The Macallan Distillery tour was very similar to other distillery tours, in part because the process of making whisky is mostly the same at every facility. You go into the area where the malted barley is delivered, you see it get turned into mash, then wort, then fermented, and then distilled. There are minor differences in the tours. The Macallan Tour was much smaller, in our case there was only one other couple, so we had the opportunity to ask as many questions as we wanted.
Where it differed, and you’ll have to take my word for it because we weren’t permitted to take photographs, is in the warehouse. Glenlivet’s tour warehouse was much larger, because it doubled as a primary storage area and you could see rows upon rows of barrels, while Macallan’s tour warehouse was much smaller because we saw an ancillary one.
Art of Cooperage
Where Macallan excelled was in the section focused on the art of Cooperate. At Macallan they created a whole section devoted to the art of Cooperage, or the making of wine barrels. The tour guide did a fantastic job explaining the differences between American oak and French oak. American oak is lighter with tighter grains, which imparts less oaky flavor to the whisky. French oak is darker and with looser grains, so the whisky can move into and out of the wood more easily.
Alec, the guide, also explained how Macallan used the barrels. They actually have three Cooperages in Spain where they make the barrels and then lend them to sherry producers. In the US, they give them to bourbon producers. Then, they use those barrels to mature Macallan in.
In addition to a whole display that educates you on the process, they also have four barrels outside the warehouse that you can smell. One is an American oak after bourbon’s been stored in it, one is French oak after sherry, and one is American oak after bourbon, and the final one is French oak after sherry and after Macallan has matured in it for ten years. Smelling each is a definite treat!
After that, you are taken to the tasting room where you get to try a bit of their New Make Whiskey, the 10 Year, the 15 Year Fine Oak, the 18 Year, and the 30 Year Fine Oak. That’s right, you get to try a bit of a whisky that costs £321 in the distillery store! The tour guide became our tasting guide as he put up slides explaining the various scents and taste notes you’re likely to find in each expression. The profiles can be found on the Macallan website, but the fun part was tasting the various expressions side by side.
Before this trip, I’d never had New Make Whisky, in part because it’s not distributed. It was fun to see the product that comes out of the stills and trying it was a lot like drinking moonshine. New Make Whisky is the name it’s given before it gets put into a barrel to become proper Macallan. Overall, I thought the Macallan tour was well worth it. Glenlivet was free and certainly worth a trip, especially if you’re a fan of the scotch, but Macallan is a must see – if only to try the 30 year Fine Oak! I thought £15 was a bargain for the value, I recommend it.
After the tour, we wandered the grounds and came upon the Easter Elchies House. We weren’t very familiar with the history of Macallan or of the importance of Easter Elchies, so we didn’t realize we were looking at the building that makes up the label of The Macallan! I think part of the reason was because we come from the side, so we never really saw the full front of the building. We never went inside but we did take a few photos and poke fun at the furry Scottish cows (they’re Highland cattle known as Kyloe).
If you ever get the opportunity to visit, make sure to stop by the Macallan distillery!