2019 has been a year of ambitions achieved and perhaps the work we’ve delivered for The Macallan was the finest example. To cap off the year, we took up an invitation to The Macallan’s new distillery, taking the team to sample some raw Speyside hospitality.
The Macallan’s pioneering subterranean distillery has been open for just over a year now. With a $140M investment, the site on the Easter Elchies Estate has sent ripples across the global Spirits business and beyond, resetting the bar in experiential branding. Our recent trip to Speyside and the distillery provided first-hand insight into luxury branding at its finest, as well as the homeland of Speyside Whisky.
According to the commentator Hannes Gurzki (European Business School of Management & Technology), luxury brands inhabit a world of the extraordinary. And this is never manifested through one specific brand value, more an amalgam of brand aura, perceived value, perceived status, exclusivity and managerial excellence. In projecting this, luxury brands build the extraordinary through the distance from our ordinary worlds. Some luxury categories have to construct this entirely through advertising (cue black panthers stalking Paris at night). And for others, particularly Speyside single malts, it’s the very world they live in.
Speyside is Whisky’s ethereal middle-earth. And a late, slightly damp Autumn doesn’t disappoint. Soft-rolling coniferous hills, with forest floors radiating bright whisky-hues, standing guard to rushing waters of the River Spey. Catching the air under the arch of the Craigellachie bridge, absorbing the chorus of the Spey, brings you as close as possible to the DNA of an industry centuries old and still growing across the planet. Speyside is rugged, real and extraordinary. No retouching or multimillion media spend required here.
The Easter Elchies Estate resides close to the bridge, on a gentle hill rising from the small town of Craigellachie. Just before the new distillery comes into view, we get a view of the stark and sturdy Easter Elchies house offering a foreboding welcome, as it has since 1700. It provides a perfect prologue to the remarkable rise of this global brand story.
Dominating the crown of the hill is a stealthy profile of the distillery. 5 tightly-sculpted grass mounds peak subtly over the brow, drawing in visitors along the long grey slate path into a subterranean entrance, not dissimilar to a US Govt bunker. The entrance is intentional, to give a sense of compression that’s released as guests are greeted with the sheer scale of the complex inside.
The complex, born out of The Macallan’s visionary creative director Ken Grier, delivered by Graham Stirk of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, is an architectural masterstroke. The vast spruce ‘honeycomb’ roof (forming the external grass mounds) uses 380,000 individual components and 2,500 pieces of prime Scandinavian wood. In the rapidly growing sustainable era, this has to be one of the finest statements of 21st century construction (confounded by 90% of the distillery’s energy drawn from renewable sources).
The distillery presents 3 defining features of The Macallan world; its industry, it’s artistry and of course the brand itself.
The scale of industry is vast. 12 Big Wash Stills and 36 smaller spirit stills provide an annual capacity of 12-15 million litres. Coupled with the storage of 330k maturing casks on site; this is a global brand with a truly global capacity. It’s astonishing to see and took the team some minutes to really gauge the scale in front of us.
The art of whisky-making can only be appreciated in decades and visitors, understandably, we aren’t afforded access to the vast cask collection maturing in delicately controlled conditions. Whilst the artists (distillers) are out of view, the ‘6 Pillars’ tour brings The Macallan’s artistry alive with interactive projections, the raw aromas of Sherry and Bourbon cask and, what can be described as, a moving 360-degree brand film at the close of the tour.
Beyond the industry and the interactive tours, there are some fine ‘brand moments’ to enjoy at the Elchies Brasserie, The Macallan Bar and the Distillery Boutique. Not forgetting the wondrous 18-meter glass brand wall, encasing rare editions across 3 centuries.
Yet it’s not just these moments that bring The Macallan’s brand essence to life. It’s the exceptional attention to the detail. Every single millimetre has been carefully planned and evaluated. Every colour tone and light evoke the soft Whisky hues of the brand. Every surface is beautifully tactile. Every pane of glass sits in perfect symmetry to the next. It’s this meticulousness that defines The Macallan and this distillery amplifies that on a vast scale.
Retracing the slate path on exit offers a perfect postscript to the story, especially as dusk gives us one final glimpse of the sharp outlines of Easter Elchies House peering back at the (now glowing) distillery. Whilst the scale and growth of this brand is meteoric, everything that defines it as a Speyside Malt hasn’t changed. It’s a 19th century product embracing 21st century storytelling.
We round off the evening back at the Craigellachie Hotel in the foothills of the distillery, with more time than intended, at the fine Whisky bar. Despite being in earshot of the Elchies Estate, we find an egalitarian billing for all of Speyside’s finest brands, to offer the discerning (and novice) a spectrum of flavours, palates and hues.
And that’s one final and telling insight about Speyside and its relationship with The Macallan. Whilst some will see this as a temple to one brand, it’s in fact a cathedral to an entire region. The Macallan’s growth into global ‘superbrand’ status is a boost to all of Speyside and actually the country itself. It’s a remarkable symbol of Scottish (and British) soft power.