A graduate of St Andrews and Dundee universities, the award-winning author—who was described as ‘the doyen of whisky writers’ by BBC Scotland’s Tom Morton—began his career in 1981 and has gone on to publish more than 18 books about whisky, including his magnum opus on the subject, Malt Whisky (1997), which has now been translated into nine languages and won a Glenfiddich Award. In recognition of his significant whisky knowledge, Charles was appointed as founding editor of Whisky Magazine shortly after, in 1998, and continued to write regularly for this title until 2005. He was also British editor of the Russian glossy title Whisky and contributing editor of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Newsletter.
MacLean's later work Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History (2003) was shortlisted for the Andre Simon Award ‘Best Drinks Book’ and won the James Beard Award for ‘Best Wine and Spirits Book’—America’s leading gastronomic prize. During the current lockdown he has written a further five books.
Charles famously starred in Ken Loach’s film The Angels Share, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, and makes frequent appearances as a whisky commentator on both radio and television.
He was elected a Keeper of the Quaich in 1992, for ‘his services to Scotch over ten years’, and elevated to Master of The Quaich, the industry’s highest accolade, in 2009. In 2016 he was inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame and in May 2019 won the accolade of ‘International Ambassador of the Year’ at the Spirit of Speyside Festival.
Charlie is a noted international ambassador for the Scotch whisky industry. He has particularly strong links to China, where he has two bars named after him, and won a Hurun Award ‘For Outstanding Service to UK-China Relations, in regard to Promoting Scotch Whisky’ in 2020. In 2017 he travelled overseas 23 times to 17 countries to spread the whisky word.
As international travel was put on hold during the Coronavirus pandemic, he took to hosting Zoom tastings and found himself occupied by the ultimate passion project: blending a charity whisky with his world record-breaking sons. Last summer, he joined forces with Ewan (28), Jamie (27) and Lachlan MacLean (22), to create a blended malt whisky to raise funds for Argyll-based charity Feedback Madagascar. In January 2020 the MacLean brothers became the first three brothers to row any ocean and the youngest trio and the fastest trio to ever row the Atlantic.
Mr MacLean, who lives in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge, said: “It is a tremendous honour to be recognised by The Queen for a career dedicated to a personal passion – Scotch whisky.
“It has been and continues to be a joy to write on this special subject, and when I turned in my first article in 1981, I could not have imagined the events that would unfold over the next four decades.
“This honour is one of my proudest moments, and it has been a challenge to keep it a secret from my nearest and dearest, but I am very much looking forward to celebrating with them where more than a few whiskies will likely be enjoyed.
“After being there to welcome my sons in Antigua after their 35-day charity row across the Atlantic, I can’t say this is my proudest moment - but it’s certainly up there!”