Long before it is decanted into glass bottles or poured into crystal tumblers, The Macallan’s single malt whisky lives in the woods. At the beautiful Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners-designed distillery in Speyside, Scotland, a dedicated Master of Wood sources oak for more than 200,000 barrels from trees in the US and Spain. The wood is dried, shaped and formed at a specialist Spanish cooperage, the barrels then seasoned with dark, orange-amber hued, richly textured Oloroso sherry from Jerez, in southern Spain. An essential contribution to the quality, colours, distinctive aromas and flavours of The Macallan’s malt whisky, this slow, expensive, meticulous and usually unseen process has now been chronicled by Magnum photographer Steve McCurry.
Beginning his ‘wood journey’ in the vast green forests of Northern Spain, the source of European oak for The Macallan casks, McCurry photographed tall trees and burly loggers. He then travelled to the sawmills of Santander, and to cooperages in Jerez, where The Macallan’s casks are hand-crafted and seasoned. McCurry also visited Pennsylvania, where he discovered the influence of American oak, key to the unique flavour of The Macallan’s Double Cask range.
His lens followed the oak all the way to The Macallan Estate on Speyside, watching in the distillery as the casks were filled with new-make spirit, ready to be matured under the watchful eye of The Macallan’s whisky mastery team.
As well as evoking the sights, sounds and even the smells of the forests where the oaks that form The Macallan’s casks are grown, McCurrys work also reveals the craft and commitment of the coopers who spend many years learning and perfecting their art.
‘Steve’s outstanding images provide a unique insight into the intensive process of sourcing, crafting and seasoning our exceptional oak casks,’ says Stuart MacPherson, master of wood at The Macallan. ‘With up to 80 per cent of The Macallan’s final flavour and character determined by cask quality, Steve has recorded the painstaking commitment and attention to detail that we uphold.’
For McCurry, the project has provided compelling new insights into the mastery of wood and spirit, which The Macallan has honed since 1824. ‘The thing I admire about The Macallan is their passion for craftsmanship, their excellence and their integrity for their processes,’ says the photographer. ‘Sometimes you have to choose a different path – the one less taken – to go beyond hardship, to reach excellence.’
McCurry’s interpretation of The Macallan’s wood journey follows his previous work with the brand to document the build of The Macallan Distillery, alongside fellow Magnum photographers, in 2018.