Macallan is the world’s third-best-selling single malt, after Glenfiddich and Glenlivet…but it is second place by value. This reflects the premium nature of the Macallan brand, and no small part of that ranking is likely down to the sale of many phenomenally expensive limited editions and vintage bottlings: from the £2,550 25-year-old Anniversary Malt, to the Macallan M decanter recently sold at auction in Hong Kong for $628,205, Macallan has become the single most sought-after Scotch whisky among collectors and the aspirational classes alike. Of late, its premium brand image has gone from strength to strength: in 2012’s Skyfall, James Bond trades in his trademark martini for a Macallan 50-year-old, and its $40,000-a-bottle 1926 Rare and Fine expression is drunk by Chinese billionaire Xander Feng in Netflix’s House of Cards. Little wonder that Macallan is often described as “the Rolls-Royce of single malt Scotch whisky”.
This astounding reputation is not ill-deserved. Macallan has long established itself as a malt which takes no shortcuts. Traditionally, they insisted on maturing their spirit solely in the highest quality sherry casks, sourced directly from Jerez, Spain: in fact, the Edrington Group, which owns the brand, has even invested in sherry vineyards to ensure the continuing supply of their precious oak, thus giving them the oversight they need to maintain quality. The exclusive use of sherry casks naturally drove up the price of the resulting whisky, particularly as sherry casks have become rarer and more expensive due to the falling popularity of sherry as a drink. In 2005, Macallan finally released a range of whiskies matured in bourbon cask wood (the “Fine Oak” series), but it is the classic heavily-sherried style that remains their trademark.
More recently, Macallan have courted controversy by shedding their old age-statement expressions in favour of the “1824 Series”, named Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby after the approximate colours of the spirit in the bottles. This gutsy embracing of the non-age-statement trend is likely due to the fact that demand for aged Macallan has skyrocketed in the last few years, particularly with the fast-growing aspirational middle classes in markets like China and India developing a taste for premium Scotch whisky. Replacing the famous 10- and 12-year-olds with non-age-statement releases in the more mature markets - such as Scotland - will help free up casks to continue to meet demand, but at the cost of losing the age statement from the bottle. The new expressions, now Macallan’s flagship brands, will bring them boldly into the twenty-first century continuing to push boundaries.