Resting high on a ridge above the banks of the River Spey lays The Macallan Distillery, the first of my three tours while visiting Speyside. The Macallan, known to many simply as Macallan is one of the premium spirit producers in the world, and is widely regarded as the benchmark on which other single malts are judged. I arranged to take the “Precious Tour”, which included a tour of the distillery, a visit to Warehouse 7, and a tutored tasting featuring four of Macallan’s classic malts.
When I arrived at the visitors centre, I was warmly greeted and told that another group was on route, and that the tour would commence once they arrived. To fill my time, I had a quick look through the gift shop and admired the vast collection of whiskies, with some prices ranging far into the thousands of pounds. Not wanting to leave empty handed, I picked up a hand carved keychain made of wood from a retired Macallan cask. Within minutes the other members of the tour arrived, two gentlemen and one lady, all from Italy, and we were off to begin the tour.
The tour began at the visitor centre and worked its way outside to the new atrium. It was at this point we were advised that we were not able to take any pictures inside the facility, but were more than welcome to take as many as we wanted of the outside and the surrounding grounds. Prior to my tour at The Macallan, most of the distilleries I visited were small, and had no more than two pairs of stills, so here at The Macallan, I had my first opportunity to see whisky mass-produced on a grand scale. With seven wash stills and fourteen spirit stills, The Macallan was by the far the largest facility I had ever seen. This allows for the production of nearly eight million litres of spirit a year, which is four to five time more than can be distilled by the other distilleries I had visited. Now, usually mass production is associated with poorer quality, but here-in lies the genius. Since The Macallan produce such a vast amount of spirit, they can pick and choose only the best for their products, and sell the rest for use in blended whiskies.
As we began the sensory portion of the tour, we were joined by another young woman, who if I remember correctly was born in Winnipeg and now lives in New York. Initially, we walked past eight or nine pots, each of which included a scent that is associated with whiskies. Initially we took a blind sniff, not knowing what was in the pot, then flipped the sign to see what was inside and sniffed again. Some of the scents included chocolate, marzipan, citrus, and iodine, all of which are used by connoisseurs to describe whisky. This lead to a small discussion on the type of oak casks used to age whisky, and how the wood from different regions affect the aging process. The Macallan use former sherry casks to age their whisky, and similarly with their spirit, they only choose the best of casks, as only the best casks will allow them to continue to produce their world renowned whisky.
After a brief stop in Warehouse 7, we made our way back to the visitors centre. My friends from Italy took their sample of The Macallan 10 Year Old and began browsing the shop, and the young woman who joined us late, and myself were led into the tasting room. Sitting at a beautiful oak bar, we were presented with four drams, and our tour guide began by playing a little powerpoint presentation. By the time the tasting was finished, I had sampled The Macallan 12, 18, 21, and 25 Year Old expressions, each one lovelier than that last. I made my way out to the parking lot, and as the pale grey sky began to clear, I waited for my lift to The Balvenie for my afternoon tour. At first I was a little disappointed and thought I should have booked The Macallan as the second tour of the day, as how could it get any better than this, but only time would tell.