Drinks Trade Publishing Editor, Ashley Pini, was lucky enough to jump on the first-ever tour of The Macallan’s new $250million state-of-the-art distillery and visitor experience. Here’s a sneak peak …
The Macallan’s new distillery and visitor experience are located on the beautiful Easter Elchies Estate, just outside of Aberlour in the Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands.
An easy hour drive north from Aberdeen, the fresh crisp air and rolling hills signal the rural nature of the Scotch whisky industry. The Easter Elchies Estate has been home to the leading luxury single malt since 1824 and the main house on the label of every The Macallan bottle sits at the entrance to the new distillery as a reminder of the traditions past and expectations of a proud future.
Shaped like five mounds camouflaged in grass, the distillery is unique and quite simply stunning. Despite its size, at first glance, you could be forgiven for missing it, as the design seamlessly integrates the partially underground structure with the rolling hills outside of Aberlour.
“As The Macallan has grown globally, it has been very important that we make sure we can sustain demand for this wonderful amber liquid,” said Ken Grier, Creative Director at The Macallan. “We’ve taken exceptional care in making sure that the spirit that is produced in the new distillery is identical to the spirit that we produced in our previous distillery. This is the beginning of a really exciting new chapter in the evolution of this wonderful brand that is The Macallan.”
Ian Curle, Chief Executive of Edrington, echoed this excitement: “The unsurpassed quality of The Macallan is in high demand and we face the future confidently with this new distillery. It’s an authentic, abiding, ambitious investment that will match consumer expectations for generations to come. When the doors open on June 2, we expect The Macallan enterprise to deliver significant benefits for the tourism industry, Scotch whisky exports and the economy.”
Indeed, it is expected that visitor numbers will double in the first year and continue to rise after that.
The video below is a fascinating insight into the construction:
How the dream was brought to life
Ken Grier is the Creative Director for The Macallan and has been the mastermind behind the creation of the new distillery and visitor centre.
It is a project he has been dedicated to, and obsessed with, over the last six years. He joined Edrington 20 years ago, heading up The Famous Grouse before becoming the Marketing Director for the whole group.
In 2004, he became Brand Director – Malts, a role he held through to 2015. In the position, he was responsible for the strategic development of The Macallan and Highland Park and it was the knowledge and experience he gained during this time that led Grier to take on the Creative Director role – the most significant challenge of his professional life. Grier (below) will retire this September having overseen the build from concept to completion.
What the project has meant to you?
We now have something that is amazing, sets a new benchmark and is brave and thoughtleading, yet still very relevant to the brand and people we bring here.
It’s very personal to me; it’s been six years of my life. What sparked it all off was a strategic review we did six years ago, looking at positioning The Macallan to be three times its size in 30 years.
I want to see the end of it now, but I also don’t want it to end – I know that probably sounds quite strange. We’ve met a lot of challenges and had some tough moments along with some excellent moments. I’ve cried in that building, sometimes out of pure pride, sometimes in frustration, and sometimes out of joy. Few people have the opportunity to work on one project and put six years of their life into that one thing – that’s why it’s so intensely personal.
How does the building reflect the vision for The Macallan’s future?
My favourite part of the whole project is the future proofing we’ve done. There’s a hole where a second mash tun can be located and the modular design means we can drop one wall and insert the same model at the far end of the building to increase our capacity once more if needs be. It’s about a vision for the next 50 years.
What do you see as the future of the whisky category?
I have great faith in the whisky category. Each generation demands a more intense life experience than the one before and has different values, but they still like to consume. They think about things that matter to them and are not afraid to get the bus to work so they can take that expensive overseas vacation or shop carefully so they can spend $200 on a dinner. It’s more about life experiences now than everyday luxuries and that’s why I think Scotch, and whisky in general, is in a good space.
All the work that has been done by local and craft distillers is getting people into the experience, a bit like in the craft beer market. Brewers have been saying, “Here’s something local, something exciting and something different,” sparking a little bit of interest.
All that work puts us in a good space, as I know people will progress in their taste to get to The Macallan eventually.
The growth that we see in whisky speaks to transparency, authenticity, complexity and intensity of experience. That appeals to this new generation, so I think the future is good.
Geographically the market is also interesting. The growth of the middle class in China and the potential of India, should it ever open up, are coinciding with European markets flipping generationally back to dark spirits again. It gives me much hope. The US is still our largest market and markets like Taiwan and Australia are still really important as far as resonance. Russia and Japan continue to explode and duty-free is a market that is a wonderful showcase for our brand experience.
Read more about The Macallan’s new distillery and visitor centre in the latest issue of Drinks Trade.