Part 4: The Cask’s Journey Home: From Spain to Speyside
When each mile brings a wisdom worth having
Every step of the journey our casks make is a considered process, a decision to choose something greater. Our 390 acre estate in Speyside, Scotland, is the final destination for the wood that has travelled thousands of miles. After 18 months of unhurried slumber with Oloroso Sherry in the Spanish bodegas, the fully assembled casks depart Jerez and make the long journey to Scotland over land and sea.
The Macallan Estate is the spiritual home of the brand. From there, we have built up knowledge and confidence to choose what matters most; centuries have been spent refining and investing in this craft, using the highest quality barley and the same fresh natural spring water source. On the estate our curiously small stills create an incredibly lush and rich new-make spirit. This spirit then meets the wood that has journeyed thousands of miles for this very purpose.
These casks have the most impact on the new-make spirit in the resulting character and colour of the whisky. These casks may be used again, and if they are, they become known as re-fill casks. The colour and character that comes out of these is more subtle than a first-fill, but provides complexity across the inventory of maturing stock, making them perfect for longer maturations.
Once filled with our new-make spirit, the casks are sent off to our warehouses to be matured, where they can breathe in the soft, moist air of Speyside. Our Warehouse Sampling Team review these casks to ascertain when the whisky will reach its optimum depth of flavour. This is an ongoing process of discernment and refinement, and calls for patience and unwavering focus. Only when it reaches its full potential will a cask be selected.
MATURATION AND FINISHING
Each stage of the of the cask journey is fundamental. Every decision impacts on the next: choosing which casks meet the new-make spirit, how long the spirit sits in the casks, and whether they are combined ultimately impacts the flavour.
A full-maturation means that the spirit remained in the cask for its entire life. While the seasoning that previously filled the casks is integral to to the resulting intricacies of the whisky, the seasoning loses its influence on the final spirit after a certain amount of time. Past this point the wood and the spirit become the most dominant characters. This knowledge that we have gleaned over the years influences the amount of time that we choose to leave a cask to rest, and at what point it has reached full maturation.
The Macallan has an experienced ‘sampling team’ who draw samples from shortlisted casks, carefully label and hand deliver them to the Whisky Makers bench. At the bench, the Whisky Makers meticulously assess each sample. They consider the natural colour and nose the complex aromas. An amazingly diverse selection of whisky samples crosses The Macallan Whisky Makers’ bench every day. Most of these whiskies are then combined to make The Macallan whisky in question, although some may reveal a greater potential, an indication of something more.
These whiskies that show promise of something extraordinary will be returned to the warehouse for deeper and longer maturation, as the choice on the length of maturity is intrinsic to the result.
The journey from an acorn deep in the woods through the bodegas and distillery, to appreciating the whisky in your glass is lengthy. It is neither hurried nor taken for granted, but is filled with intention and unwavering focus. By investing in the full journey we ensure that the wisdom we’ve accrued, the risks we’ve taken and the conscious decisions we’ve made to choose something greater are discernible in each and every sip of The Macallan.