The Macallan: Building an exceptional brand as China’s ultra-premium whisky market booms

Amid the clinking glasses at stylish bars, intimate home gatherings, and social celebrations, a resounding trend is taking shape — an escalating appetite for single-malt Scotch among China’s new consumers to the category, especially the burgeoning affluent class.

And the stats align: In 2022, global exports of Scotch grew to more than £6 billion ($7.6 billion) for the first time and the Asia Pacific region overtook the EU as the industry’s largest regional market, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. 

In China, the value of Scotch whisky exports has rocketed from £3.4 million ($4.3 million) in 2010 to more than £233 million ($296 million) in 2022. Euromonitor predicts that whisky market revenue in China will surpass $2.25 billion in 2025. 

Against this backdrop, luxury purveyor The Macallan orchestrates its newest masterpiece, The Macallan Litha. The opulent whisky was launched in China on August 4 at a gala dinner in Shanghai. The global launch will be held solely at The Macallan Estate in Scotland, a testament to its heritage spanning two centuries. 

The Macallan Litha will initially be available in China and at The Macallan Estate in Scotland. Photo: The Macallan

Elevating this narrative, Jing Daily dives deep into a conversation with Francois Saurel, regional managing director of Asia Pacific at Edrington. He unveils the inspirations behind Litha and divulges the art of crafting localized stories for Chinese clients.

A blossoming preference for luxury whisky and the outstanding performance of The Macallan

Traditionally, China’s spirits landscape has been dominated by baijiu. However, a mellower, more intricate character, exemplified by whisky, is enchanting high-income consumers across China’s premier cities. 

A willingness to invest over RMB1,600 ($221) in a luxury bottle mirrors their embrace of whisky as an emblem of refined living. For these connoisseurs, whisky transcends mere libation; it embodies a cultured existence. The allure of Scottish single malts lies in their peerless quality and authentic lineage. Novel offerings and innovative presentations stoke their curiosity, fostering a longing for uniqueness and new experiences.

Founded in 1824 by the River Spey in northeast Scotland, The Macallan has been renowned for its craftsmanship, creativity and innovation for almost two centuries. Linked to defining moments in history and culture — not to mention being James Bond’s single-malt of choice — The Macallan has come to represent sophistication and singularity. In 2019, a bottle of The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 became the most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever sold at auction, fetching almost £1.5 million ($1.9 mn).

These are just some of the factors currently driving strong consumer demand for the brand in China.

The success of The Macallan in China and around the world helped drive parent company Edrington group to post its highest-ever revenue in the fiscal year ended March 2023, with combined sales from its nine brands surpassing £1 billion ($1.3 billion) for the first time. Core revenue grew 22 percent compared with 2022 and profitability was approximately 60 percent higher than it was three years ago, before the pandemic. 

“The phenomenal growth of The Macallan in China is at a speed never seen before in the history of the brand,” says Francois Saurel. “We are very positive about the future in China, however, you always need to find the right speed of development. Fast enough that you are top of mind, but not too fast that you accelerate your touchpoints and distribution at the expense of storytelling and experience.”

“You always need to find the right speed of development. Fast enough that you are top of mind, but not too fast that you accelerate your touchpoints and distribution at the expense of storytelling and experience.”

Delivering rich storytelling through packaging to resonate with consumers

The Macallan’s latest offering, Litha, represents a new level of sensorial storytelling for the brand. 

“Our aim was to create a product that definitively expresses what we stand for in terms of exceptional craftsmanship and creativity. We wanted to express this visually too, with creative packaging that develops our story,” explains Francois Saurel. 

Named after an ancient Celtic term for the solstice, Litha was crafted to tell the story of The Macallan’s whisky making process and symbolize the coming together of two worlds — Scotland and Spain. 

The single malt is matured in first fill sherry seasoned oak casks from Jerez De La Frontera, Spain (Edrington acquired 50 percent of Jerez ultra-premium sherry producer Grupo Estevez in March 2023). Litha’s intense and smooth flavor profile is intended to suit different occasions, including its own collection, fine dining, as well as celebrations and gifting. With its skilled artistry and dedicated craftsmanship, Litha allows China’s burgeoning affluent class to explore the fusion of two forces and creativity of The Macallan. 

The Macallan commissioned US-based Chinese illustrator Sija Hong to create Litha’s presentation box. Sija Hong’s design features a blue peacock and red horse, representing Scotland and Spain, respectively, circling a central oak tree. It’s a deliberately colorful and evocative departure from the brand’s traditional packaging designs.  

The Macallan Litha will first be made available to the China market and The Macallan Bar at The Macallan Estate from August 2023.

The Macallan’s commitment and dedication to localized narratives

In conjunction with the launch of Litha, the company has introduced internationally renowned actor Chang Chen as first The Macallan Ambassador for Asia Pacific. 

“China is the key market for The Macallan, and Litha represents the brand’s commitment and dedication towards ambition. This ambition translates into the differentiated approach we’ve taken to launch Litha. We looked far and long to identify a partner that shares The Macallan vision and ideas. Chang Chen has been a long-time The Macallan lover. He embodies the understated confidence that is unique to The Macallan and the dedication to pursue incomparable craftsmanship,” says Francois Saurel. 

In Shanghai for the launch of Litha, Francois Saurel divulged the art of crafting localized stories for Chinese clients. Photo: The Macallan

Chang Chen appears in the campaign video for Litha, which features his first visit to explore The Macallan Estate in Scotland. 

The Litha launch with Chang Chen is the latest in a run of localized exhibits, high-profile partnerships and new product launches that have been driving exposure and interest in The Macallan brand within the Chinese market. 

The Macallan is dedicated to introducing Western spirits culture to Chinese consumers’ daily lives through the launch of Litha. In the tradition of fine dining and social gatherings, single-malt whisky is becoming more and more popular; even for consumers who are new to this category, The Macallan has been widely recognized by them.

Litha represents the profound heritage of The Macallan, exceptional craftsmanship, and the unique tale of two cultures mixing, which will bring surprises to the market in terms of taste and social currency.

“Our mission is to create extreme value and to continue to grow our value as a brand. When we look at the progress over the past two years, in terms of value, The Macallan has been growing the fastest in China in the experience category,” says Francois Saurel.

In parting, Francois Saurel imparts a promise of exceptional brand building: “As part of our mission to be the exceptional brand, we will continually create new experiences and develop new collaborations. We’ve also undergone a digital transformation over the past three years to ensure we continue to present The Macallan story in China in ever-more exciting and intriguing ways.” 

We’ll drink to that.


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