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Curious Details

Stepping onto the World Stage: The Macallan. The Malt.

E600CA23-A5CF-4F30-BC0F-7E8B830451E0@2x Nov 06 2018 · 3 min read

The year was 1966. The Macallan, most commonly known as a blending, or ‘dressing’ whisky at the time, made the considered decision to announce to the world that we were now the definite article – a single malt whisky, ready to sell worldwide. The local popularity of The Macallan and belief in the worth of our spirit gave us the conviction to reserve a proportion of our spirit for maturing in casks. It was a choice to put patience before profit and to take control of our own destiny.

Folio 1 artwork by david holmes for The Macallan
Folio 1 artwork of speyside distillery by david holmes for The Macallan
David Holmes history of advertising first brochure

Ten years later, and with our whisky ageing unhurriedly in the warehouses, it was finally time to tell the world about the content of those casks; so we commissioned art director David Holmes to create a loose-leaf brochure to send out to potential distributors.

We were doing two things with this: we were introducing The Macallan as a brand, but actually, the public education job was almost as important... nobody knew what single malts were; it really wasn’t a concept that was understood. And so part of this brochure was to say: ‘let us introduce you to the idea of single malts, this is what they are,’ and then go on into Macallan.

Allan Shiach, Chairman 1979-1996

As distinct as The Macallan itself, the brochure was made by hand, with David bringing in Sara Midda from London’s prestigious Saint Martin’s School of Art to do watercolour illustrations. This was her first commission and she spent a week at the distillery exploring and documenting all the activities that took place.

The end result was a brochure that had the appearance of a ledger from some great Victorian organisation, written on beautifully illuminated single vellum sheets and tied together with stout cloth strings. The quality was almost that of an ancient medieval manuscript, entirely handwritten and full of winsome illustrations and idiosyncratic detail. It was something that unequivocally expressed the intentionality and distinction of The Macallan.

Only a thousand of these precious brochures were made – sent out to wholesalers, distributors, important customers and selected journalists, who described it as ‘ravishing’. ‘I wanted to eat it’ was the reaction of one lucky recipient.

David Holmes Advertiser

David Holmes, Art Director, Illustrator, Artist; 1933 - 2018

“You didn’t need to do the hard sell with The Macallan” - David Holmes

With a creative career spanning six decades, Frederick Cecil David Holmes was a man of many hats, including Creative Director, working painter, illustrator and designer. He was born in Chelsea, London, and worked with The Macallan on our early advertising campaigns. Holmes was instrumental in shaping our brand tone of voice on the global stage, and put his exceptional talent to work creating engaging adverts with distinction and style.

  • In 1977 he became Founder and Creative Director of the successful agency Holmes Knight Ritchie, remaining as it evolved into TBWA HKR and leaving in 1992 to devote time to design, painting, and illustration
  • Master of illustration and wet on wet watercolour, he worked with numerous brands including the Royal Mail, British Airways, the Chelsea Flower Show and Bentley Motors
  • He communicated The Macallan’s advertising message with a individuality and authenticity that helped to shape the core of our brand
  • Between the years of 1980 and 1994, Holmes and copywriter Nick Salaman created over 250 ads for The Macallan

The Macallan. The Malt.

Nestled next to The Times Crossword, a little advert appeared.

A year or two later, the first ever advertisement for The Macallan appeared in the British daily newspaper ‘The Times’ on the back page next to the crossword. The rationale behind the placement was that crossword fanatics tend to be intelligent, quirky individuals and as such would appreciate the idiosyncratic and informative nature of the ads.

You can tell a lot about a brand from its advertising and this campaign changed the rules; nothing quite like them had ever appeared in the newspaper before. Challenging notions of what advertising should look like, the format was unusual – a small scale black and white ad, beautifully written in precise, witty prose, with illustrations from the original brochure.

This inaugural ad would go on to inspire a long-running and highly successful campaign; masterminded by creative director, David Holmes, and copywriter, Nick Salaman, of the inimitable London agency Holmes Knight Ritchie. Running through to the early 1990s, the campaign helped to establish The Macallan as a brand and reinforce our distinct identity.
First advert for The Macallan the Malt

The inaugural advert was a little note about the name “Macallan,” which is believed to derive from a saint by the name of Colum. Truly unique and distinctive, it embodied the tone we established through the years.

Always intelligent and novel, the ads often pulled on a history beyond that of The Macallan. One featured a quote from Holinshed’s Chronicles from the late 1500s – a text believed to be one of Shakespeare’s main inspirations. Discussing whisky, this small, confident advert aptly embodied The Macallan’s spirit:

it cutteth fleume,
it lighteneth the mind,
it quickeneth the spirits,
it cureth the hydropsie,
it pounceth the stone,
it repelleth the gravel,
it puffeth away ventositie,
it kepyth and preserveth
the eyes from dazelying,
the tongue from lispying,
the teethe from chatterying,
and the throat from rattlying,
the weason from stieflying,
the stomach from womblying,
the harte from swellying;
the belly from wirtching,
the guts from rumblying,
the hands from shivering,
the sinoews from shrinkying,
the veins from crumplying,
the bones from akying,
the marrow from soakying.
And truly it is a sovereign liquor,
if it be orderlie taken.

400 years ago malt whisky inspired the man who inspired Shakespeare. Today why not drink in a little inspiration over the crossword? THE MACALLAN THE MALT.

Clever, confident, and often portraying tongue-in-cheek British humour, these adverts were the first of a long-running campaign instrumental in establishing The Macallan as the peerless single malt whisky it is known to be today.

Read next


Part 1: Time, wisdom and wood; The story of The Macallan cask

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Part 2: Facing the flame: Inside the cooperages in Jerez, Spain

E600CA23-A5CF-4F30-BC0F-7E8B830451E0@2x Nov 06 2018 · 3 min read