Friday, 12 July 2013

Day 5 in Speyside!  Roy Shows Us Around Macallan!

Roy picked my wife and myself up from our bed and breakfast in Elgin first thing in the morning and we immediately get a move on.  We've got a busy day ahead of us today for today we visit Macallan!

Now Macallan holds a very special place in Roy's heart as he was born and raised on the Macallan estate with his father working for the distillery.  All through the week Roy has been telling us stories about growing up on Macallan and soon we'll be visiting this place we've heard so much about.

But first off we're visiting the Craigellachie Bridge, located on the River Spey.  This is near the Macallan estate and as wander the bridge Roy talks about growing up near the bridge, hanging out on it as a teenager, talking about the history of the bridge since it was built, how the area would flood every so often, how important this bridge was for the longest time.

While we're on the bridge I spy a fly fisherman using a Spey cast.  Roy has discussed this fishing technique over the week with us and it's pretty cool to see it in motion, even though the fisherman isn't quite doing it right according to Roy.

We wander the bridge, taking photos and talking with Roy, until he calls time.  It's off to Macallan we go!

We pull into the Macallan estate and wander into the visitor center which is very lovely.  Roy let's them know that we're here for the tour, and then lets them know that we're going to wander around the estate a wee bit since we're early.   

 He leads us out and further into the estate, toward where the warehouses are and even cooler, where the graveyard is.  Roy knows that I'm a huge history buff and he's been telling me about the history of Macallan.  The graveyard is part of that history.

On the way down to the cemetery Roy is busy texting with someone.  After a few back and forths he looks up at me and grins "Perfect!"

"I've got a surprise for you"


As we head down towards the cemetery Roy points out the sites, this is where he had his first kiss, that's where his best friend lived, that's where he lived, that's where him and his buddies lived.  It's a rare and intriguing look into this man's life, this man who has allowed us access into his world over this last week.

We go into the graveyard, which is this very small piece of land, but nicely maintained, with a few gravestones, a few headstones and a crypt at the end.  My wife is nervous seeing how she is superstitious so she stands closer to the exit gate, as Roy and I walk around.

The grass is green with just a few headstones to be seen and my wife comments on that.  This is when Roy informs her that the gravestones have decades since been grown over.  The entire land we're walking on is covered in graves.

My wife practically levitates off the ground after this announcement.  Roy shows me a stone that you can still read, dating to 1728!!  How interesting is that?!  Almost 300 years old!

Roy talks about playing in the graveyard as a child with his friends, describing even venturing into the crypts (remember there wasn't much to do on the distilleries as a young child, growing up back in the day.)  I eye the crypts, I'd love to go in, it'd be fascinating.  As I start towards the crypt all of a sudden we hear a noise.


We all jump up, my wife floating off the ground, myself rotating 180 degrees to see Frankie, our Macallan guide, she's there to let us know that the tour is about ready to begin!

Breath!  Just take a big breath!

We all head back up to the visitor's center and as we may our way back Roy informs us that after our tour we'll be having a private tour of Easter Elchies house, the original owner of Macallan.

I've no idea about Easter Elchie, but from the way Frankie and Roy are talking about it, my wife and I are in for a special treat!

We arrive back at the visitor's center where the rest of the group is.  An American family complete with son and daughter in laws, and a Spanish couple.  Frankie introduces herself to the group and the tour is underway.  Here we go!

Frankie leads us into this beautiful area  where there are several display cases with grain, malt, etc.  She gives the tour group a quick run down on the malting process and then we're led through the entire distilling process, the wort, the tun room, the still house.  We're not allowed to take any photos, but everything is very beautiful, hardwood floors and polished surfaces.  Once we're through the still house it's time for the cask room.  It's this entire room, beautiful hardwood, with all of these different examples of casks, even more it's a comparison area, with examples of American oak vs European oak, the difference in the forests where each are grown, the different ways the grain grows, everything.  It is VERY cool and an excellent way for people who are just getting into whisky to get an idea of how the different types of wood affect whisky.

