Easily the most famous distillery in the world, the Macallan estate in Speyside produces everything from excellent entry-level Scotch to highly-collectable limited edition bottles which sell for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds. In fact, the most expensive whisky ever sold was a bottle of The Macallan Fine & Rare 60 Year Old 1926 which fetched £1.5 million at auction in October 2019. So what is it that makes Macallan’s single malts so popular all over the world?
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.
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.
Alexander Reid founded The Macallan in 1824 on a dramatic plateau near the River Spey in North-East Scotland. Although local farmers had been making whisky here for centuries with their home-grown barley, at the time of its foundation Macallan was one of the country’s very first licensed distilleries. This rich heritage and nearly two centuries’ experience of making fine whisky have helped make the distillery famous across the world.