Macallan Distillery

What good are expensive and comprehensive marketing campaigns if the product isn’t world class? Conversely, what good is a premium product if nobody knows it exists? This is the tale of a distillery that, in a short amount of time went from obscurity to celebrity within the world of whisky. The story of creative dreamers who broke with all notions of what whisky is. This is the legend of Macallan.

In 1987 the dream came true for Willie Phillips. He had worked as an accountant for a Scottish Speyside distillery and – following two years as the finance director – applied for the position as managing director. Det var en ny udfordring for den tidligere talknuser, og nu skulle han flytte fra Edinburgh og hele vejen til den lille landsby Cragellaiche i midten af Moray. Having been among the first wave of Scottish distilleries to achieve a state permit, the former Elchies Estate had been bottling whisky since 1824. The estate had now changed its name into Macallan and he was excited to learn the ins and outs of the daily operation. He was eager, because he knew the place was responsible for the highest quality of whisky in the region. And surprised when, at his arrival, he was promptly given a pair of wellies. A managing director must learn the farm managing side of the business, after all.

With its densely located distilleries, Speyside has no shortage of competition. The real issue, however, was that nobody on the outside appeared to know of Macallan. The distillery, that made finely crafted batches using small pot stills, wouldn’t reach its potential if it continued to do so in anonymity. All this was about to change and Phillips enlisted two advertising executives, formerly responsible for a minor promotional campaign targeting investors overseas. He left them to work them with the words “We want a greater voice than our situation merits.” and a budget of £25,000. At the time, this sum was barely enough for a full-page ad in The Sunday Times. However, the efforts of art director David Holmes and copywriter Nick Salaman would herald the early beginnings of a comprehensive and global campaign that would demand the attention of all whisky fans.

“…from making Macallan and to making The Macallan.”

The format became small advertisement boxes on the crosswords pages of The Times. Comedic anecdotes and everyday occurances, often involving the workers at Macallan. Holmes brought talented artists to deliver the illustrations. The aim was to increase brand awareness without overwhelming the reader. They wanted to capture the attention of open-minded, educated opinion makers with a sense of humor. For instance with the story of a distillery worker who resented the idea of cork stoppers, in that they loudly exposed his habbit of enjoying a dram during working hours. As Salaman put it: “It wasn’t a loud trumpet, but one insistent horn that we blew.” Over time, this would expand into billboard posters and ad spots in theaters. It was now that they went from making Macallan and to making The Macallan.

Single Malt whisky was becoming a very popular drink in the 80’s. Going from producing whisky for various blends, Macallan now had their sights fixed on the new, booming market. It was time to meet the increasing demand and Macallan was ready. Releasing numerous premium batches of whisky matured in anonymity, they were ready to claim their place at the front of the pack. Come 1984, the result was a 18 year-old Single Malt whisky, matured in ex-sherry casks. That bottling impressived the Japanese brewing- and distillery giant Suntory to the point that they decided to invest in 25% of the company shares. A decade later, the remaining 75% were subsequently sold to Highland Distillers who, now as majority shareholders, had extensive plans regarding the future of Macallan. The adjoining farm that had previously delivered the foundation of Macallans finest bottlings, was restored and resumed production of luxurious barley. This also meant the replacement of the old guard; Phillips, Salaman and Holmes and a new crew of eager visionaries. Things were starting to pick up in a major way.

Macallan Distillery - Teletubby Land - Scotch Whisky - Speyside - photo

At the end of the 90’s, Highland Distillers became part of The Edrington Group and – with that – became the new owners of Macallan, Highland Park and Famous Grouse. This meant a significant increase of production capabilities and the Macallan distillery was expanded with several warehouses, primarily for storing exclusive Oloroso casks from Andalucia. They released the Fine Oak-series, matured in american bourbon casks to seek the attention of a new generation of whisky enthusiasts. Edrington focused on continuing the campaign for top-shelf, premium whisky. They initiated the Fine & Rare-series and began collaborating with artists worldwide in creating lively labels for beautiful bottles. The number of exclusive releases have only increased since then. For instance, with the attempt at pairing Macallan with the finest cuisine, in 2022 dubbed The Harmony Collection. True to tradition, this was an innovative and creative strategy and when the distillery moved locations to a brand new £170 million facility (lovingly called Teletubby Land, owing to its futuristic architecture), the expectations for the future were clearly laid out.

Nick Salaman, co-creator of the modest and quirky advertisements presented in 2018 the idea that perhaps whisky is taken too seriously. That whisky essentially is pleasure and enjoyment in a bottle and, therefore a part of the entertainment industry. While he’s no longer a part of Macallan, the insistent horn is still blowing. Two bottles of The Macallan 60 year-old were put up for sale in the airport of Dubai, that very same year. They were sold to the same buyer the next day, for the price of $600,000 – each. James Bond had enjoyed a few bottles of The Macallan in the movie Skyfall five years earlier, and the distillery had already claimed numerous Guinness world records. The most expensive bottle of whisky to date was auctioned off by Sothesby’s the following year at a record-shattering £1.5 millions. The now world renown Speyside distillery therefore hasn’t just achieved the highest status in Single Malt, but broken through the ceiling. And with that, Macallan no longer makes whisky but certified collector’s items.

At the Vault, we’re honored to present you to – or reunite you with – Macallan. Click here to begin exploring (or to resume) your journey. The independent whisky expert The Whisky Viking has also reviewed Macallan. Click here to see what he says, or swing by Macallan’s official website.

© Vault of SpiritsScotch Whisky