Even cooler is that on our way to the warehouse we pass through a hallway lined with glass stoppers with aroma descriptions on each glass tube.  Vanilla, floral, fruity, apples, cinnamon, etc.  Want to work on your nosing?  Remove the glass stopper and take a nose!  Very cool!  Next stop is the warehouse!

Still no pictures allowed, but who cares!?  It's Macallan's warehouse!!

When we go into the warehouse there are all the whisky casks behind this locked cage door.  However in this little chamber for lack of a better term there are a few different casks of whisky which we're informed are different examples of different sherry types, etc  

Feel free to shove your nose into a bung and see what the different types of cask do to the whisky!  Check out the Oloroso sherry, or the Pedro Ximenez!  It's pretty darn cool and only the second distillery to do this since we've been in Scotland.

Now it's on to the tasting section!

The room we enter has a long table in the center with bottles, very expensive bottles on the shelves that surround the room.  On the table there is a spot for each of the visitors with 5 different glasses along with a pitcher of water.  The 5 different glasses are filled with Macallan new make, Macallan 10 year old Sherry Oak,  Macallan 12 year Sherry Oak, Macallan 18 year old Fine Oak and Macallan 25 year old Fine Oak.

Frankie walks us through the whiskies, I hold off on tasting as is my routine, until I know exactly what the tasting is comprised of.  I then work my way through the tasting in my order of operation.  I look next to me in time to watch in horror as one of the American women treats the entire line up as if she was shooting cheap rotgut. 

It's enough to make me cry.  She's treating this lovely single malt as if it's just something to get drunk on.  Sigh, why did she have to be American!?

We all work our way through these lovely whiskies in our own way, some of us appreciating them, some of us wishing they had some coke and once we've all enjoyed our whiskies the tour is over.  As we head back to the gift shop we hear one of the people who was treating the 25 year old like cheap whisky comment on how enjoyable it is and how they'll have to grab 3 or 4 bottles, until they're informed on the cost of them roughly $400 AUS each at which point he goes pale and is left stammering "but I just gulped it down"

Yeah thanks buddy, glad you enjoyed it, please come again.

We head back out to the gift shop at which point I grab a photo with Frankie and then Roy grabs us and we hop into the car.

This is when I know that something special is up.  My wife suspects that they don't want the other visitors seeing us going into Easter Elkies house.  It's possible, I'm not sure, it's a bit of a walk, but not very far so we hope into the car and about 30 seconds later we're at Easter Elchies house.

A pretty little house, but not terribly imposing.  Until you get inside.

Roy walks us inside where we meet some good friends of his, including Margaret, head brand ambassador for Macallan for the entire planet.  She's an older woman who is so very friendly.  Warm and to be honest a little motherly.  

Inside the house Margaret talks to us about the history of Macallan, Easter Elchie and his house.  It's fascinating as she regales us about the rich history of Macallan.  Even more fascinating are the bottles of whisky that adorn the shelves, bottles of whisky from the 30's, 40's, 50's, decade after decade.  Whiskies worth tens of thousands of dollars.  I'm in awe!  

I hesitantly look at Margaret and ask her if it'd be possible for me to, you know, touch a bottle, just a little.

She smiles warmly at me and says that wouldn't be a problem, but more she can't understand why I shouldn't hold a bottle.

I can think of over thirty thousand reasons I shouldn't be holding this bottle, but Margaret grabs a bottle of Macallan 50 year old from 1949, in a crystal bottle.  The whisky is almost black from the oak's influence.  It is lovely, special and something I never thought I'd see in person, much less touch.  It's also worth about thirty thousand US dollars.  I have never been more careful in handling a bottle in my life then I am right now.

I handle bottles of Macallan Lalique which are 55, 57 years old and worth even more.  I am petrified that I will drop one of these bottles any second, but when does one ever get to see something like this, this whisky history, much less touch it.  It's a moment that can only be called spiritual.

