A Spirit Above


From Sea Island Life, Spring/Summer 2015

By Linda Domingo

Sea Island’s collection of The Macallan is one of the largest in the Southeast and features rare bottles. | Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

Sea Island’s collection of The Macallan is one of the largest in the Southeast and features rare bottles. | Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

The royal families of Scotland’s past have been immortalized in history books and fables, but one Scottish king lives on: The Macallan. Founded in 1824, the Speyside distillery now widely sets the standard for Scotch whisky served around the world. Part of the current brown spirits boom, the old favorite has charmed a host of new fans with its consistent high quality. Meanwhile, loyal aficionados continue to covet classic bottles, along with more recent and limited edition releases.

The Macallan also owes the craft food and drink movement for its recent growth in popularity. “We’re coming out of a long period driven by artificially flavored spirits and heavily processed foods,” explains Craig Bridger, brand ambassador for The Macallan. “People are increasingly demanding authenticity and craft in the things they eat and drink. A carefully made spirit like The Macallan single malt scotch—distilled batch by batch in pot stills, as it has been since 1824—really fulfills that desire, I think.”

Authenticity and craft are in abundant supply at The Macallan distillery, which houses the smallest spirit stills in the scotch-producing region of Speyside. Out of those stills’ yield, only 16 percent makes it into the meticulously chosen oak casks, which vary in wood to lend distinct flavors and aromas to each bottle.

Nic Wallace pours a Smoke on the Spey, a Macallan cocktail flavored with smoke from used oak staves. | Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

Nic Wallace pours a Smoke on the Spey, a Macallan cocktail flavored with smoke from used oak staves. | Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

“The amount of care and research The Macallan puts into every bottle is incredible,” says Nic Wallace, head bartender at the River Bar at Sea Island. The resort has one of the largest collections of The Macallan Scotch whisky in the Southeastern United States. “The Macallan employees have such a deep, profound love for what they do there and really put everything they have into their whiskey, and we’re proud to sell it.”

Each pour of The Macallan contains complex flavors from distilling practices that have been perfected over the past couple of centuries, causing bartenders like Wallace to take great care in serving it. At the River Bar, guests can partake in a Scottish tradition with The Macallan neat or on the rocks (for which hand-carved blocks of ice are used), or play with convention in a cocktail.

“When you’ve got such a flavorful spirit as your base in a cocktail, it’s a shame to cover it up entirely,” Bridger says, which is why Wallace and the other Sea Island bartenders are careful to enhance The Macallan with complementing tastes. “I’d suggest simple, spirit-forward recipes, and ingredients that highlight notes already found in the whiskey. You’d be amazed what a terrific Old-Fashioned you can make with The Macallan 12, raw-sugar simple syrup, some chocolate bitters and an orange twist. Amaro works well with The Macallan, as does sherry.”

Wallace recommends a Highland Toddy (a take on a hot toddy with TheMacallan) as a nightcap. He’s also developed a refreshing sour ideal for warm weather, using The Macallan’s Fine Oak 10-year variety. Another of Wallace’s drinks, the Smoke on the Spey, is made with The Macallan 12- or 18-year and gets its flavor from smoke made from roasting used oak staves, spicy ginger shrub, ginger and cinnamon syrup, Angostura bitters and Bonal (a French aperitif wine).

For newcomers to the brand, however, Wallace suggests keeping things straightforward. “We always recommend drinking The  Macallan neat or on the rocks the first time, because you can really get the full profile when you’re drinking it that way,” he explains. “You want to start with something a little bit lighter, like The Macallan Fine Oak collection, which has a lighter body than the Sherry Oak bottles.”

After that, it’s time to explore. Bridger describes the Sherry Oak line as richer and spicier than the Fine Oak, picking up more wood smoke with age. The 25-year Sherry Oak is, to Bridger, like “an orange grove lit on fire.” Meanwhile, the distillery’s limited edition bottles continue to intrigue curious palates. River Bar receives these rare bottles, such as The Macallan Flask set, which came with an Oakley-design flask and a 22-year-old single malt all-American oak Scotch whisky.

Sea Island’s guests might even catch a glimpse of a bottle of The Macallan M, an artfully designed and impeccably crafted decanter that serves as the finest in the brand’s 1824 Series. “The Macallan M display is incredible,” Wallace explains. “They take such great care and add such immaculate detail—they want to make sure it’s flawless. And we don’t want to disturb that in any way. … The Macallan is one of those things that’s a classic and will always be.”


For a taste of Scotland in your own home, try this simple recipe provided by Nic Wallace, head bartender at the River Bar. “This is a delicious take on the classic Blood and Sand recipe from the 1930s that was first seen in ‘The Savoy Cocktail Book,’ ” he says. “It truly brings out the best flavors of The Macallan 12-year. The toffee, dried fruit and vanilla flavors are divine.”

The Highland
¾ ounce The Macallan 12-year single malt
¾ ounce Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (or your favorite sweet vermouth)
¾ ounce Fonseca 10-year tawny port
¾ ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
3 dashes Fee Brothers black walnut bitters

Method: Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Stir the cocktail with a bar spoon for 10-12 seconds. Using a Hawthorne strainer, slowly strain into a coupe glass.