Easter Elchies, The Estate Built By Whisky
You don’t need to be a Scotch drinker to appreciate the beauty of its ancestral home: Speyside.
In our editorial series The Macallan Rare Cask Society—sponsored by The Macallan Rare Cask—we will be looking at the the qualities and characteristics that define Scotch whisky. Click here for more of our Rare Cask Society.
If you suddenly find yourself itching to create your own brand of Scotch whisky, you’ll need more than just barley, water, and yeast. You’ll need a secret weapon—a driving force in your arsenal that gives it soul. Every successful brand has it. For Scotland’s 190 year-old The Macallan, it finds its spiritual force in its gorgeous, sprawling estate located in the northeastern part of the country referred to as Speyside, an area known for producing rich, bold whiskies.
Imagine driving through the Scottish countryside, rolling through a vast landscape of green hills and cloudy skies. Then, off in the distance, appears a roving 370-acre estate filled with cattle, barley fields, a river, and buildings stacked with large Spanish oak barrels. At the center of it all is Easter Elchies House—one of the so-called six pillars of the company. Built in 1700 out of locally quarried sandstone for Captain John Grant, it’s a beautiful, Scottish styled home, with crow stepped gables and a turret. There is a reason this house appears on every bottle.
The story of The Macallan begins here, more than a hundred years after the home’s construction, when Alexander Reid, a local farmer and school teacher, decided to lease eight acres from then owner the Earl of Seafield to establish a distillery. Scottish farmers had already been making whisky in the area for centuries with their surplus barley. The land at Easter Elchies was the ideal place for Reid to set up his business. The ground was fertile, with alluvial, or unconsolidated, soil. There was water that could be pumped on the grounds. Plus, the Spey, one of the most famous salmon rivers in the world, bordered the south side of the estate. It was a pristine environment. Reid planted a flag, ready to make his mark in the world of whisky, backed by ambition and a gorgeous piece of land.
What makes the estate special 190 years later isn’t just its beautiful, idealistic location. It’s the transformation the grounds have seen since Reid first leased them in 1824. As subsequent owners spearheading changes (Reid sold the company in the mid-1800s) and the company exchanged hands, The Macallan grew from a local favorite into one of the best selling single malts on the planet. At the same time, the Easter Elchies House began to deteriorate. When Reid came on board, he had only leased part of the land to farm on; the deal did not include the house. Which is why in 1961, the distillery finally decided to purchase the estate and its adjoining home. The house was always at the heart of The Macallan’s mission. Now it was official. The company soon embarked on a refurbishment of Easter Elchies, opening to the public in 1985.
What will you find if you make the trek to the distillery’s grounds today? You will find a site that matures close to 200,000 casks of whisky. You will find soft spring water that emanates from boreholes on the grounds, pouring out over the earth’s oldest known geological rocks. You will find winding pasture for sheep and highland cattle. You will find one of the best places on earth to go salmon fishing. You will find fields of barley, sown in the spring and harvested in the fall, two and a half tons of which will yield around 1,800 bottles of The Macallan. And, perhaps most importantly, you will find a roving cast of characters—the employees of distillery. There’s Winkie Bremmer, the ghillie for The Macallan fishing boat; Alexander Tweedie, the production manager; Morag Ralph, the hospitality manager; and Bob Dalgarno, the Master Whisky Maker. They all play a part in this whirling, well oiled machine, helping bring The Macallan to life.
To think this is all just the beginning. And By Spring 2017, The Macallan will have created a new expansion to the grounds, with a beautiful building that has been designed to fit right into what the company has already established. The Macallan began right here, 190 years ago. From the looks of it, they plan on staying another 190.