We are now living in the golden age of Whisky tourism. Now if these are two words you never thought you’d see together, then you are not alone. But more and more people are spending their holidays and weekends travelling to distilleries to get closer to, and a better understanding of, their favour tipple.
Especially in Scotland, Whisky tourism has taken on a life of its own. Attracting a record-breaking 1.7 million visitors in 2016, Whisky tourism is a trend that is not only expected to continue but significantly increase over the next few years.
Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) comments that there has been a 25% increase in visits to Scottish Whisky distilleries since 2010. “Scotch Whisky producers have invested in distillery visitor centres, their staff and shops to ensure their guests get the best possible experience”.
The New Macallan Distillery
A case in point is the new, state-of-the-art £140 million Macallan distillery that is scheduled to open to the public at the end of next week.
Taking six years and 8,000 tons of steel, the Macallan facility—which houses both the distillery and the visitor center—combines industrial than organic, as it reflects and complements the natural beauty of the area surrounding The Macallan Estate.
While the building is truly inspiring, it is the experience that visitors can gain about Whisky and the brand, that will have people lining up.
Walking through the Macallan distillery will be like no distillery tour you have ever done before. Designed to be a ‘mecca’ for lovers of Scotch Whisky, the enormous visitors centre offers a plethora of interactive experiences, jaw-dropping views of its 36 copper pot stills, and a tasting library that houses 952 bottles of The Macallan stretching back to 1936.
Tours at the distillery will be limited in number to 12 people, ensuring a more intimate experience. Additionally there is of course, a bar and gift shop.
But Whisky distilleries haven’t always been a tourist draw, or a principle reason to visit Scotland. Although some distilleries have been established for centuries, it was not until the 1960s that brand like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Glenfarclas decided to open their distillery doors to visitors.
Even then, it took another 30 years, and the opening of over 40 more distilleries, before tourists embraced the urge to visit stills across the country. It really wasn’t really until the 1990s that whisky tourism started to boom.
The importance of Whisky Tourism
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland said: “Whisky tourism is a vital part of local tourism for many areas in Scotland, such as Speyside or Islay who are renowned for their links to the national drink, and help draw thousands of visitors to the country, creating jobs and sustaining communities.
“It’s fantastic to see the industry recognising the rewards of whisky tourism by investing and improving the visitor experience.”
And Macallan’s have certainly done that. There’s a barrel room, where, after watching a fire-filled film starring sinewy Spanish coopers, you can “nose” various cask types (e.g., American bourbon-seasoned, Spanish sherry-seasoned) to understand the flavours which each type of barrel imparts. The desire is to give visitors a truly interactive experience that connects then not only to the spirit but also the brand.
Understandably, it’s not just Macallan, who are spending big on tourist experiences. Spirits giant, Diego have just invested £150 million in their Johnnie Walker experience project, to capture not only the hearts of visitors but also the loyalty of those visitors to the brand.
The Future Of Whisky Tourism
Across Scotland, there are a record number of distilleries being built. last year 10 new distilleries opened, with another 10 expected for 2018. And it seems each of these new distilleries are now often designed for visitors as much as for production, which would have been unheard of even 25 years ago.
Tourism revenue is now a significant line of business for the industry, and Curle believes the new Macallan distillery can give a glimpse at what can be achieved and as such will exceed expectations. “When the doors open in June, we expect this new Macallan enterprise to deliver significant benefits for the tourism industry, Scotch whisky exports, and the economy,” he said
Coming off a year in which The Macallan topped 1 million cases sold (a first), the new facility boasts a third more production firepower than its predecessor. There are 300,000 casks maturing onsite across a collection of warehouses, with plenty more on the way.
“We’re not satisfied just being the leading Scotch whisky brand, but the ultimate luxury spirit in the world,” says Crawford Gillies, chairman of The Edrington Group, owners of The Macallan. “This is the facility that fits that image.”
For tourists and whisky pilgrims alike, the impressive new Macallan facility provides a taste of the possible experiences that the future of Whisky tourism can bring. Dram straight!