Going VIP at Macallan

Going VIP at Macallan

Did Whisky Magazine's secret agent really feel like a VIP on The Macallan's special tour?

Travel | 13 Jul 2003 | Issue 32

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On more than one occasion in this column, I’ve aired my theory that too many distillery tours are too similar. With growing interest and knowledge, especially in malt finishes and ages, it’s time to give the so-called ‘connoisseur consumer’ the chance to learn more by providing an alternative to the standard package tour.And, just like taxis in the rain, after waiting for ages along come three at once. Aberlour, Glenfiddich and The Macallan have all announced premium tours for the really committed visitor. They come at a premium price, of course – £15 in the case of Macallan, where I determined to begin this in-depth exploration of the VIP tour phenomenon.This is a whisky with a fanatical following, so I figured that the VIP Tour had to be really special. Capacity is limited, so you have to book, and that lends an air of anticipation to the whole process.I was pretty excited as we were greeted at the visitor centre, but, to be honest, the distillery tour was a bit of an anticlimax. Yes, we were allocated our own personal guide – a cheerful and personable fellow – and he couldn’t be faulted on distillery history and brand facts, but the tour is identical to the standard (free) product, and I thought that was a a let-down.‘VIPTour’ does imply access to some off-limits areas, or the chance to get more hands-on with the production process (Glenfiddich does this
rather well, by the way), so you feel short-changed by the time you return to the centre.However, things begin to pick up pretty rapidly at this point. You are ushered into the inner sanctum of a private tasting bar, tastefully fitted out in oak with tall bar stools and decorated with Macallan advertising, adjacent to the distillery’s own quality-control room which you view through a large window.You are presented with four nosing and tasting samples of The Macallan at 12, 18, 25 and 30 years old that have just been poured for you in the correct glasses, and your guide provides a short but erudite primer on the mechanics of nosing and tasting.Then the fun begins. Using spider diagrams to illustrate The Macallan taste profile, your guide talks you through the exceptional whiskies in the glasses before you.You’re free to agree or disagree as the mood takes you, but the spider diagrams provide a great jumping-off point. (Incidentally, if you’re not familiar with this method of illustrating a taste profile, be sure to check it out at www.macallan.com, where you can create your own for your favourite dram.)The tasting is unhurried, great fun and truly personal. You do, at this point, feel like a VIP – after all, you don’t get a dram of 30-year-old Macallan (at £240 a bottle) every day, do you?As we got ready to leave, I began to anticipate the parting gift or, at least, the request for contact information so marketing materials would rain down on me, but, to my surprise, neither came.A bittersweet moment – I can do without more junk mail, but I was surprised not to depart with some kind of a memento (I had been greedily eyeing up the charming little water jug).I’m still not totally convinced about The Macallan. It seems to me that the passion and idiosyncratic individualism that built its fame has disappeared into some corporate maw, but, overall, this was pretty fair value, and I’d happily recommend it to a friend.Coming soon: we move along Speyside and check out the VIP tours at Aberlour and Glenfiddich.
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