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Craigellachie distillery was founded in 1891 on a plot of land overlooking the meeting point between two rivers, the Livet and the Spey. Born of a partnership between Peter Mackie of White Horse Ltd and Alexander Edward, owner of Benrinnes, Craigellachie was designed to produce a spirit that would radically differ from the more established malts of the Speyside region.
The two men chose their location well; since 1862 Craigellachie had been something of a railway hub where lines from Lossiemouth, Dufftown and Keith met the Strathspey railway coming from the southwest. This link would allow the new distillery rail transport between Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth, as referenced in an article in the Moray & Nairn Express of Saturday 25 July 1891 under the headline, The New Distillery…
“The many passengers which travel via Craigellachie Junction – that convenient centre for the railway routes to Aberdeen, to Elgin, and to the south by the Strathspey Railway – must have observed that within the last few months a large building had been gradually rearing its head on the top of the knoll.”
The report goes on to say “This new distillery which has recently been completed and is now in full operation, possesses all those elements which seem likely to command success. Mr C. C. Doig, Elgin, the architect, has made a speciality of distillery construction, and has been able to introduce all the most modern improvements as regards labour and fuel-saving appliances.” Doig of course, was the man responsible for the Pagoda-like design that would come to define the appearance of Scottish malt distilleries for generations.
In 1900 Alexander Edward departed in order to focus on his many other concerns, not least his involvement with Aultmore, Dallas Dhu and Benromach distilleries. This left Craigellachie under the sole charge of Mackie’s White Horse Ltd, part of an empire that also took in Lagavulin in Islay and Hazelburn in Campbeltown. Despite having since become part of DCL and from there sold on to Bacardi, the Craigellachie malt apparently remains an important component of the White Horse blend today.
Speyside malts are generally described as light and fruity, but there is a sub-genre of sorts, taking in distilleries like Cragganmore, Benrinnes, Mortlach and Craigellachie. These produce a heavier spirit, thanks to a production regime that utilises worm tubs. This old-fashioned means of condensing vapour back into liquid form preserves sulphur notes that are naturally produced during the whisky-making process. The sulphur evolves throughout the maturation period, leaving behind a whisky of uniquely meaty character. Most distilleries will reject anything with sulphur components of more than 3 parts per million (ppm). Craigellachie runs at around 30ppm.
Such a robust style of malt isn’t for everyone but I’ve always enjoyed it and the opportunity to taste the 23 year old version was too good to pass up, especially when the ticket price was a mere £10!*
The Craigellachie 23 year old is bottled un-chill filtered and naturally coloured at a strength of 46% and retails for £330.
*This sample was part of Dewar’s “Very Dull Whisky Club” March Tasting.
Smell: Big meaty nose. Almost gamey. Touch of iron even. Also rich oak and raisins. Apple, pear and pineapple. Cinnamon buns and tobacco leaves. Walnut and marmalade.
Taste: Honey, vanilla and cinnamon, ginger and cloves – lots of spice! Struck matches. Cherry. Walnut. Figs. Opened up well with some water.
Thoughts: A fine dram that’s sadly priced beyond the reach of us mere mortals. Hard to judge it against other drams on the market as there aren’t a great deal of 23 year olds out there. You can pick up some excellent 21 year old malts for £150 though which places the Craigellachie more in the realm of the 25 year old and they can be anywhere from £250 to £Macallan. In that context the price probably isn’t too ridiculous. Not that any of this matters because I doubt many of my readers are planning on spending £330 on a single bottle any time soon.
Craigellachie is a great distillery and I find its sulphur-heavy distillate so much more interesting than the delicate Speysiders that grab all the mainstream success. Having said that, even though the 23 year old is a lovely dram, I’d much rather direct my money towards their 17 year old which at less than a third of the price offers far greater value for money. Isn’t it amazing how those six extra years in the cask managed to treble the price of the whisky?
If you do find yourself with a few hundred pounds burning a hole in your pocket and absolutely must splash it all on a 23 year old Speyside, you can buy the Craigellachie from Master of Malt. Buy here. * **
*Please be aware, as an affiliate I can be paid commission on any purchases you make.
**Other retailers are available.
For more on Craigellachie visit here