#20.2 Feast on the East

The Macallan experience!


TL;DR: we had planned this trip around the visit to Macallan, which we managed to book well in advance despite the low availability of their tours. To sum up: a modern art museum inside a Teletubbies house, but the production part is cool! 

(missed Part 1?)

Something we didn’t say in the first part of the story, this trip was kind of a last-minute plan. The reason being, we planned it around a specific distillery visit which we had booked a few months before, and because of this, we were not sure we’d be able to make it. The distillery is Macallan: because they only do 6-people tours twice a day (at 10.00 and 11.00), twice or four times a week (always on Saturday and Sunday, on Thursday and Friday too in summer), it is very hard to find a spot. Back in June we somehow managed to find two places in September, so here we are. And of course, because Macallan is not exactly around the corner, when we decided to go for it, we also booked Fettercairn and Arbikie the day before, and Cragganmore for the afternoon of the same day.

Truth to be said, we aren’t huge fans of this single malt. First and foremost, the distillery expressions we tried so far (mostly their 12y) were always a bit dull, a bit better the independently bottled ones but not better than many other sherried Speyside drams. This aside, the company’s marketing towards the super-rich customers is on the edge of ridiculousness, similar to all products marketed in the same way (whether cars, watches or whatever). As we both come from working-class families, we are quite indifferent to (most) marketing BS, we can’t really figure out how someone would pay 300 quid for a 43% and probably chill-filtered 18y. This said, we were very curious to visit the distillery because of its strange and unique architecture, in particular after our “coffee experience” last year. And, at the end of the day, it is still a Scottish single malt distillery, so sooner or later a visit was due.

A wee detour before Macallan, Speyburn!

So, after a typical Scottish breakfast in the hotel’s pub (the dining room was under renovation), we drove past Rothes, where we stopped for a quick sneak peek at Speyburn distillery (closed to the public, sadly), and we reached Macallan parking lot. The distillery is something very different from any other we visited so far: dim lights and soft piano music, and a very high ceiling giving the impression of a big open space. It reminded us of a modern art museum, kind of Bilbao’s Guggenheim.

About to see what’s in the Teletubbies house.

At the check-in, our guide Colin (who later we discovered to be very knowledgeable) welcomed us very warmly. He took our jackets (bad sign, as it probably meant no visit to the warehouse) and told us that we could check out the shop in the meanwhile…oh sorry, not the shop, the “boutique”. A few minutes later, we were brought to the café where a few tables were reserved for us. Everyone got a coffee and a (quite delicious) scone, a nice touch. When the tour started, we were walked to the Macallan collection, where Colin explained to us the history of the distillery and the brand, including all the various collections that came out throughout the years. Quite interesting overall.

A bad picture of the interesting collection.

We then moved to the first floor towards the production area, separated from the bar by glass doors. Colin explained how this distillery came to be, and the underlying sustainability concept, like the vegetation on the roof (they probably should also ditch the huge and useless bottles boxes to really go green…). There we didn’t see any operators, as the production is 100% computerised. They installed a huge mashtun (17 ton mash!), probably the biggest we have ever seen, and there is an empty hole with space for a second one, in case they’ll need it in the future…or for a shark tank, maybe?

Absolutely massive mashtun…and empty space for a second one!
One of the three “isles”.

The rest of the production is divided into three “isles” with 7 washbacks and 8 stills in a circle. The stills are quite small and of the same shape as the “old Macallan” ones. At this point Colin made us taste a sample of newmake spirit, taken from a very narrow cut (from 72% to 68%, if we recall correctly) and then reduced to the industry standard of 63.5%. Quite nice, and less green-apples-and-pears forward than others. After this, we were shown a display of the main estate house, a nice example of Victorian architecture but at the moment not possible to visit.

We then went to a room, where we watched a video about how the Spanish wood is harvested and treated to make their barrels (no new information, but still OK to see), and then to another room for a second video about the art of blending (this one not very insightful to be honest).

A model of the “Spiritual Home”, and the real one in the back.

Finally, it was time for the tasting, which took place in a warehouse that sits underneath the bar, kind of in between a crypt and the Bat Cave. Initially this was just a display, it is now officially a maturing warehouse, with a few casks for each year since the new distillery started production. We tried two expressions: the Macallan 15y Double cask (a mix of sherry casks from American and European Oak) and the Home Edition, both at 43% and very drinkable but not outstanding (also, both 10ml, not much to taste anyway). We moved to the bar, where Colin gave us one last dram: the 2022 Classic Cut, a NAS expression bottled at 52.5%abv. This was definitely a step up in flavour and complexity, but for a price of £120 it disqualified itself as a potential purchase.

This one was good!

Overall, it was nice to get to know this distillery, and try a few expressions one after the other. It would have been great to visit one of their proper warehouses or the old distillery, which at the moment is actually mothballed (in our understanding, all the equipment is still in place). Just there in case of future needs (eg training)? It doesn’t look like there are plans to open it to visitors, but it would be really nice to be able to visit the production plant that made Macallan famous. Maybe in the future? We certainly do hope so.

The Macallan “Discovery Experience”

Price: £50.00 pp (booked in June 2022)

Duration: 2h 30min

Tasting: 3 drams, 15y Double cask (43%), Home Edition (NAS, 43%), Classic Cut (NAS, 52.5%), plus a coffee and a delicious scone

Target: whisky nerds

Value for money: a bit pricey

Highlights: the futuristic distillery layout

Recommended: only if you’re interested in modern architecture and not in “classic” distilleries

Link: https://www.themacallan.com/en

Author: Dramming Around

A pretend-to-be-young Italian couple on a quest to discover whisk(e)y distilleries and their golden nectar

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