Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The Macallan New Distillery launch with El Celler de Can Roca

See here for our detailed post on the new Macallan Distillery and Visitor Centre.

As a whisky lover, it's fair to say I've had my fair share of great experiences since starting TimeforWhisky.com. From touring distilleries not open to the public (twice, and getting hands-on experience at a third), to tasting a $35,000USD whisky, to trying some of the world's most legendary whiskies and meeting more industry legends than I thought possible, it's been a good ride (and even more importantly, I've made some incredible friends along the way).

None of those experiences however could have prepared me for a phone call I received earlier this year, which went something along the lines of:

"Hi Martin, Edrington here. Would you like to join us in Scotland for the launch of the new Macallan Distillery and Visitor Centre in May? Flights and accommodation are on us. Oh, and we're also flying up to Orkney to visit Highland Park....if you're interested?"

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It's not really something you say no to, is it?


...and so a few months later, myself and a small handful of Hong Kong media found ourselves on-board a flight to Aberdeen (via London), leaving an increasingly humid Hong Kong for a surprisingly temperate Scotland, where for the next 5 days we'd:
  • See the sights of Speyside
  • Drink more than our fair share of The Macallan at our (almost) 24-hour-a-day pop-up hotel bar (which, alongside expertly-made cocktails and a large range of The Macallan, served gratis drams of No.6 and 25yo Sherry Oak!)
  • Visit the incredible Orkney Isles, including Highland Park and a number of historical sites
  • Enjoy dinner cooked by the 2nd best restaurant in the world (El Celler de Can Roca); and
  • Of course, visit the new Macallan distillery.
 
The menu and drams from the pop-up The Macallan bar, inside our hotel, running almost 24/7
The big event was held on the second night, where (after a few drams in the hotel bar, and some socialising between brand ambassadors, media, owners of the architectural and building firms who built the distillery, Forsyths owners and Edrington & Suntory executives) we all piled into Macallan-emblazoned Mercedes vans en-route to The Macallan estate.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a welcome sign, and a large, long black fence which went on, and on, and on, the entire length of the drive through the estate. We knew the distillery was somewhere beyond the fence, but just couldn't see it. It was pretty clear we weren't going to be allowed to break the media embargo (set at 12:01am), even if we wanted to.



 

Arriving early, we mingled on the lawn adjacent to Easter Elchies House for about an hour (frantically trying to warm up - it was the only properly cold day of the trip), enjoying Cava, cocktails and canap├ęs by El Celler de Can Roca, before making our way through the entrance to our dinner venue, which can only be descibed as something straight out of Hobbiton...



Entering the venue was equally as impressive - especially when you consider this was all a temporary pop-up space, to be used for only two more dinners after ours (for a total of three).


Now, whilst the most exciting part of this whole trip was obviously going to be touring the new distillery, I have to admit that as a lover of innovative restaurants, I was almost as excited about the food served by El Celler de Can Roca. In addition to the canap├ęs, our three-course dinner was also prepared by the restaurant, with matched sherry, whisky and cocktails.

The Macallan have had an association with the Roca brothers for some time now, so this was never going to be a "Roca" dinner in name only, but I was still surprised when all three brothers appeared on stage, to introduce the dinner and espouse their passion of Scotland. I later learned they'd also brought ~45 staff from Spain, to work in a 20m long temporary kitchen set up just for the event. I guess you don't get to be the top of your game by doing things by halves..

The two brands are obviously a very good fit, so it's good to see the relationship has lasted so long. I was just glad to be able to try a Macallan / Roca dinner without spending $10,000USD, if I'm honest!



Edrington's Creative Director, Ken Grier (whom we first met during the HK launch of the Sixth Lalique release) introduced the event, commenting on the immense undertaking and the desire back at the project's inception for a venue truly befitting a brand like The Macallan. Ian Curle (Edringon CEO) also gave an address, recalling his early years with Edrington, and commenting on the strong relationships which led to the success of the project - particularly with architects RSH-P who designed the new distillery, Robertson who built it, and Forsyths, who created The Macallan's former stills, along with with the 36 new ones within the new distillery.

Ian commented that the project could not have been as successful if it weren't for the strong relationships with these firms, two of which are local not only to Scotland, but Speyside, and all of whom demonstrated a strong passion for the project (which was clearly evident when we spoke to executives from each firm). From Ian the CEO, to the Edrington process engineers and marketing staff sitting at our table, it was clear that everyone involved shares a strong passion for the project (and understandably so).