We grab a few photos of me handling these insanely rare whiskies and then Margaret asks if we'd like to see more?  

Oh god yes please!

She leads us into this little room next to the dining room and inside are all of these musical instruments and these empty bottles of Macallan from like the 1890's.  I'm stunned.  These bottles are over 100 years old.  I grab a few photos of them, touching them and ask Margaret if they have any bottles from that era with whisky still in them.

She informs me that no they no longer do.  A few years ago people on ebay and such were purchasing old empty bottles of whisky, rare bottles, and then filling them up with rotgut, water, urine, etc and selling them off as the real thing.  Due to this if a bottle had whisky in it, but Macallan couldn't sit there and account for it's entire time being inside the distillery's hands, they wouldn't chance holding onto the bottle with whisky in it.  

Instead for integrity's  sake, they poured the bottles of whisky down the sink.

That is dedication and I'm blown away.  If they couldn't say definitively that the whisky in the bottle was DEFINITELY Macallan, from that year, having never left the distillery, they poured it down the sink.


I'm in almost shock in this room, with the history literally soaking into the walls and am a little stunned when Margaret asks me if I'd like to hear the Hurdy Gurdy, the musical instrument surrounding us.

Would we ever?!

Roy grins at us and Margaret informs us that they'll be outside the room while the music plays, as when it plays IT PLAYS!


The music starts up, drums pounding, strings stringing, cymbals slamming, it's big, it's noisy, it's huge, it's AWESOME!

For the next 5 minutes or so I'm transfixed as this massive room wide instrument plays, sucking me further into the history of Macallan.

When it ends Roy and Margaret comes back in and ask me what we think.  It's BRILLIANT!

Margaret and we chat a little bit more as she shows us handwriting from Easter Elchie, promising a neighbor to buy her a dress if she can keep her rooster quiet in the mornings.  It's hilarious reading something written over a hundred years ago, sucking us further into the history of this land.

Sadly it's time for us to leave, something I'm so reluctant to do, but Margaret gives us a hug, tells us that we need to come back when we visit again, and allows me a quick photo with her.  This has been something lifechanging.

Roy asks what we thought and laughs at my speechless look.  He then informs my wife and myself that Margaret enjoyed having us in Easter Elchie's house and that we're invited back whenever we come back to Macallan.  

I can't wait already!

We've got another place to visit today.  The Knockado Mill.

Roy takes us down back country roads to this little mill that has been in operation for hundreds of years.  It's a mill that had run down for years while the owner tried to keep the place going.  It wasn't until the mill was featured on a nationwide tv show that raised support to bring it back up to a functioning status, with visitor's coming from all over the UK to see this little mill.  

Roy treats us to a lovely lunch and as we wait for our food we look through the gift shop with blankets, and tartans that were woven at the mill.  Stunning and beautiful.  Even cooler is that while we wait for lunch we wander this mill that is hundreds of years old and are able to see how tall people used to be by the height of the buildings!

At one point in time I would have been considered tall!  How crazy is that!? 

After lunch my wife and I call it an early day once more as on the morrow we're driving to Skye for a special VIP tour of Talisker on the Isle of Skye!

I'd like to take a quick minute to thank both Roy of AboutSpeyside tours and Margaret, head brand ambassador of Macallan for setting up that special visit of Easter Elchie's house.  I know that the visit to the house was a very special favor done for Roy and us and it was something that as I've already said before, has changed my life.  It was truly a day that I will remember for the rest of my life and I can't wait to visit Macallan again in a few years time!  At 20 pounds for the Precious Tour which features the 4 whiskies in their range including the 25 year old, this is a steal of a deal!

I'd love to post some photos but every time I do the system crashes so if you'd like to see some photos of incredibly rare whisky, Margaret, Macallan or anything else just send me a message!