New whisky distillery in Moray 'like nothing else'

By Douglas Fraser
Business/economy editor, Scotland

image copyrightMagnum Photos
image captionThe new distillery on the Easter Elchies estate in Speyside

A new landmark whisky distillery is "like nothing else in the world", according to the man responsible for one of the premium brands it will make.

Scott McCroskie, the head of The Macallan brand, said the Speyside building was an "incredible" space.

Edrington, the firm that owns Macallan, has taken the risk of closing down its old distillery.

It has created an entirely new one less than 500m (547 yards) away, with precise copies of old copper stills.

image copyrightMark Power/MAGNUM PHOTOS
image captionThe stills were hand crafted by local coppersmiths

The new distillery, on the Easter Elchies estate near Craigellachie in Moray, has been camouflaged under a vast turf roof, to blend in with the rolling hillside.

It is believed to be the most expensive in the country, going 40% over budget, with a total cost for the production facility and visitor centre of £140m.

image copyrightMagnum Photos
image captionThe ceiling consists of 2,500 panels, few of them the same

The roof, with 10cm (4in) depth of turf and meadow flowers, covers 14,000 sq m.

Underneath are ventilation, vapour control, flexible waterproofing and irrigation systems.

Under those is a complex ceiling structure comprising 2,500 panels, few of them the same.

image copyrightMark Power/MAGNUM PHOTOS
image captionThe distillery blends into the Speyside scenery

The building was the subject of an international design competition won by Graham Stirk of Rogers, Stirk, Harbour & Partners.

His inspiration for the different-sized mounds on the landscaped roof were Scotland's ancient brochs.

Mr McCroskie said: "When you see the distillery, you will see it is like nothing else on Speyside, arguably like nothing else in the world."

image copyrightMagnum Photos
image captionAerial view of the new distillery on the Easter Elchies estate

The builder was Robertson Construction of Elgin, with 400 people working on the project.

It has taken three and a half years to build, excavating earth from a former barley field.

The design integrates the visitor experience with the production facility.

image copyrightMagnum Photos
image captionThe new distillery at night time

Small tour groups will be taken round six "pillars" of whisky-making, including cask cooperage and maturation.

The distilling process can be controlled by only two people, while the boost to employment is in the visitor centre.

Sixty additional people are being employed, as Edrington expects a near doubling of first year visitors, from the 17,000 who looked over the old distillery last year.

image copyrightMagnum Photos
image captionThe visitor experience is an important part of the new building
image copyrightMagnum Photos
image captionThe distillery visitor centre is an important part of the design

A restaurant is also being opened on site.

The old building is to become a "ghost distillery", retaining its copper stills.

Keen to ensure consistency between the established Macallan single malt and the newly-produced casks, Forsyth's coppersmiths of Rothes produced precise replicas.

image copyrightMark Power/MAGNUM PHOTOS
image captionThe new stills and the engineering underneath them

Production began in November, and the company claims results so far are strongly consistent.

A lot rides on them being right, as Macallan is sold at premium prices on its provenance and consistency.

On Friday in Hong Kong, a 1986 bottling of 60-year-old malt from its Speyside distillery twice smashed the record for a single bottle of auctioned whisky, first at £750,000 and later the same day at £814,000.

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Among Scotch single malts, Macallan has leading positions in the USA, Taiwan and Japan.

The £140m cost of the new distillery is part of a £500m spend on building Macallan over 12 years.

It will have one-third extra production capacity, and extra warehousing has been built.

image copyrightMagnum Photos
image captionMr Curle said the distillery was first and foremost an industrial plant

Ian Curle, chief executive of Glasgow-based Edrington, said the building was a "statement" of the company's ambition.

He said he did not think the expansion was a gamble, more an educated view of the trends which were seeing more affluent consumers around the world adopting an appetite for premium goods.

Mr Curle said: "We have gone to enormous lengths to ensure that the newly-produced spirit is identical.

image copyrightMark Power/MAGNUM PHOTOS
image captionThe view from a walkway leading to the entrance

"We took a death mask of the existing stills and made exact replicas of those.

"The water source remains the same, the barley is the same.

"We have gone through extensive testing as we commissioned the plants.

"And of course the casks we bring in from Spain are just the same."

Visitor centres

The distillery opens to the public on 2 June.

A tour will cost £15, in guided groups of up to 12, and recorded explanations in nine languages.

The focus on distillery visitor centres has grown rapidly in recent years.

Also on Speyside, William Grant & Son was among the first to see the potential with expansion of the Glenfiddich centre.

In April, industry giant Diageo announced plans to invest £150m in its distillery visitor centres, including a major new Johnnie Walker building in Edinburgh.

Its 12 existing centres saw a 15% rise in visitors last year to 440,000.

Data distilled

image copyrightMagnum Photos
  • The distillery and visitor centre cost £140m - part of a £500m investment in Macallan over 12 years
  • The building is 120m (394ft) long by 68m (223ft) and with a height of 18m (59ft)
  • The roof has 1,800 beams and 2,500 panels, comprising 380,000 components. Few panels are the same
  • On top is a 14,000 square metre "meadow", and inspired by Scotland's ancient brochs
  • It has a single mash tun, 21 stainless steel washbacks, 12 wash stills and 24 spirit stills
  • The Macallan distillery dates back to 1824, though the name has been used since the 1890s
  • Edrington, its owner, also produces Famous Grouse, Highland Park and Cutty Sark.
  • Its dividends are paid into the Robertson Trust, set up by the three sisters who had inherited the firm, and the trust has paid £250m in charitable donations since 1961

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