The Macallan is the second or third best-selling single-malt scotch whisky brand in the world. They’re also one of the most expensive whisky brands in the world. And I don’t just mean the rare bottles that keep breaking records for the most expensive whisky ever sold (in the millions). Many of their core range cost around $100. Or more. But there’s a reason for this. In fact, there are six reasons why Macallan whiskies are so expensive.
1. They’re Made from The Best Barley Grains
Macallan whiskies are expensive because they’re made from the best barley grains.
Single malt Scotches are already expensive due to the fact that they’re made from 100% malted barley. The lengthy malting process – where barley is soaked, left to germinate and then dried over a kiln, that other grains do not undergo makes barley a more expensive grain to make whiskies from and even more so in single malts where no amount of other cheaper grains can be used.
On top of this, Macallan whiskies are made from the best barley which obviously increases production costs and therefore the expense of the final product. Macallan are constantly evaluating their barley and working to refine it. They have even invested in their own strain which they grow on the estate where the Macallan distillery is located and other farms around Scotland.
One of their expressions – the Macallan Estate, is made using ‘a proportion of barley grown at [their] estate’ which is usually reserved for more exclusive editions. It costs more than $250! Imagine what it would have cost if it were made from more than ‘a proportion’ of barley from their estate!
2. They’re Distilled in Very Small Stills
The second reason why Macallan whiskies are so expensive is because they’re distilled in very small stills.
All single malt Scotches must be distilled in pot stills and not column stills. A pot still has a bowl shape at the bottom, a narrow neck at the top and distills alcohol in batches. A column or continuous still has the shape of a column and distills alcohol continuously.
Once again, this is something that makes all single malt Scotches more expensive because producing something in batches is less economical than a continuous production process. Nevertheless, pot still distillation is used for single malt Scotches because it produces a distillate with more congeners (flavor compounds) and therefore, more flavors.
Another difference between pot stills and column stills is that pot stills come in all sorts of shapes and sizes which affects the distillation, and the congeners in different ways and therefore the whisky’s flavor. That’s why distillers go to great lengths to ensure that their stills are the best size and shape for producing whisky with the flavors they want.
The pot stills Macallan use are some of the smallest in the industry. A small still means that the alcohol vapor doesn’t have very far to travel so more of the heavier and more flavorful vapors will make their way into the condenser. In larger and taller stills where the alcohol vapors have further to travel the heavier vapors are more likely to fall back into the liquid and only the lighter, less flavorful vapors are collected.
While using smaller stills allows Macallan to produce a more flavorful distillate, it also makes their distillation process even less economical and more expensive than it already is, so it’s no wonder that their whiskies are more expensive.
3. They’re From a Very Finely Cut Distillate
Macallan only use a very fine (small) cut of their distillate and that too increases production costs and the expense of the final product.
When whisky is distilled, alcohol from the beginning and end of the run is not used because it contains undesirable (and sometimes dangerous) elements that give the whisky an unpleasant flavor. The closer the alcohol is to the middle or heart of the run, the better it is and it’s the job of the stillman to cut the distillate and collect only the best part of it.
Every brand cuts the distillate differently and obviously they only want to include the best part of it, but this is expensive. The narrower the distillate is cut, the better the distillate that is collected, but also the less is used and the more expensive the whisky will be. The wider the distillate is cut, the more undesirable elements will be included, but with more used the cheaper the whisky will be.
And don’t forget, single malts are distilled in pot stills where distillation occurs in batches, so this cut is happening often. (In a column stills which run continuously, you’re not cutting the distillate nearly as often.)
Macallan whiskies are made from an incredibly small cut of the distillate, one of the finest in the industry. They do this because they want to ensure that their whiskies have the Macallan ‘signature viscous mouth-feel and fruity aroma and flavor’. But this comes at a price.
4. They’re Matured in High Quality Casks
Macallan estimate that over 80% of the flavor of their whiskies come from the cask during the maturation process, which is why they invest in every aspect of the six-year journey that their wood takes to become a barrel. Some of these aspects are:
- They use 70-year-old American oak and 100-year-old European oak.
- They air dry the logs for one year to preserve the character of the wood needed for maturation and to ensure its heavy oils don’t spoil the whisky.
- The American oak is then transported to Spain and left to dry for another year in the sun for optimum moisture content.
The common denominator in all these things, is that they increase the cost of the barrels. I’m sure that by now, you’ve noticed the pattern.
Macallan spend a lot of money in sourcing, crafting, seasoning and caring for its casks. With such an important contribution to the overall flavor of the whisky, it’s what makes Macallan single malt Scotches some of the best in the world. But with so much spent on high-quality casks, it’s also what makes them some of the most expensive whiskies in the world.
5. Their Color Is 100% Natural
Many distilleries add caramel coloring or E150a to their whiskies. They do this because it makes it easier to produce whiskies with a consistent color. This is not something that would otherwise happen naturally because whisky starts out with no color at all (the distillate is a clear liquid) and gets all its color from the barrel in which its matured. As each barrel is different, they will produce a different colored whisky.
While consistency of color is good many whisky drinkers also want their whiskies to have a natural color. Macallan is one of the few Scotch distilleries that don’t add caramel coloring, so all their whiskies retain their natural color.
This makes it much harder to keep the color of their whiskies consistent as without being able to use caramel coloring the Master Whisky Maker has to blend different barrels from different batches until the correct color is achieved. This means that certain barrels will not be able to be used (at least as intended) due to producing whisky with the wrong color.
It’s yet another constraint on the Macallan whisky making process which increases production costs and therefore, the price of their whiskies.
6. They’re Well Branded and Marketed
The last (and according to some most important, and according to others only) reason why Macallan whiskies are so expensive is because of branding and marketing.
Macallan has been making exceptional quality single malt Scotch whisky for years and is therefore a well-established and trusted brand with an excellent reputation.
Additionally, Macallan has a huge PR apparatus and spends a fortune in branding and marketing. As the brand got more attention in the 2000s, their prices increased often and Macallan became one of the most expensive whisky brands in the world. It’s now a premium product and associated with luxury and success, and in some parts of the world, Macallan has even become a status symbol.
So while Macallan whiskies are more expensive in part because of a better quality and therefore more costly whisky making process, some of their expense is not justified by anything more than the fact that it’s Macallan.