Three cheers for Charlie! Whisky writer Charles MacLean has been honoured for services to Scotch Whisky with an MBE after being named in Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

There’s something so wonderful about seeing somebody from the world of whisky get recognition from the mainstream. To us, master distillers and leading experts are like rock stars. But to the wider world whisky can still be something of a niche category. 

But every now and then something happens in whisky which makes waves outside our industry. This week the Queen’s Birthday Honours list made headlines and there was one notable figure from our world included, Charles MacLean.

MacLean, author of 18 books including Spirit of Place and Whiskypedia, is being recognised for his services to Scotch Whisky, UK exports and charity with an MBE. One of 47 recipients, MacLean was honoured alongside health and education leaders thanked for their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic and pop sensation Lulu, so he’s in good company. 

Charles MacLean to receive MBE

MacLean is now an MBE!

Emotionally overcome

When we called MacLean this morning to offer our congratulations, he said he was “emotionally overcome.” And explained how he was “greatly surprised” when he received a letter from the Cabinet Office on 28 May informing him of the honour. Until the announcement on Saturday, he was “sworn to secrecy.”

In a statement, he said: “It is a tremendous honour to be recognised by The Queen for a career dedicated to a personal passion – Scotch whisky. This honour is one of my proudest moments, and it has been a challenge to keep it a secret from my nearest and dearest, but I am very much looking forward to celebrating with them where more than a few whiskies will likely be enjoyed”.

He also remarked that when he set out to write about whisky that he “could not have imagined the events that would unfold over the next four decades”. MacLean says this was a career he very much fell into. He holds degrees in art history, from St Andrews University, and law, from the University of Dundee. Previously he attempted to embark on a career in the legal profession but he soon realised it was not for him. MacLean then set out to become a writer and got his first paycheque writing about the whisky industry for Bell’s in 1981.

Charles MacLean to receive MBE

McLean will receive his MBE for services to Scotch whisky not tonic wine

Whisky ambassador extraordinaire

He has been writing about whisky ever since and has spent the last 40 years authoring books, touring the world giving talks and presenting tastings as well as acting as a consultant to the whisky industry on a variety of matters, becoming an invaluable ambassador for the national drink of Scotland in that time. 

MacLean was elected a Keeper of the Quaich in 1992 for “his services to Scotch over many years” and elected Master of the Quaich, the industry’s highest accolade, in October 2009. He even played himself in Ken Loach’s 2012 feature film The Angels’ Share

He told us that he celebrated the honour with a few friends and neighbours at a garden party with nothing fancier than Johnnie Walker Black Label. Congratulations to you, Charles. Or, should we say Charles MacLean MBE. It’s a well-deserved honour.