The Macallan is one of the most famous whiskies in the world. But for me, the fascination with this spirit came from it being featured in multiple James Bond movies, most notably SPECTRE and Skyfall. This very approachable whisky can be found on the shelves of just about every bar that sells scotch and it's older versions are some of the most prized whiskies in the world, with a bottle recently selling for $1.1 million.
So I had no idea what to expect when I booked my visit to the Visitor's Experience and what I found was a distillery rife with controversy, history, and a design like no other whisky facility I'd ever seen. Join me at this very unique distillery and my 4th distillery tour of 15 through the country of Scotland.
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About The Macallan Visitor Experience Distillery Tour
The first thing you'll notice during your walk-up to the new Visitor's Experience Center is the James Bond villainesque entrance that leads to the Get Smart opening and closing doors (showing my age here). Once inside, the space expands and to your left, you will see a wall filled with 840 bottles of Macallan that I was told was worth over £25,000,000 - with only the 1874 bottles being replicas. Behind those you'll find a little museum and history timeline of the distillery. Walk straight ahead and you can pick up your tickets at what feels like a hotel reservations desk. Not a lot of decision making to do when you buy your ticket, there is only one tour option here - the Six Pillar's Tour. While you wait for your tour, there is a gift shop and cafe where you can grab a coffee and snack.
Our tour guide Michelle walked us through a 50 minute guided tour of the facility, which includes the full working distillery, a unique review of the cooperage process, some barrel sniffing, and a film featuring the master distiller tasting and blending process. Amazingly, the distillery portion is contained within a single room and the building and layout were beyond anything I had ever seen before.
- Location: Easter Elchies, Craigellachie AB38 9RX, Scotland, UK
- Impression: If you're planning to do only one distillery tour, this is not it! But it definitely should be your second. This state-of-the-art facility bears no resemblance to any distillery I have seen before. So check out one of the others and then come to The Macallan Distillery to see the future of distillation. A unique feature here is the guide turning you over to a separate tasting guide. The tasting guide walked us through the flavor profiles of each whisky we tried and provided coffee beans to reset our smellers for the next nosing. Linger as long as you like at the bar and then enjoy the Masters of Photography Gallery.
- Website: Tour Information (Requires Age Verification)
- Cost: The Six Pillar's Tour cost £15 and includes a tasting. However, if you are a driver, the driver's pack will set you back another £8.95, a little disappointing (so make sure to walk or take a taxi here if you need transportation and are traveling alone like me).
- Samples: A very nice collection of whiskies to try. They called the first 3, the trilogy of 12's (12 Year Sherry, 12 Year Double Cask, 12 Year Triple Cask) and Lumina, along with a small sample of their new make spirit (meaning has not been put in a barrel and is around 68.5% alcohol).
- Perks: A lovely stemmed Macallan tasting glass in a box is provided as a keepsake.
- Warehouse access: No
- Notes: Yes to photography throughout the facility.
Seriously, this place is like Oz. But talk to anyone in the local pub about The Macallan Distillery and you'll hear a range of opinions about the place. Some are still sore that it was sold to Highland Distillery and then the Edrington Group which also makes Famous Grouse and Glenrothes among others. Others think the state-of-the-art facility went a bit over the top. Other people think it is a brilliant layout and are proud to have one of the world's great whiskies made on their doorstep. Judge for yourself. Personally, I like it. There are plenty of old school distilleries to view throughout Scotland and this was a great change of pace.
The old distillery and warehouses are still there to view from the outside. It's not for certain they will remain there so get your photos of the outsides while you can. There are some charming old warehouses to view as well, with their black covered siding (thanks to the angel's share). The more modern warehouses you see on the way in are less impressive in style and design.
A Little Macallan History
The original Easter Elchies House remains on the property and is used for VIP visitors. The house was built as a holiday home for Captain John Grant in 1700. Whisky was most likely being distilled illegally prior to 1824 when Alexander Reid registered the Elchies Distillery with the government. It wasn't until 1892 that Roderick (Roger) Kemp, a former part owner of Talisker and resident of Skye, bought the property and the distillery and changed the name to The Macallan and began promoting it as a high quality spirit focused on sherry cask aging.
Origin of the Name
I asked our guide Michelle about the name Macallan and she said it doesn't appear in the Kemp's family tree, nor is there any writing from him as to where he got the name from. The best guess is that because he spoke Gaelic, he may have combined the word magh which in Gaelic means fertile land and ellan from the name of the Irish Saint Fillon who spent time in Scotland.
- Designed by a London-based architectural firm. They asked for a distillery that would blend into the countryside.
- It took 6 years to build using a local contractor. Over a million pounds of soil were moved to make it subterranean
- The roof structure is slotted together like a jigsaw puzzle and the wood was hand cut. It has a shape that supports it's own weight.
- They grow the barley on-site and they own a mile and a half of the River Spey where employees can fish (the River Spey is rich with salmon). They don't use River Spey water to make the whisky, but instead for the cooling and condensing process. Their water for the whisky comes from wells that seep through the granite bedrock. Cooling and condensing. The water come from the wells through a granite bedrock.
- The house was never lived in by Roger Kemp. Now used as a corporate building. Some think it is haunted, but not sure. Fell into disrepair in 1970s and has been refurbished.
- They use an unbalanced distillation process with 1 wash backs partnered with 2 smaller spirit stills. In total they have 36 stills in 12 sets of 3, 21 wash backs, 3 wash receivers, and 12 spirit receivers. They 10.2 million was the old record. They did 12 this year and they can do up to 15 million litres. They use 17 tons of barley per mash, 6 mashes a day, work 7 days a week. An amazing 700 tons of barley a week.
- Last step is to walk into a round room and watch a short promotional film called Whisky Stories "Nick Savage" master distiller (4 men, 2 women) talks about the whisky. He talks about the master distiller's challenges of blending and balancing a whisky. Unlike Glenfiddich's film that feels dated and salesy, this one blends imagery with a story and information.
How I Got Here
Yes, there is a parking lot, but you're also within walking distance of the town of Craigellachie where you could pick up lunch and leave your car.
However, I decided to stay in Aberlour, where there are more B&B options and you can take the back path about 3 miles to get there. Believe me, it is a much safer walk than trying to walk on the A95 which has no shoulder in some spots and is a constant source for lorrie (semi-truck) traffic. From Alice Littler Memorial Park in Aberlour, cross the bridge over River Spey and take the fork to the right. Climb the hill and you'll come to an obvious dirt road (not driveway) that goes to the right, it will turn to paved eventually. At the next paved road take another right, you'll see some sheep and a creek and small waterfall, then one more right on a slightly more busy road, but then you'll see The Macallan Distillery gate on your right.
My next stop is a very different type of experience - the family-owned Glenfarclas Distillery.