The Macallan - Redefining the Single Malt Universe since 1824
The Speyside area in North Eastern Scotland is renowned among whisky connoisseurs as being home to some of the finest single malts in the world. From this region comes The Macallan, reportedly the world’s third-largest selling single malt, and second largest by volume.
Licensed to Thrill
Located at the confluence of the Rivers Spey and Fiddich (the ‘glen’ or valley of which is home to the scotch Glenfiddich) Craigellachie is a small village in Moray, Scotland. Within walking distance of the town of Aberlour, the scenic village derives its name from the Gaelic for ‘rocky hill’, which refers to the cliff on which most of the village is cited.
In 1824, it was here that Alexander Reid, a onetime barley farmer and teacher, started what was among one of the first licensed distilleries in Scotland. Initially called the Elchies Distillery, (after the local manor, Easter Elchies House) Reid’s visionary approach of using small, copper stills was about to define the journey of the distillery for the almost two centuries of its continued existence.
Reid built his legacy on the widespread cultivation of barley in Scotland during the period. During the winter, once the harvest had been brought in, the barley would be fermented and distilled into whisky. The stills would be cooled using the cold river water, and the onset of spring would see the cycle start all over again. This created a perfect synergy between industry and nature.
Fun Fact: The Curiously Small Stills3 of The Macallan are among the smallest in Speyside, and ensure maximum contact with the copper. This helps concentrate the newly distilled spirit, and provides the rich, fruity, full-bodied flavor that is a signature of The Macallan. The fourteen stills, each capable of a 3,900 liter initial charge, are so famous that they have it to the back of a Bank of Scotland £10 note!
The Rise of a Legend
Reid founded his own company, Alexander Reid & Co., in 1825 to provide future direction for his nascent distillery. He continued to lead the operations till his death in the year 1847, and was followed by his son, also named Alexander. The new owner kept the stills in operation till 1858, when James Davidson, who has joined as a partner in 1848, emerged as the sole owner.
Davidson, who had made his fortune as a successful corn merchant, instituted the practice of buying only the highest-grade of barley for distillation – a standard which continues to be in operation even today. He was succeeded by James Stuart in 1868, whose stint at the helm saw the unexpected windfall of brandy being replaced Scottish whisky for a greater part of a decade starting 1879. This turn of events was brought about by an infestation of the Phylloxera pest, which destroyed most of the French vineyards and curtailed brandy output for a period of almost ten years.
The next owner, Roderick Kemp, in 1892, laid the foundations for modernizing the distillery. He renamed the company to R. Kemp Macallan-Glenlivet, and set to rebuild the facilities – adding new building, warehouses and stills. He also implemented most of the company’s quality practices, including the now standard practice of aging the whisky only in unbroken sherry casks of Spanish oak. The Family Kemp would continue to exercise control of the operations till well into the 1990’s.
The Single Malt Boom and The Macallan
During the late 1960s and ‘70s, whisky lovers across the world started to show a distinct preference for the subtler flavors of Single Malt, as opposed to the blends that had controlled the market till then. While most other distillers were left scrambling for the time to ‘lay-down’ stock for large spans of time, The Macallan, which had always maintained a major proportion of its output as stock as hand, was uniquely positioned to meet the new demand. The ability to meet the emerging requirements, often with such vintages as old as 1926, while retaining its position as a liquor of choice for the blenders, therefore helped catapult The Macallan to the lead position the company has come to enjoy today.
The Macallan was taken over by the Highland Distillers Group and Suntory in 1994. They were followed by the Edrington group in 1999, who continue to deliver this fine spirit to many a table around the globe.