The setting was Northeast Scotland; the year, 1824. The Highlands outside of the village of Aberlour were an ideal location for the entrepreneurial dreams of Alexander Reid to come to fruition.
Familiar with the natural geography of the area due to his years farming barley in the countryside by the River Spey, Reid decided to use his region’s rich, fertile soil to his advantage. He launched a distillery on a plateau by the river and began crafting single malt whiskey.
During the grey and somber months of winter, Reid, along with several other Speyside farmers, had learned to improvise with their surplus barley and develop moonshine. While Speyside single malt had been a local delicacy for centuries, Reid’s Macallan Distillery — which was one of the first in Scotland to become legally licensed — allowed the world exposure to what had once been a well-kept secret. Reid’s small distillery exposed the previously quiet region to a wealth of international tourism.
Today the Macallan stands on a sweeping estate encompassing 390 acres of land. Along with free-roaming cattle, well-tilled fields, and buildings stocked with Spanish oak casks, the estate includes the historic Easter Elchies House, built in the 1700s from locally sourced sandstone and regarded as the distillery’s “spiritual home.”
The estate home, which is featured on the label of every bottle of Macallan whiskey, is situated on a hill with an awe-inspiring view of the town and the River Spey. However, the building itself was deteriorating badly when the Edrington Group purchased it in 1961.The new owners were determined to show the crumbling Highland manor the tender loving care that it deserved. In the early 1980s a massive restoration began, and in 1985 the Easter Elchies opened its doors to the public.
In 2005, the Edrington Group embarked on yet another restorative project, adding accommodations for guests and an education centre.
Steady, uncompromising dedication to quality is the crux of the Macallan experience. Though Reid sold the company relatively early on, his values remain prevalent in the restoration. That agrarian work ethic and authenticity runs through every still on the Macallan property, and can be tasted in every drop of its world-famous whiskey. The cornerstone of what Reid created became the foundation on which a renowned luxury brand was built, upheld by the legendary “six pillars” of the Macallan’s character: Spiritual Home, Curiously Small Stills, Finest Cut, Exceptional Oak Casks, Natural Colour, and Peerless Spirit.
The Macallan Distillery has only recently opened its doors to the public, offering a glimpse into the world of a brand that was once shrouded in mystery. The knowledgeable craftsmen and welcoming guides at the Macallan have chosen to introduce their tours in a special way, based on those six famed pillars. Each represents some core element of the Macallan production process and the long-lasting reputation of the brand, and visitors will find themselves immersed in a fascinating history.
Whiskey lovers are unlikely to find a better tour in Scotland or perhaps even anywhere else in the world, in part due to the unique aesthetics of the surrounding landscape. The Macallan is situated in an objectively beautiful part of the world; the natural topography, particularly at dusk, allows the creative mind to wander and captures the attention of the most cynical observer.
And then there is the Macallan itself, built to compliment the breathtaking terrain. It is an intricate space, designed with tremendous love and care. Each detail is striking, from the bright copper stills to the aged Kentucky oak casks that provide the rich, woody aroma and full-bodied flavour known to all Macallan whiskey lovers.
The use of Appalachian wood to craft the casks — said to provide 80% of the flavour and 100% of the colour of the whiskeys — may appear to be a surprising choice, given the Macallan’s Highland history. However, the outsourcing of wood from America, and occasionally other countries in Europe, is one of the many small ways through which the Macallan distinguishes itself.
The Macallan Estate warmly invites tourists and locals to come explore its grounds and experience the majesty of the Scottish Highlands while tasting some of the world’s most beloved spirits.
Visitors from Aberdeen can travel to the estate in just over an hour by car; if you are coming from Edinburgh or Glasgow, the trip is likely to take about four hours, but the view of the Highlands along the way will make every moment worthwhile.
Images via the Macallan Distillery.