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Many whisky drinkers know The Macallan for its taste—complex, warm, familiar. But now, the single malt whisky brand is building upon its recognition as an art-integrated company with its program The Masters of Photography. The series is dedicated to showing whisky’s many facets through photography. From distillation to celebration, photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Steven Klein, Mario Testino, and Elliot Erwitt have turned their lenses on distinctive scenarios, capturing images for a special exhibition presented in a city central to culture and art.
Now in its seventh edition, this year’s series with Magnum Photos celebrates The Macallan’s new distillery at the Easter Elchies estate in Scotland that opened in June 2018, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. With the opening, it debuted an abundance of sustainable aspects. The structure sits under a grass roof and burns waste wood to power the facility, for starters. “It’s complex, aesthetically beautiful, it establishes the brand as the ultimate luxury spirit. It tells the story in a highly transparent way. It’s, I hope, going to be there for a hundred years. We actually built it so that the same can be built again. You can knock down the wall at the end and build another one on the end of it. So, it’s a real legacy project. I hope that’s the thing that most people remember,” said Ken Grier, The Macallan’s global creative director.
Last August, we traveled with The Macallan to Mexico City, where it held its exhibition opening of new images at Casa Basalta. Spotlighting years of manual labor and logistics to get the distillery up and running, the photographs showed the structure from the ground up, shot by six photographers: Mark Power, Steve McCurry, Alec Soth, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Paolo Pellegrin, and Martin Parr. After its presentation in Mexico City, like all six editions in the past, the exhibition will travel to the distillery’s gallery in Scotland to live on for its Speyside visitors. “There’s something great about Mexico City,” Grier said. “There’s an appreciation of art, there’s a cultural vibe, there’s a sophistication, and there’s a passion that I think is quite unique. You come to Mexico City and it’s just right. It’s got a fantastic mash-up of great cuisine, there’s amazing beverage culture, but they really get art. There’s great structures and sculptures out there for the public to enjoy.”
In addition to the exhibition, the brand presented 2,000 limited-edition packages. Inside a big red box, The Macallan Masters of Photography: Magnum Edition includes one signed print from each photographer, an exclusive book of photography, and a limited-edition whisky bottle engraved with The Macallan and Magnum Photos logos and the names of the photographers. The single malt whisky inside the collectible bottle was made by Macallan Whisky Maker Sarah Burgess, from a combination of eight casks.
In Mexico City, Grier and photographer Powers walked us through the photos while enjoying drams of the results of the brand’s hard work. In each image, we saw diverse visions of the distillery—the site under construction and old casks in a graveyard setting. “The key to great talent is that you can’t tell a genius what to do,” said Grier. “This is a way of having a conversation with people by surprising, provoking, and entertaining, and I think treating our drinkers as adults. It’s no longer good enough to show a bottle and say, ‘Hi, we’re here.’ You’ve got to have stuff that’s distinctive, stuff that’s interesting, stuff that people are going to think is worthwhile.”
While in town, we also got the chance to experience what the Visitor’s Center at the distillery in Scotland is like—via an immersive installation made from video projects, audio recordings, and interactive technology. It allowed us to explore the brand’s six pillars of whisky production and philosophy: the spiritual estate, its 24 copper stills, the fine-cut colorless spirit, its exceptional oak casks, the natural color of the whisky, and a peerless spirit.
And at the end of the exhibition opening night, there was big news. Grier, with a grateful smile, announced that after 19 years at The Macallan he was resigning. He swirled his whisky, talked about his love for the brand, and finished by saying, “I wish the brand every bit of success. I hope the brand continues to be visionary, thought leading, and highly creative. I hope we continue to produce some amazing, challenging, and interesting whiskies.”