Something remarkable has happened. No, it’s nothing to do with Pernod Ricard. The Macallan has launched the Tales of The Macallan range, kicking things off with a 71-year-old single malt whisky costing £60,000. And whisky maker Sarah Burgess was kind enough to join us to talk all about it.
Hey, guess what? A 71-year-old single-malt whisky from The Macallan was rolled into our warehouse recently, like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But unlike that particular rarity, which seems pretty meh in the face of whisky from 1950, this beauty will actually be leaving the warehouse to enter somebody’s lucky hands. How is this possible? Let’s start from the beginning.
A legacy worth celebrating
The first in a series of limited-edition single malt whiskies from the distillery, Tales of The Macallan Volume I pays tribute to Captain John Grant. Who? Why, the man who built the manor house on the 485-acre Easter Elchies Estate in 1700, the land that has been home to The Macallan Distillery since 1824, of course.
Born in 1659 in a remote location on the banks of the River Spey, Grant pursued a career in the military and returned from war to the land his family owned since 1543. He transformed the rugged landscape he inherited into the ‘garden of Elchies’, working the land to grow barley and helping to sustain a small farming community that would one day use its crops to distil whisky. By 1700, he had extended and refurbished Easter Elchies House which sits high on a hillside overlooking the River Spey.
“It seems crazy now, when he built the house as a holiday home it was only 20 miles from his actual house, but it started the foundations for the estate and without that decision we would have our spiritual home,” says Sarah Burgess, The Macallan’s whisky maker. “The story itself I find really emotional and moving. I actually cried during some of the filming we did after having an almost Back to the Future moment, because it really hit home how much things would be different without the decisions he made. We wouldn’t be here”.
The tale behind the Tales of The Macallan Volume I
Naturally when the brand decided to honour such a significant figure, the decision was made that it had to be a whisky of quality. The result was the Tales of The Macallan Volume I, made from spirit distilled in 1950 and bottled in 2021 at a remarkable 44.6% ABV. There’s just 350 decanters, retailing for £60,000 each.
Burgess explained the logic behind choosing this particular whisky. “John Grant’s attitude and approach was different and unusual and I wanted that to be reflected in the whisky. What I wanted was a Macallan that isn’t a representation of what Macallan is today, all sherried and rich dried fruit, I wanted to tell a different story”. Adding, “everyone who tasted it can’t believe how delicate, fresh and vibrant it is, with woodsmoke, citrus and lots of tropical fruit being the common notes”.
When I asked how the distillery manages to retain such a remarkable ABV, the answer was that such production secrets can’t be given away. Burgess did say it’s “all part of the secret and special way that The Macallan does things”, adding “That’s just who we are”. She also describes her relentless pursuit of perfection, including an example of not approving one expression until she turned down 27 versions, which seems a more tangible explanation why standards are so high. “I’m my own worst critic and should have more patience, but I believe that in order to tell the story correctly, every part needs to be right,” Burgess explains.
It pays to look the part
As you can probably guess as this is The Macallan we’re talking about, the presentation of this one is top tier swanky. We’re talking hand-crafted Lalique crystal decanters. Antique style leather-bound books decorated with 24ct gold. A collaboration with an illustrious illustrator, in this case Andrew Davidson (the guy who makes traditional print techniques using wood engravings, I hear you ask? The very same). There’s even a short film featuring a selection of Davidson’s illustrations set to an original piece of music composed by Nicola Benedetti. And yes, she is one of the world’s most influential classical artists of today, obviously.
As Burgess says, “Luxury requires more luxury”, adding: “The quality of the packaging has to match the quality of the whisky. A whisky distilled in 1950 and bottled in 2021 simply cannot be presented in a Tetra Pak carton”. And presumably the folks who will tragically never open and taste this remarkable whisky will enjoy all the additional reading materials and films.
Luckily ,Burgess did compile some tasting notes, so we can live vicariously through them. But what would John Grant think of all this? “I think someone who was prepared to build something so significant and distinctive in a time when we were recovering from the Jacobite Rebellion would appreciate what we are,” Burgess says. “Also what we do for the community through the Robertson Trust, he’d be really proud of that. It mirrors his attempts to create something for the community that was also special”.
Come and get your rare whisky!
So there you have it. If you’ve got £60,000 burning a hole in your pocket, then you can express your interest in purchasing a bottle of Tales of The Macallan Volume I here. A representative from our lovely team should contact you.
Sarah Burgess’ Tales of The Macallan Volume I Tasting Notes:
Nose: Grapefruit zest, antique oak, vanilla, melon, wood smoke, nutmeg, ripe plum and almond.
Palate: Peach and apple, wood spice with ginger and hints of clove, sweet wood smoke and yuzu.
Finish: A medium finish with citrus and sweet oak.