The Macallan Scotch’s Otherworldly New Distillery + Visitor Center

An architectural wonder that rolls into the Speyside, Scotland hills

There’s an inherent magic to the rolling green hills of the Scottish Highlands. Nature imparts peace, beauty and—of course—an imprint on the whisky produced throughout the region. With their brand new distillery—which looks as if were pulled from the pages of Tolkien—The Macallan‘s facility rolls directly into the landscape of their 370-acre estate. It’s by far the most beautiful, future-forward and unobtrusive distillery for a single malt scotch brand. Imagined by the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners architectural firm, it marks a £140 million investment from The Macallan’s parent, Edrington. And after three years and six months of construction, it’s ready to open. Production commenced back in November 2017 before a complete shift to the new spirit stills one month later. For us, it warranted a return visit to Speyside.

One barley field and roughly half a million tons of earth were move. As The Macallan Creative Director Ken Grier explains, it was inspired both by Santiago Calatrava’s Bodegas Ysios winery and the idea of a Scottish broch, or landmark. It stretches underground, 120 meters by 60 meters—entirely cohesive inside and out. Over 1,800 single beams, 2,400 roof elements, and more than 380,000 individual components comprise the structure—and the roof is the most complicated timber construction in this category, across the world. Seeing it from the inside reinforces this idea, with wood from Scandinavia that was planed in Germany and pre-assembled in Austria. It was dropped atop the rest of the steel and concrete structure. With powerful consideration, The Macallan distillery announces that the future is a return to grass-covered mounds of timber and earth.

In an overwhelming display of brand history, 840 archival bottles of The Macallan rise in a jewel case exhibit, with the oldest bottle on site dating back to 1841. An electronic periscope rises to let visitors scour the collection. A nearby retail center lets guests grab hold of select and rare products. But it’s the bar that’s a true standout, where 384 individual expressions are served—where the oldest dram they’re pouring is from 1946. Art connects everything, including the brand’s Master of Photography series. It stands out on everything from polished concrete to Polish Plaster. There’s a premium, sci-fi texture to much of the interior (wood aside), bolstered by £1.5 million on lighting alone.

“It’s a living building,” Grier continues. This manifests in dozens of ways. For instance, the triple wave glass walls are pivoted at their base because the roof moves. Its inception was highly-collaborative. “We encouraged everyone to think radically,” Grier says. “We wanted to make the statement that in our opinion The Macallan is the greatest luxury spirit in the world. We did want to intrinsically relate the building with the process being the liquid, but we chose to do it an interesting way, where form and function intertwine like a double helix.” Many ideas were fleshed out on whiteboards, from the Roman amphitheater elements of the bar to the line of sight from whisky production to the mountain, Ben Rinnes, rising in the distance.

The facility will allow for an increase in production by approximately one third. The brand installed 12 wash stills and 24 spirits stills (a substantial increase from 14 of the former and seven of latter in the previous distillery, which has been moth balled). It’s now a leader in technical certification and specifications. And 95% of the energy consumed is drawn from renewable resources, and the nearby Biomass Power Station. Inside, an entire modular production area can still be developed if—continuing with the current demand for single malt Scotch—more needs to be produced.

The grounds are historic. While Macallan’s been (legally) producing whisky on the estate since 1824, it’s very likely distillation occurred even earlier. One home, built from sandstone back in 1700 and known as the Easter Elchies House, is visible from the new distillery. “The house is our beating heart,” Grier explains. “We thought, during development, ‘How do we have a distillery that does not dwarf our home?’ We developed a linearity that extends from the past seamlessly into the future.” Beyond it,

90 acres of barley grow and there’s a mile and a half strip of the River Spey. Highland cattle meander in certain areas—unaware of the futuristic happenings not far away. This only underscores the facility’s success.

Both the distillery and visitor experience open to the public on 2 June. Then, £15 will secure a general tour and four drams of The Macallan. A VIP experience will be announced later. Now, those chasing Scotch may have to vie with those who cannot let an architectural wonder pass, for that’s what this is. “We loved the beauty, the humbleness and the fit of the design,” Grier concludes. “It had landscape value, but also this Bond villain lair quality. It’s really quite fun.”

Images by David Graver