An alternative path: Setting the flavour standard
A single malt whisky that is more than the sum of its parts
In whisky-making, everything is connected.
There are currently over one hundred active whisky distilleries across Scotland engaged in making whisky– all of them milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling twice (sometimes three times) and filling into casks; in essence the same process. Why then do they all taste so different, and how has The Macallan claimed distinction?
At one point, our fresh spring water was thought to be the key factor: it’s now known that this is not the case. We were led to believe it was the distillery’s surroundings that provided the magic edge, but however romantic this may be, the evidence shows us that “terroir” (the environmental factors) don’t actually have a significant bearing on the flavour of a malt whisky.
So this leaves us with a paradox of sorts, as malts are essentially made up of the same ingredients: spring water, yeast and barley. Yet they are all different.
Appearances can be deceiving; to gain something worth having you need to dig below the surface, for it’s a subtlety in our whisky’s distinct ‘DNA’ that creates The Macallan. It is the alchemy of distillation and the magic of maturation, alongside the quirks and idiosyncrasies inherent in the process– all are intentional building blocks in helping create our whisky’s distinct flavour. As we like to say, there is ‘purpose in the process’.
It all starts with the malted barley.
There are two primary barley strains used in the whisky industry (Concerto and Optic), and we use Concerto barley. We also invest in a strain of barley called Momentum, which is exclusive to The Macallan. This is the type of barley we grow on the estate, and we have several farmers that grow Momentum for us in the rest of Scotland and the North of England. We have worked to develop our barley mix, refining the process over time. This intimacy with the role barley plays in the process is knowledge the learned and earned the through the years; flavour is always the ultimate priority. These decisions and chosen processes of The Macallan’s are not part of some ‘hidebound’ tradition. We are always looking at ways to improve efficiency without losing any character, while refusing to compromise.
We are unyielding in our pursuit of the exceptional.
We continually evaluate new varieties of barley which provide both the yield and the quality our standards require, and will settle for nothing less than excellence. Much the same has happened with yeast. While we have stopped using ‘brewers yeast’ many years ago, we are intentional about the ‘distillers yeast’ used in our recipe. Why? Once again, it’s about flavour. We keep close watch, not just on how long the fermentation is allowed to continue, but on how strong the ‘wash’ is at the end of it. The wash is the final product of fermentation, ready for distilling, and the strength of ours is monitored closely in order to get more ‘esters’ (the compounds which provide the flavours and aromas) in the wash.
Understanding The Core Truth.
Everything is connected in whisky-making. The whisky making process is continual and flows from one part of the distillery to the next. That flow takes us from the barley fields to the stillhouse, the blazing heart of the process itself. Here are our ‘curiously small’ spirit stills, no more than 12 feet high– compact flavour engines designed and run in order to give a heavy, sweet, rich new-make spirit. Their size and intentional shape means there’s little chance for the spirit vapour to rise up the neck, only to condense and fall back into the boiling ‘low wines’ (a spirit with lower alcohol content) through a process known as reflux. The less reflux, the richer the spirit. Yet there’s more. It isn’t just the shape and size of the still but how slow they are run (and we intentionally choose to run these at a trickle), and how much of the heart of the spirit run the stillman collects. Only a small quantity of the charge is collected as new-make. Why? It’s flavour again. The small cut combined with the shape, size and speed of distillation gives the new-make a concentration not achievable with any other shape. Our stills are a purposeful decision and another link in our distinct DNA.
It’s here that the barley plays its part as well, adding an oiliness and richness to the texture. Distilling is a chain reaction, everything impacts on everything else.
The final element in The Macallan DNA are the casks. Ultimately our unique character is shaped by the choice of wood species and its condition, combined with the particular quality of the new-make spirit.
Everything is connected in whisky-making.
This is The Macallan’s DNA. It’s not the only way to make whisky; it may not be considered the easiest or even the most logical, but it is the path we have chosen. Complete with our particular methods and idiosyncrasies, the flavour always sets the standard.