Six years ago, The Macallan’s parent company, Edrington, revealed its plans to build a new state of the art distillery and visitor experience for the Scotch whisky brand. The structure was designed to not only deliver the iconic Speyside distiller greater capacity, but also to set the standard and vision to guide the business into the next century of its history.
There’s a lot to live up to, but the senior team at The Macallan remains confident that the newly unveiled building will be a major part of the whisky’s expansion and enduring legacy.
Publishing Editor, Ashley Pini, was lucky enough to jump on the first-ever tour and shares his thoughts here.
The 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 estate has been home to the leading luxury single malt since 1824 and the main house on the label of every bottle of The Macallan is the house located at the entrance of the new distillery, acting 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. This striking piece of contemporary design maximises the aesthetic beauty of the building while minimising the visual impact on the Speyside landscape, which has been classified as an ‘Area of Great Landscape Value’.
The distillery and visitor experience were designed by acclaimed architect, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, which was selected from an international competition to lead the project. Elgin-based Robertson Construction has delivered this sophisticated architectural design, working with 25 contractors to weave together the vision for the new distillery and visitor experience. During construction, up to 400 people specialising in more than 20 different trades were employed on the site.
Designs of this scale do not come cheap, however, with Edrington investing $900 million in the brand of which the $250 million distillery is the centrepiece. This program has been implemented to increase investment in the whisky, warehousing and particularly in The Macallan’s signature sherry-seasoned oak casks.
The new distillery also signals a large investment in expanding production and improving the tourism experience.
The first whisky ran through the stills in December last year and the updated infrastructure will enable The Macallan to increase production by one third if required. The new stills were crafted by Scottish coppersmiths Forsyths, which has been making the brand’s iconic ‘curiously small’ stills since the 1950s.
“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.”
The doors will open on 2 June and visitor numbers are expected to double in the first year and continue to rise after that.
While there were times when amendments were needed to be made to the project, the business remained wholly committed. A key design feature is the massive floor-to-ceiling glass wall that separates the bar from the distillery. It offered design and regulatory challenges and tested the business’ commitment to the high standards of the building. The local fire codes require the glass wall to protect the public bar area for a minimum of two hours should an accident happen in the distillery. Testing and proving the design was robust required a $540,000 mock-up of the glass wall to be installed and effectively burnt down.
“The Macallan estate truly is a special place; a place we have come to love and respect hugely,” said Graham Stirk, Senior Partner and Lead Architect for Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. “The vision was always ambitious, but this enabled us to challenge our own thinking to create something so dramatic and awe-inspiring. It has been an honour to play our part in shaping the next chapter of The Macallan.”