Travel

Heart of oak

Macallan has unveiled a £1 million development on its estate, Rob Allanson went to investigate
By Rob Allanson
One thing that is impossible to escape from when you stroll up at Macallan is that fact that the place oozes class.It is everywhere from the sumptuous setting of Easter Elchies House to the immaculate still house. But most importantly with the spirit itself.However all this aside there is one guideline at Macallan that is stuck to unwaveringly and that is cask selection – something that has seen it grow at three times the rate of the single malt market during the last five years.Whenever you talk to someone at the distillery there is a distinct unfaltering obsession with selecting exceptional oak casks from the bodagas in Jerez and bourbon distillers in Kentucky.All of which the company claims adds to the appeal of their whisky.Now, with a £1m revamp on the Speyside estate, parent company Edrington is hoping to share some of this enthusiasm and panache with Macallan fans.The centrepiece is a unique visitor experience dedicated to explaining the critical importance of oak wood, cask seasoning and unparalleled cask management in delivering the distinctive styles of The Macallan.Housed in Warehouse 7, both the general public and trade visitors will have the chance to discover ‘The Story of Oak’ and the crucial role it plays in producing The Macallan range.The brand uses the highest percentage of sherry oak casks in the Scotch whisky industry – they are also the most expensive – and the new visitor area showcases these exceptional oak casks.The centre lays out the journey of a barrel from growing the trees to making the barrels, then on to being filled and the spirit left to mature.Ken Grier, director of malts at the Edrington Group says: “The expansion of our visitor centre at the distillery means that visitors can now learn about the role of oak casks in the production of Macallan.“Part of the unique character of the Macallan is due to how we select the oak and sherry casks used to mature our whisky.“The interactive exhibition on show in Warehouse 7 tells this extraordinary story from beginning to end.“It offers visitors a unique insight into the range of unheralded skills that play a vital part in the development of the spirit’s complex character .” Displays include how to make a barrel and a series of striking photographs from Jerez and Kentucky.One wall is dedicated to the scents you can find in the whisky. It is like taking a walk through the important smell notes set against a brilliantly lit blue wall.The journey is done with scent jars that let you get your nose right in and fill your lungs with all sorts of smells.The investment also includes the refurbishment of the Jacobean manor, Easter Elchies House, built in 1700, and of the Ghillies Cottage, to give guests the chance to stay on the estate at the heart of their favourite dram for the first time.David Cox, director of brand education, adds: “The Macallan has a remarkable, and rapidly growing, reputation across the world.“Our extraordinary oak casks play a critical role in making this great single malt whisky and we go to great lengths to ensure our casks are the most exactingly sourced, and best cared for, in the industry.“We wanted to showcase this, looking at the properties of the oak, the provenance and careful selection of our casks and the skills involved crafting them. It’s a first for the industry.