The Macallan unveils The Red Collection, a series of rare 40-, 50- and 60-year-old single malt whiskies

Red, the colour of choice for The Macallan’s newest collection

The Macallan’s master whisky maker, Kirsteen Campbell, talks about The Red Collection, sustainable innovation and performance excellence

by : Hannah Choo

Excellence in whisky is hardly a singular achievement. It is the result of extraordinary collaboration that goes beyond the dazzling display of marketing panache. Building on the solid ground already set by predecessors, everyone must pull together toward the same goal – to maintain integrity, leave a legacy and to have a desire for continuous improvement.

The Macallan succeeds only because everyone involved does his or her job, and with flying colours. Its starchitect-designed home in Easter Elchies, which was completed back in 2018, is a profound testament to its practice of placing outstanding quality above all else. The space-age distillery, with its grassy, undulating roof that mirrors the Speyside’s rolling hills, takes The Macallan into the future while rooting it in its origins.

A stroll through the distillery will reveal the world’s most complex timber ceiling in the world (each piece is put together like a jigsaw puzzle without glue or hammering), multimedia nooks that appeal to all senses, and the whirring of mash tuns and burnished copper stills.

To call out any spirit in particular would be an injustice to those left unmentioned, but for now, we must. It hasn’t been long since The Red Collection was unveiled. Inspired by the surname of its founder, Alexander Reid – which means ‘the red one’ – and its first vintages that were released in the 1980s, it is an extraordinary combination of forces. The collection represents a piece of The Macallan’s long-standing history and encapsulates the distillery’s love of tradition and craftsmanship. At the heart of the collection, are its oldest ongoing expressions, the 40-, 50- and 60-year old whiskies. From time to time, these are joined by a supporting cast of older guest releases; for now, a limited-edition trio of the 71-, 74- and 78-year old bottlings.

Kirsteen Campbell, the first female whisky maker in the almost 200 years of The Macallan, talks about the brand’s history, the future, sustainability and excellence.

The Red Collection reflects The Macallan’s storied past. Why is history and heritage so important for building the future?

Kirsteen Campbell (KC): Our predecessors took the brave decision to invest in sherry casks and lay the foundations for the future of The Macallan. This long-standing tradition of mastery of wood, and the vital influence of casks on the character of our whisky, is a factor that has not changed since our creation in 1824. This investment in casks shaped our signature style for The Macallan and the quality we see in our whiskies today, achieved by expertise in maturation and whisky making working hand in hand.

We believe that sustainability can be a driver of innovation, rather than a barrier... the right path is not always the easiest

Of the collection, which whisky do you hold the closest to your heart and how would you enjoy it?

KC: The Macallan Red Collection presents an incredible array of some of our most exceptional whiskies, so it is hard to select one. However, if I had to, it would be the 60 Years Old due to its incredible complexity. On every occasion I assessed the whisky in developing the release, I was able to pick up new and interesting flavours. The rich influence of sherry casks is evident, imparting a real depth of character with tropical fruit notes of mango and papaya, while hints of dark chocolate and lime create a complex finish.

When people drink The Red Collection, what do you want them to take back from the experience?

KC: Its carefully curated selection of ongoing aged expressions and high-aged guest releases truly represent a piece of our long-standing brand’s history. Every precious drop offers a unique opportunity to explore The Macallan’s whisky-making legacy. The incredible elegance and rich flavours of the expressions that form The Red Collection are a direct result of the knowledge and skills of our master whisky makers, past and present.

How does The Macallan keep tradition relevant?

KC: The past is an integral part of our brand. It has shaped our signature flavour, of the whiskies we make today and will do into the future. Our eye is on the past, but we are most definitely looking to the future. One clear example of this is our brand home, The Macallan Distillery on our estate in Speyside, which we opened in 2018. One of The Macallan’s marks of distinction is what we affectionately refer to as our curiously small stills. These copper stills are one of the defining features of our distillation process and play a crucial role in creating our fruity, malty spirit. For The Macallan Distillery, we commissioned long-time copper specialist Forsyths to create exact replicas of the old stills in the former distillery – the exact same shape and size of our original copper stills. This ensures that the character of our new-make spirit is preserved and consistent.

While tradition and craftsmanship are of great importance to the brand, do you also get to be experimental with the whisky?

KC: There is the more creative side of the role, when I work with the Whisky Mastery Team to formulate new expressions, and that is where my ‘artsy’ side comes into play. Like how an artist works with colours to create images that are appealing to the eye, I work with mixing flavours in a way that is appealing to the palate. Like art, it is all a matter of taste and the range and choice of flavours is enormous.

What do you consider The Macallan to be a role model for?

KC: Sustainability is a constant guiding principle and mindset that is at the heart of everything we do. Our consumers demand more of themselves and of us, so we have extra responsibility because of our capability to lead, inspire others and drive positive change.

What are some of the main challenges you face at The Macallan when striving for sustainable innovation and performance excellence?

KC: We believe that sustainability can be a driver of innovation, rather than a barrier. We know that the right path is not always the easiest. It is also not something we can do alone and we work with our partners to achieve our ambitious goals.

What does excellence mean to you?

KC: Excellence for me is that consistent quality we achieve at The Macallan. I have been lucky enough to have been mentored by some incredibly talented whisky makers and I remember being in awe of their ability to bring so many flavours together to create an exceptional whisky. Having such an array of colour and characters available, yet being able to bring them together to a right balance of flavour and natural colour blew my mind.

Competition can breed excellence. What is The Macallan motivated by?

KC: Our brand is motivated by our own continual improvement driven by our own exacting standards. We look to the future and have a desire to learn, lead and innovate. This mindset of continuous improvement and pushing boundaries is also key to achieving our uncompromised excellence. A complete set of The Red Collection is now exclusively showcased at The Macallan Experience at the Raffles Arcade. Individual bottles are also available for purchase, starting at S$20,500.