Founded in 1824, The Macallan was one of Scotland’s first legally licensed distilleries and today enjoys a reputation for crafting some of the world’s leading single malt whiskies. Farmers had been making whisky on their Speyside farms in the area for centuries, using their surplus barley during the quieter winter months. The distillery was founded by Alexander Reid, a barley farmer and school teacher. The original name of the area was “Maghellan” taken from the Gaelic word “magh” meaning fertile ground and “Ellan”, from the monk St. Fillan who held a close association with the church that stood in the grounds of The Macallan estate until 1400.
Macallan has their very own Master of Wood, Stuart Macpherson, whose job is to make sure the distillery only uses the finest casks. Since up to 80% of the flavour of a single malt comes from the cask, Macpherson works tirelessly to source some 200,000 barrels made from both European and American oak. He works closely with Spanish suppliers who source top quality oak from Galicia in northern Spain which is toasted and then seasoned with sherry for 18 months before the casks are ready to be shipped to Scotland. This commitment to excellence comes at a price, and Macallan’s casks typically cost ten times more to produce than average oak barrel production.
For every Macallan expression, the quality of the whisky is largely dependent on the quality of the oak casks it is matured in, as well as the quality of their ‘new make’ spirit distilled from water, yeast and barley. With up to 80% of The Macallan’s final character and flavour determined by cask quality, the oak cask is the most prominent factor in ensuring and delivering the quality and style of Macallan’s single malt.
Another key to understanding Macallan’s unique single malts is their insistence on using the smallest copper stills in the industry. This adds more complexity and depth to their whiskies since the smaller stills have greater contact between the metal and the alcohol. The distillery also uses a small cut of the distillate they’re producing, just 16% of the alcohol that is being evaporated, which is rich in aromatic complexity and helps create a smooth, well-balanced whisky.
The luminous amber and mahogany hues of Macallan’s fine single malts are completely natural, coming from the wood that each whisky matures in. Interestingly, each tree can give a slightly different colouring and flavours to the whisky so it is the work of Macallan’s skilled whisky makers to carefully select the appropriate casks for each particular expression of Macallan. For example, Macallan’s Sherry Oak single malts have a characteristic vivid amber hue and spiced notes whereas their Double Cask Gold is matured in American oak which gives a lighter golden hue.