Speyside-based whisky icon The Macallan has an impressive history of releasing rare single malts with epic age statements, and yet somehow it has managed to top itself. First announced in February of last year, the distillery is now officially rolling out The Reach, the distillery’s oldest expression to date. Did we say its oldest expression? At 81 years old, it could well be the oldest whisky in the world.
Long after its founding in 1824, The Macallan—like civilisation at large—entered a period of extreme hardship and uncertainty during the Second World War. In the midst of this ever-growing turmoil, the distillery crafted the juice that would later become known as The Reach. It was put into oak in 1940, after which the distillery was forced to temporarily close down for the first time in history. The record-breaking whisky’s very survival is thereby synonymous with the adversity and persistence of The Macallan’s own enduring spirit and the dedication of its talented craftspeople.
“Its very existence is testament to the care and commitment to uncompromised excellence that has driven The Macallan since it was founded in 1824,” The Macallan master whisky maker Kirsteen Campbell told us. “It also pays tribute to those who strived amid great adversity to resume distilling The Macallan’s spirit, as well as the craftspeople. To work on The Reach has most definitely been one of the highlights of my career – it’s hard to put into words how truly special this whisky is.”
Admittedly, some enthusiasts might scoff at the very notion of an 81-year-old whisky on the assumption that it’s absorbed too much oak. However, Campbell wasted no time in putting those presumptions to rest
“Its deep auburn hue is the first hint of this remarkable whisky’s astonishing depth. Offering notes of dark chocolate, sweet cinnamon and aromatic peat, leading on to treacle toffee, crystalised ginger and charred pineapple, before giving way to an intensely rich, sweet and smoky finish.”
A special single malt whisky deserves a special presentation and The Macallan was all too willing to abide, recruiting a collective of Scottish artisans to create a handcrafted display, which perches the bottle upon three sculpted bronze hands and within a handsome cabinet of wood from a fallen elm tree that’s thought to have been on The Macallan Estate in 1940. Then there’s the bottle itself, a round and refined glass decanter with subtle indentations to match the shape of the bronze hands.
“The Reach is unique, representing an extraordinary moment in time in our history. In 1940, whisky became more difficult than ever as fuel and barley supplies were at a minimum,” Campbell explains. “Each hand, crafted by sculptor Saskia Robinson, has a specific importance, and the gentle indents of their fingers are beautifully captured in the sculpture’s surface.”
According to The Macallan whisky master, the first represents the distillery workers who in 1940 played a part in crafting the precious 81-year-old spirit, while the second hand belongs to Allan Shiach. Grandson of Dr (Samuel) Allan Shiach, who had led The Macallan from 1938 to 1947, Allan spent 18 years as chairman of the esteemed label and was a catalyst behind the first properly acclaimed profile of the brand in the eyes of a wider public.
“I am so fortunate to be able to say that the third hand belongs to me and the work I have been able to share with the world so far,” Campbell says. “Coming from a single sherry oak cask and bottled in a glass decanter The Reach has only 288 decanters of the whisky have been released globally.”
As part of the rollout, The Macallan also commissioned a video from London-based photographer Nadav Kander in collaboration with former New York Times Magazine art director Matt Willey. Recently shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, the video features original music by Scottish band Mogwai as it chronicles the legendary story behind this exceptionally rare single malt release.
“It has been an honour to introduce The Reach,” Campbell told us. “Created during a turbulent time in the world, this extraordinary expression showcases The Macallan’s history, ingenuity and unmistakable strength of character. The Reach is the creation of many hands. It has been a truly collaborative effort. It’s also a tribute to the people who made this precious whisky, and their enduring spirit which never wavered.”
Initially put on display in February of 2022, The Reach 81-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky is now set to arrive at domestic and travel retail boutiques in a limited supply of 288 decanters worldwide. It’s bottled at 41.6% ABV and is being sold at the suggested retail price of USD$125,000 / £92,000 / €110,000. What, you thought the world’s oldest whisky wouldn’t cost a small fortune?!
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