In 1824, the Macallan distillery was licensed to Alexander Reid, but under a different name; it started life as Elchies Distillery. Macallan sits in close proximity to a ford across the river Spey, the site originally held a farm distillery, which was frequented by cattle drovers crossing the ford. The distillery was expanded toward the end of the nineteenth century and renamed Macallan-Glenlivet and in 1980 the ‘Glenlivet’ suffix was removed.
From the 1950s onwards, Macallan has been greatly extended; in 1965 it doubled its stills to twelve, then to eighteen in 1974 and in 1975, it further increased them to number twenty-one. This was down to great demand, for Macallan had become very sought after. Old vintages are highly prized and very valuable.
Roderick Kemp acquired the distillery in 1892 and set up a family trust. In 1968, Macallan-Glenlivet was traded on the London Stock Exchange. The name is a conjunction of ‘Magh’, Gaelic for a fertile piece of land, and ‘Ellan’, or ‘Of St Fillan’. St Fillan was an Irish Monk who travelled through Scotland during the 700s, promoting Christianity.
In 1986, the Japanese company Suntory bought out a quarter of the stocks and a decade later, Highland Distillers bought out the remaining stocks, ending the Kemp family interests. The Macallan has largely used Sherry casks for the maturation of their whisky. A very characteristic Speysider,the distillery recently brought out the Macallan Fine Oak range, which featured plenty of Bourbon-matured malt, and an eighteen year-old from this range, took first place in Whisky Magazine’s “Best Malts of the World”.
In 1999, Macallan was acquired by Edrington, and has not changed hands since.
In 2013 it was announced that a completely new, £100 million distillery was to be built. The new distillery, sporting a subterranean design, was commissioned on 9 November 2017. It finally opened in June 2018, although it ended up costing Edrington £140 million. The roof is covered with a grass and wildflower blanket, and sports a design that resembles waves, designed to mimic the rolling hills of Speyside, camouflaging it into the cliffs. The roof itself is a giant puzzle held together by precision, no glue or nails of any kind. Though an innovative feat of engineering, the whisky production has stayed as traditional as always.
The distillery produces 15 million litres of spirit each year, and Edrington is also aiming for quadruple growth for the brand within the next 25 years.