As expected, dinner did not at all disappoint, with a well planned and executed menu that took just the right amount of time (considering we had a distillery to tour!) and didn't overshadow the paired drinks. The menu consisted of:
  • Spring Consomm├ę, Buds, Flowers, Leaves and Roots with Scallops and Razor Clams (paired with Pazo Se├▒orans Selecci├│n de A├▒ada 09 D.O. Rias Baixas)
  • Lobster Parmentier with Spring Mushrooms (paired with Gonzalez Byass Amontillado AB 12 Years D.O. Jerez)
  • Veal Oyster Blade with Beetroot (paired with The Macallan M Black); and
  • Cranachan, Whisky Cake and 'Barely, Wood and The Macallan Bonbons' (paired with The Macallan Enigma cocktail).

Not the Black bottle, but we were assured it was M Black. Notes to follow.

Following dinner, the 150-strong crowd was ushered out to the deck, overlooking Easter Elchies House, which sat in an eerie blue glow. As the drizzle persisted, we stood, looking, not quite sure what was to follow...


What followed was doubtless the most impressive projection show I've ever seen, narrating the story of The Macallan, from inception right through to recent record auction results and bottle re-designs. Our Australian readers would likely be familiar with Vivid Sydney, and the incredible projections and animations displayed on the Sydney Opera House each year. This was, without any word of a lie, even better, with some of the projections genuinely looking like they were popping out in 3D.

Photos hardly do it justice, but here are a few anyway:








Even this video on our Facebook page (which garnered over 90,000 views in the following days) doesn't quite do it justice, but should give an idea of what we experienced.

That wasn't to be our only impressive visual feast for the night, however. A brief walk across the Easter Elchies House lawn took us to the walkway for the new distillery and visitor centre - and our first glimpses. Or rather, our first glimpses of...black. We stood, knowing the distillery was up ahead, but not quite able to see it...

...and then this began.




A lot was said about this lightshow subsequently - not all of it positive. For myself (and most of us in attendance), it was an incredible spectacle, befitting a project of this magnitude, and let's be honest - if you'd spent £140m on a new facility, wouldn't you want to celebrate in a spectacular fashion?

..and for those arguing that Edrington should have focused on the whisky rather than fancy lighting effects, well, they had that covered too. Upon entering the new visitor centre and heading upstairs, we were handed a dram of this, and asked to save it for a toast. A quick nose confirmed this was definitely not your standard 18 or 25yo Sherry Oak...


When the toast was made, we learned it was a Macallan produced solely for the launch celebrations, with 55 year old Macallan as the youngest whisky within. Bottled at 50.3%, there were only 20 bottles produced. Whilst obviously only a small handful of people will have tried this, I say well-bloody-done to Edrington for this move. Here's a whisky they could have put into a Lalique decanter (or even a standard bottle), marketed as a limited release of 20 bottles, and probably made over $1m USD in revenue. Instead, they toasted their new endeavour with it, and let us join in.

Full tasting notes to follow in a separate post (it deserves one), but suffice to say it was an absolutely fantastic dram, exhibiting none of the negative characters that can come with a whisky that's spent 50+ years in oak.


That wasn't the only whisky on show either, with two new bottles unveiled - The Macallan Genesis - a release of 2,500 bottles bottled to celebrate the launch, and The Macallan Genesis Decanter in Lalique - a 72 year old Macallan, to be sold for $60,000USD/bottle.

Befitting an event like this, the remaining drams (available throughout the night) were pretty special too, including ReflextionNo.6, and M.


 


Whilst the drink menu itself was quite a spectacle, there was plenty around us to explore within the visitor centre, including The Macallan archive, just to the left of the entrance (a towering sight to behold, containing more or less every significant bottle of The Macallan imaginable), bars (said to serve over 900 different expressions of The Macallan), the gift shop, interactive exhibits, and for the launch night, a live band which played well into the wee hours.




On the stroke of midnight (and after having to quickly finish a friend's dram of the 55yo...) our tour of the distillery commenced - to be featured in a separate post shortly.


An immense thanks must go to Edrington, and their wonderful marketing team for the invitation to this incredible event (not to mention the flights and accommodation to get there). Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one I'm incredibly glad to say I experienced.

Cheers,
Martin.

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