Behind the Brand

The Macallan essence

We report on The Macallan's latest photographic adventure
By Rob Allanson
From the moment the whispers went out that there was going to be another release from The Macallan under its Masters of Photography series, you have to start thinking who the person behind the shutter is going to be.

So far, two editions in, the photographers have been big hitters in the fashion world and award winners, Rankin and Albert Watson; leaves the bar fairly high for the next choice.

However the marketing brains at the Edrington Group, The Macallan’s owner, have pulled off a bit of a coup for the latest release. Not only is the photographer world famous, but so is the model, and he even worked at the Macallan Distillery for a while, thus cementing the links further.

Stepping up to the shutter button this year is legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz. If you are a fan of Rolling Stone magazine, chances are you have seen her shots of the Beatles (including the famous recreation of The Kiss with John and Yoko); if you own a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, that’s her too; and a host of Vanity Fair cover shots bear her name too, including Demi Moore pregnant.
Let’s not forget her portraits of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth during a state visit to the USA in 2007.

Tasked, as her predecessors were, with interpreting the brand’s essence through her own photographic skills, Leibovitz cast the renowned Scottish actor Kevin McKidd (star of Trainspotting, Rome and Grey’s Anatomy) as her leading man. McKidd is not just there as a photograher’s subject, he has a direct link to the brand itself. Originally from Elgin, just a few miles away from the Macallan Distillery on Speyside, and the fact he even worked as a young man, make him the perfect authentic choice for the role.

This year, Annie Leibovitz, renowned for her inimitable style and the use of lush sumptuous colourscapes, has interpreted four single cask variants released for the first time, resulting in four powerful images. Shot against dramatic backdrops in and around New York City, Leibovitz aimed to capture the brilliance of a moment where everything comes together, seeking what Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Leibovitz says: “I am the first colour photographer chosen by The Macallan for its Master of Photography series, prior to this I hadn’t realised how complicated and deep the distilling process is. That warmth and richness is what I tried to bring to the photographs. Kevin McKidd drove the imagery. Where he comes from and his rugged good looks are what the photographs are all about. It wasn’t casting, it’s authentic.”

The starting point for Leibovitz and McKidd’s journey into the world of Macallan was of course the liquid. Four different versions of The Macallan were the inspiration for the photo shoots; each matured in a different cask type and imbued with its own idyosyncracies.
The Library and the 1995: this location, modelled on Sir Walter Scott’s library in his home in Abbotsford, provided a setting rich in heritage suited to McKidd’s seated, powerful and reflective moment.

The Gallery and the 1989: in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh hangs ‘Niagara Falls from the American side’ by renowned artist Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). His private gallery in Upstate New York provides an indulgent backdrop to the intense, sensual moment the actor shares with his leading lady.

The Bar and the 1991: shot in the Red Spot Bar, nestled in the town of Hudson, the mood is upbeat, lively and relaxed as Kevin McKidd meets up with friends to enjoy a glass of The Macallan together.

The Skyline and the 1996: the actor is literally on top of the world, as he stands heroically on the iconic Tudor City building against the breath-taking Manhattan skyline at day break.

A further four individually customised bottles of The Macallan 1949 celebrating the year Annie Leibovitz was born will also be released accompanied by a signed one-off gallery-sized print.

Ken Grier, director of malts for The Edrington Group, said: “Working with one of the world’s most influential photographers has exceeded all expectations. The Masters of Photography series is hugely important to The Macallan brand and Annie Leibovitz has captured The Macallan moment in her own unique way.

“The fact that our leading actor, Kevin McKidd, is not only a fervent Macallan drinker but actually worked at the distillery is a wonderful and authentic story.

“His evolution from an Elgin boy to internationally famous actor mirrors the success the Macallan has enjoyed from its Speyside roots to global fame, making him perfect for the brand.”


Tasting notes



The Bar

Cask No.: 7023
Sherry Oak Puncheon
Year: 1991
Bottles: 285
Strength: 50.8% ABV

Nose: Intriguing, does not give its secrets away straight off. Slow waves of herbal, apothecary notes at first. Very concentrated, then oranges and cloves, Christingle church incense. That stewed apple note again, served with custard and chocolate, ginger and raisins. Chantilly cream. A balmy note.
Palate: Oak grips through the sweet spices. Rich but hugely balanced between the sherry influences and the oak.Powdered spices, ginger and cinnamon. More dried fruits come through.
Finish: Lush and the oak grips at the end.


The Gallery

Cask No.: 12251
Sherry Butt
Year: 1989
Bottles: 285
Colour: Dark copper
Strength: 56.6% ABV

Nose: That heady hit as you walk into a florist’s shop, lilacs and daffodils. Medjool dates and Parma ham. Intense layers of aromas. In time comes chocolate, rum and raisin ice cream. Pipe tobacco and leather armchairs. Warm tasted wood notes, dunnage warehouses.
Palate: Sweet oak notes, desiccated coconut, then dark fruits, bramble pie with a cinnamon and caramel crust.
Finish: Dry at first but then the spices come back in waves.


The Library

For Global Travel Retail, Distillery and private sale only
Cask No.: 14007
Sherry Oak Hoghead
Year: 1995
Bottles: 145
Strength: 59.6% ABV

Nose: Plump sherry soaked raisins and sultanas, cake mix with dried fruit, red liquorice, melted brown sugar, caramelised apple, hints of caraway and cumin. Earthy. Water brings out more apple blossom and fresh cut oak chips.
Palate: Plum pudding sweetness, cooked tomatoes, a hint of balsamic vinegar, then waves of sweet stewed apple and brown sugar. Water amplifies the sweetened and uncovers a barley sugar orange edge.
Finish: Big and bold. Dries slightly at the end.


The Skyline

Cask No.: 10019
American Oak Butt
Year: 1996
Bottles: 285
Strength: 55.5% ABV

Nose: Fresh and vibrant. Lemons and Key Lime pie. American ice cream soda floats, vanilla cream puffs. A pastry note, like walking into a French patisserie. Water shifts this to a more herbal quality, wet cedar wood, almost like an open humidor.
Palate: Mouth filling, slick and subtle. Oak takes the first part the come dusty spices, treacle toffee and baked apple pie. NYC cheesecake. Sweet edged. With water you get more sugared almonds.
Finish: Those sweet notes are tempered with a little spice at the back of the palate.