Most of us whisky enthusiasts know The Macallan. How can we not know when it is the third largest selling single malt and the second largest by volume? However, how many of us have actively read up on The Macallan’s past and understand its long and rich history since it was founded in 1824? Not many, we suppose. Therefore, the whisky geeks decided to give all our readers a glimpse into the rich history of The Macallan and at the same time, provide some interesting factors to its previous ownership.
A Little English History
Before we even talk about The Macallan, let us bring you back to the 19th century Scotland. Back in those days, the Crown was steadily increasing the taxes for whisky distillers, which eventually drove many of them underground. Illegal distilleries were common and they were making sub-standard whiskies due to their fear of being discovered. However, one region stood out among the rest – distilleries in Speyside continued to produce great whiskies, which attracted even King George IV. As the people began to pressure the government to abolish the ridiculously high taxes, The Duke of Gordon took the lead to champion the cause and succeeded in 1823 to set up a completely new Excise Act. Under this regulation, distillers were given a license to operate in exchange for an annual fee of £10 and a per-gallon duty fee.
Origins of The Macallan
Under this new rule, The Macallan emerged from the underground in 1824 when founding father Alexander Reid obtained the license to operate. Alexander leased 8 acres of land from the Earl of Seafield to establish The Macallan. The land included the Easter Elchies House which the Earl of Seafield bought from the grandson of Captain John Grant, the original owner of the house. Since then, the Easter Elchies House is part of The Macallan and remains as its symbol for good, classic single malt Scotch whisky.
After the distillery was set up, Reid formed his own company, Alexander Reid & Co, with The Macallan under its wings. The whisky distilled in this period was named as The Craigellachie, named after the village that the distillery was located. Reid remained as the head of the distillery until his death in 1847, after which, his son took over the helm until his own death in 1858. During the times when the junior Reid was at the helm of the distillery, he took on partners, James Davidson and James Shearer Priest. The distillery later on fell to Davidson alone when Reid passed on. Davidson was a corn merchant who had made his fortune; and he was the one who established the rule of using only high-grade barley for distilling whisky.
After Davidson’s death, the distillery was taken over by James Stuart on a tenant arrangement. Stuart became very successful in his career and went on to own and operate various distilleries. After 20 years of operation, Stuart purchased The Macallan distillery in 1886.
Modernisation of The Macallan
The era of modernisation arrived with Roderick Kemp as the new owner of the distillery in 1892. After buying the distillery, it was renamed as R.Kemp Macallan-Glenlivet to take advantage of the Glenlivet name, which had become world famous by then. The Macallan distillery was rebuilt by Kemp. He added new warehouse facilities, improve the company’s stills and the other buildings around it, including the Easter Elchies House. He also expanded Macallan’s production and set new quality standards such as maturing whisky only in Spanish oak sherry casks. Kemp died in 1909, and his family continued to manage the distillery through a trust until the 1990s.
During this period, the company underwent a lot of changes due to the changes in preferences for single malt whiskies in the mid-1960s. With the interest of single malt growing higher, the company began to add new stills to its property. The Kemp family wanted to preserve the traditional small stills so, instead of changing to the bigger, industrialised stills that were used by the other distilleries, they doubled the small stills instead.
As the company expanded further, it needed more financial backing and in 1968, the company went public in order to obtain more funds for expansion. The public funds help the company to grow further and by the end of 1968, its annual sales was more than £822 million. The company began to build a new generation of stills but it keep its small stills model in mind, creating exceptional stills for the distillery. In 1975, the company hit sales of £1 million. At this time, the company began to attract a global audience for its exceptional whiskies and the company made a record sales of £2 million by 1977.
The restoration of the Easter-Elchies House and the boom of the single malt market
At this time, the Easter-Elchies House located on The Macallan premises was in disrepair, and in desperate needs of restoration. Due to the interest of Scotch whiskies, the company decided to restore the house and let it be the reception centre for visitors as well as the office for its ever-growing international distribution. When it opened in 1977, it was so well received that the company decided to change its name to The Macallan. By the mid-1980s, the popularity of single malt whiskies has prompted a collector’s market, in which The Macallan became one of the most desirable labels, especially after they released their first 60-year old bottling.
As a public company, The Macallan has remained strong in the face of aggressive mergers and acquisitions in the 1990s. In 1994, the company signed a distribution agreement with Highland Distillers, knowing that the owners of Highland Distillers are interested in acquisition. However, the time is not yet ripe for a take-over. After the mid-1990s, the Highland Distillers become more aggressive in acquiring a larger stake in The Macallan. By this time, the Kemp family is no longer interested to keep the distillery as well. They practically let the distillery go, which resulted in Highland Distillers to join forces with Japan’s Suntory and obtained 51% of The Macallan. The new venture immediately launched the buy-out of the remaining 49% of the company’s shares. With that, The Macallan joins Highland’s Famous Grouse, the best-selling blended whisky in the UK.
The Second Buy-Over
The Macallan was held by the joint venture of Highland Distillers and Suntory for a short period, from 1996 to 1999. By the end of the decade, Highland Distillers became the object for take-over and the company finally agreed to be acquired by the Edrington Group, a privately-owned Scotch company. After Highland disappeared into the folds of the Edrington Groups, The Macallan emerges as one of their core brands. The company move The Macallan to take its place as the next best single malt whisky in the industry by releasing new labels such as the 15-Year old and the 30-Year old. In 2000, the release of a 50-Year old took the industry by storm.
The Macallan Now
The Macallan continues to climb the fame ladder in the next 10 years, releasing more rare single malt. In 2001, The Macallan 10-Year old was selected as the official Scotch of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the presiding officer of the United Kingdom lower chamber of Parliament. Since then, the prices of various bottles from The Macallan continue to rise. In 2007, a bottle of 1926 The Macallan was sold for USD$54,000 at an auction. In 2010, a bottle of The Macallan 64-Year old single malt in a one of a kind crystal decanter was sold for USD$460,000 in an auction in New York. The creme of the crop, however, was The Macallan M, which was sold for a whooping USD$628,205 in an auction in Hong Kong in 2014.
Controversy affecting The Macallan
The Macallan was embroiled in a controversy in 2003 and 2004 when it was revealed that laboratory testings of antique whiskies purchased for their own collection at the distillery were fakes. In the final test, it was determined that at least 11 bottles of the whiskies in The Macallan distillery were fakes. That revelation resulted in the decision that The Macallan will no longer sell any of their antique bottles from the distillery.