Cult Speyside distillery The Macallan is set to open its brand-new, design-led distillery to visitors on 2 June.
The building – which sits apart from the old distillery and allows the company to increase its production by up to a third – looks like a sleek, modern wave set among the green hills of the surrounding countryside.
Designed by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, it feels more akin to an art gallery than anything to do with distillation. In the visitor centre dark polished concrete and plaster surfaces and large expanses of glass dominate – often in the shape of huge display cabinets full of hundreds of bottles of rare whisky. The undulating wooden roof comprises 380,000 individual components alone.
And then you look to the right, and realise that you can see the distillery equipment in its entirety behind yet another huge glass wall.
‘We had a great vision for the future where many more drinkers could enjoy The Macallan,’ said the company’s creative director Ken Grier.
‘When we first started talking about the project, I picked up a book called The Great Wineries of the World and that was our inspiration. We wanted [the distillery] to look like a Tim Burton movie, with deep shadows – it’s like looking into the belly of the beast.’
All the distillery equipment is in the one room. The distinctive still formation sees three circles of equipment running the length of what feels like a huge aircraft hanger, with each containing four wash stills and eight spirit stills. The new stills were made by Forsyths using the exact dimensions of the old ones.
‘The spirit character came into the style of The Macallan very, very quickly,’ said distiller Nick Savage. ‘I think that was helped by the fact that we used our previous plant’s low wines and feints, bringing that up to accelerate things. You’ve got to allow time for copper to bed in, but the main aim is to get a stable plant first. There were no great concerns, which you might expect when you’re commissioning a distillery.’
Unsurprisingly, the project has been designed with sustainability in mind, and 90% of the distillery and visitor centre’s energy supply is renewable, which will go up to 100% ‘on good days’.
As for the old distillery? It hasn’t been decided yet, but the equipment has been left in place and there were rumblings it could be used for experiments. ‘At the moment it’s being preserved,’ said managing director Scott McCroskie. ‘No disrespect to the old distillery, it’s served us well, but the new building is so amazing. That’s The Macallan – that’s the future.’
For anyone in the trade who fancies visiting a distillery unlike any other, a bookings system has been set up.
‘This facility is for everyone, particularly our trade partners,’ declared McCroskie. ‘We’re planning on setting up an online booking system [for visitors] and we are reserving slots for distributors and trade.
‘I think it does give a great insight into what The Macallan is. We are opening the doors and not hiding the ways of working. We’re totally transparent, we’re very proud of what we’re doing, and we’re happy to share it.’