The Macallan 72 Years Old in Lalique

2018 has been a big year for The Macallan; as of the 2nd June, their new distillery is open to the public. It is an extraordinary undertaking, driven by capacity issues (demand for The Macallan far outstrips supply) and a dramatic increase in brand value over the last twenty years. These are nice problems to have… You need to build a bigger distillery to make more whisky, and you need a bigger place to host an increasing number of visitors.

The traditional approach to these two problems is to separate them; build a nice big shed for your new distillery, and then build another shed next to it, marked “Visitor Centre”. Better still, put the visitors shed up near the car park and keep it entirely separate, out of the way of the lorries and the machines and the DANGER. A distillery is a factory and that’s how factories operate. You can dress the visitors shed with a bit of stage scenery on the exterior, maybe some barrels here and there, perhaps even a sculpture of some sort, and carry on as normal. For The Macallan this would have cost about £60-70m.

As it stands, The Macallan have spent £120m, and built this.

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The architect is Graham Stirk of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, who won a high profile competition set by Ken Grier, the Marketing Director of The Macallan, beating Foster + Partners, Herzog & de Meuron, Adjaye Associates and Michael Laird.

And the distillery and visitor centre are in the same building.

It’s easy to underestimate what an achievement this is; there are plenty of wineries with grand architectural schemes that are open to the public. But making whisky is not the same as making wine; distillation is volatile. The risk of fire is so real that on most whisky tours you aren’t allowed to take photos or use your phone in case it causes an explosion. Putting large numbers of the public in that environment requires serious thought. You are also obliged to make the manufacturing end of the distillery attractive.

 

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To celebrate the opening of the distillery we have been working on three commemorative projects, the first of which is the The Macallan 72 Years Old in Lalique. It is the oldest whisky The Macallan have ever released; an edition of six hundred decanters at $60,000 each.

As the distillery was at an early stage when these projects started, we were looking at renders and drawings, rather than the building itself.

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We also had an early render of the decanter from Lalique, who were proposing a low carafe shape, almost a ships decanter, with an undulating line around the circumference drawn from the roofline of the building.

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To understand the distillery better we met with Graham Stirk, who revealed that although the plans were complex, the principle of the building was very simple.

Each still house is a circle

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held within a square

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under a roof that rises to fit what’s held underneath.

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For additional still houses, simply add more squares.

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This became the principle for the edition:

Imagine the decanter as the still, at the centre of the still house,

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underneath a curved roof to accommodate it’s height.

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And raise the base level to secure it; seat the decanter low on the horizon, like the distillery itself.

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The curved roof sections are shaped from mahogany interleaved with thin layers of white maple. Making ply from these timbers before shaping the curves provides stability; a bowl is a stable structure, half a bowl is not.  Without the ply these pieces would warp immediately.

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Once the bowls are carved, they are sent for lacquering and polishing. To achieve a pure gloss finish requires seven layers of lacquer, with a full polish between each coat.

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All the fittings are solid brass, with the fitments lined in linen and goat suede. It’s a shame most people will only see photos of the case and decanter (let alone try the whisky) because they are beautiful objects to touch; tactile and perfectly weighted. Huge thanks must go to NEJ Stevenson for their cabinetmaking skills, and to Shepherds Bindery for the lining work. Finally I need to thank The Macallan, for allowing us to develop a project entirely without compromise.

You can find out more about The Macallan 72 Years Old at  www.themacallan.com

See the full project here.