1960s and restored in the early 1980s. They grow some of their own Minstrel barley in 95 acres of fields in the surrounding Macallan Estate and also keep a small herd of highland cattle (Craigellachie on the other side of the Spey was an old cattle droving junction where a number of passes through the hills converged at a bend in the river).
|Entrance to display area and production facility no.2|
|Element display at Macallan|
That 2008 re-awakening means that there are once more two production facilities on site. Production House No.1 dates from the mid 1970s and is the larger of the two with a full lauter tun, 16 stainless steel washbacks, 5 wash stills and 10 spirit stills. No.2 that we were guided round has a semi-lauter tun, 6 Douglas fir washbacks, 2 wash stills and 4 spirit stills. Barnard’s comment that the “internal arrangements are similar to the other Spey-side Distilleries” is not something I could get away with here.
|Macallan semi-lauter tun|
The No.2 still house is certainly unique, with spirit stills that are the smallest in Speyside at just 3,900 litres each. Two of these dinky wee spirit stills sit on either side of the central pair of wash stills which dwarf them at 13,000 litres each. The long lyne arms on the stills swoop down to the condensers at an angle of around 45 degrees, amongst the steepest in
The early history of the stills is now lost but the production volume of just 182,000 litres p.a. in Barnard’s time suggests there were only two in place then. By 1965 they were increasing the number from 6 to 12, increased again to 18 in 1974 and then 3 more added in 1975 to make the total of 21 today (MWYB 2011). These all ran until the 6 stills in No.2 still house fell silent for that 20 year drought mentioned earlier, now once more producing spirit. The Low Wines come off the wash stills at around 21% and are then very slowly distilled in the spirit stills with a relatively short middle cut of only around 15-16% of the total after a short foreshots run. Macallan have possibly the highest cask fill % of any distillery at around 71% abv for their single malts.
|Macallan warehouse No.7|
Compared to the tourist brochure bonnie Scotland style DVD introductions provided at the beginning of many distillery tours, the displays that appeared during the tour around Macallan were often more directly relevant and informative about specific processes at different stages. I think they generally enhanced the overall experience, although the atmospheric noises here were again just a distraction that continued long after the cooperage film ended. Not somewhere for casks to be sleeping undisturbed!
The final part of the experience as we left the warehouse included a colour wall to show the different hues that maturing whisky takes on during its time in a cask and from different cask types. The vast majority of the casks used here are first fill sherry casks made from European Oak with some American Oak sherry and bourbon casks as well. A cask that then holds whisky for 10-12 years will sometimes be reused if it still has something to give but any cask used for 13 or more years is not refilled for the Macallan, the best of its flavoursome goodness considered to have been too far drawn from the wood by that time. There are 16 dunnage and 7 racking warehouses on the site, holding around 200,000 casks.
|Macallan racking warehouses recently built above the distillery|
As our group were on the Precious tour we also enjoyed a nosing and tasting in the smart nosing room. Our senses were invited to appreciate the differences between the New Make and 4 different whiskies - the 12yo and 18yo Sherry Oak, 21yo and 30yo Fine Oak. These provided an unexpected variety as my previous experience with Macallan rarely went beyond the 10yo which is the most widely available in the
|Macallan nosing and tasting|
Barnard, in his very short report, also describes the whisky as
|Macallan Distillery and warehouses|
My thanks to Ashley for the tour and for finding answers to some questions that were new to him, and also to the visitor centre staff for their kind hospitality. After the tour and some photos around the estate I made my way back to Craigellachie, glad for the walk this time to work off those drams and savour a bit more of the countryside.
A walk uphill from the Spey near Craigellachie brought me to this distillery founded in 1824. The current buildings date from the 1960-70s and enclose 2 tuns, 22 washbacks and 21 stills producing almost 9m litres of malt whisky p.a. Macallan has the third biggest world market share % for single malt whisky. Extensive warehouses are arranged around the distillery and a modern visitor centre welcomes guests to tour the establishment and taste the various expressions of this Speyside Highlander.
There, I could do it after all, 80 words exactly! It’s like a haiku to my normal unrestrained ramblings; not sure that will catch on though.