In recent years a handful of Scotch whisky distilleries have released ultra-aged expressions. These whiskies, typically released in quantities of 100 to 200 bottles or less, have commanded prices in the thousands if not 10s of thousands of dollars.
Craigellachie, the Speyside whiskey distiller that is part of the whisky portfolio of Bacardi Ltd, has introduced a new twist to the marketing of ultra-aged whiskies. Rather than selling its Craigellachie 51, a 51 YO single malt whisky, at premium prices, the company intends to give it away, one sample at a time, to whisky fans around the world via its Bar 51, a traveling tiny bar within a bar. The whisky is not otherwise available to purchase.
Bar 51 was launched in London and was featured at Milroy’s from November 26 to 28. The next stop for Bar 51 will be Peppi’s Cellar (Basement, 406 Broome St), a newly opened hidden cocktail bar underneath Gran Tivoli restaurant in Nolita in New York City. Only 150 seatings are available over the three nights from May 7 to 9. Additional stops are planned in South Africa and Australia. For the latest information on where and when Craigellachie 51 may be available, monitor the Craigellachie website.
The Craigellachie distillery was built in 1891, by Alexander Edward and a group of scotch whisky blenders and merchants. Edward was only 25 when he spearheaded the building of the distillery. He was already leasing the Benrinnes distillery. He would also go on to build the Aultmore, Dallas Dhu and Benromach distilleries. Craigellachie’s neighbor, on the other side of the Spey River, is The Macallan.
The distillery was located in the village of Craigellachie, hence its name. Craigellachie is Gallic for rocky cliff. The village was built on a cliff overlooking the junction of the Spey and Fiddich rivers.
The distillery was literally at the center of Speyside’s whisky industry. The rail lines from Lossiemouth in the north, Dufftown in the south, Keith in the east and Aviemore to the southwest all intersected there. From Craigellachie, it was possible to ship whisky by train to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth, and from there around the world.
Two years later, in 1893, in the midst of the Scotch whisky industry’s late 19th century boom, it was incorporated as the Craigellachie-Glenlivet Distillery Ltd.
In 1916, the ownership passed to Peter Mackie, the owner of the White Horse brand and one of the original investors in the venture. White Horse had been founded by Peter’s father, James Logan Mackie in 1861. The blend prominently featured Lagavulin, a heavily peated Islay whisky. During Prohibition, its pronounced medicinal character led to White Horse being classified as a medicine. It was available via a doctor’s prescription.
Craigellachie malt also figured prominently in the Old Smuggler and Old Gaelic blended whiskies. Both brands were also owned by Peter Mackie.
The distillery became part of Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) in 1927, and Scotch Malt Distillers, a subsidiary of DCL, in 1930. The distillery went through a significant expansion over 1964-65, which saw its capacity doubled from two to four pot stills. DCL was taken over by Guinness in 1986.
In 1998, following the merger between Guinness and Grand Metropolitan that created spirits giant Diageo, John Dewar & Sons along with Craigellachie and four other distilleries were sold to Bacardi Ltd.
The Craigellachie core range consists of a 13 YO, 17 YO, 23 YO and 33 YO single malt.
Craigellachie’s two defining characteristics are a long, 56 hour, fermentation and limited copper contact during distillation. The distillery is one of the dozen or so that still use worm tubs to cool the spirit. Compared to modern shell and tube condensers, worm tubs only have about five percent as much copper content, producing a more robust, meatier spirit.
The result is a powerful spirit that is both weighty and aromatic. It offers up flavors of ripe orchard and tropical fruits, along with floral notes and flavors of lemon zest, vanilla and sweet cereals.
Craigellachie, 13 YO, 46% ABV, 750 ml, $60
The whisky is matured in a mix of different cask types. Following blending, 50% is finished in a first fill sherry cask and the balance in an ex-bourbon cask.
The color is a lemon gold. On the nose, it offers notes of baked apple, along with hints of pineapple and a little peach. There is a hint of smoke that hangs in the background.
On the palate, it is smooth and sweet, with a noticeable candied note and a pronounced weight. There are flavors of cooked apple, some tropical fruit and a hint of tropical spice. The finish is medium length, sweet, with a touch of pepperiness.
Craigellachie 17 YO, 46% ABV, 750 ml, $149
Like the 13 YO, the 17 YO is matured in a mix of cask types and then finished in a 50-50 mix of first fill sherry and ex-bourbon casks.
The color is a light amber. On the nose, it is very floral, with a noticeable waxy note. There are elements of tropical fruit, some Japanese pear, a slight licorice notes and a bit of vanilla.
On the palate, it is smooth and sweet, with a pronounced weight accompanied by notes of tropical fruit, lemon zest and cooked cereal notes. The finish is medium to long, with a persistent candied note and lingering pepperiness
Craigellachie, 23 YO, 46% ABV, 750 ml, $300
The whisky is matured in a combination of first fill sherry and ex-bourbon casks.
The color is a light amber. On the nose, there are notes or apple and Japanese pear, along with tropical fruits. There is also a waxy element, along with some citrus zest and a bit of oak.
On the palate, it is sweet and smooth. The palate weight is heavier than in the younger versions and particularly viscous. There are tropical fruit notes, citrus zest some cinnamon and a bit of clove and vanilla. The finish is smooth, long and sweet, with just a hint of pepperiness.
There is also a 33 YO Craigellachie. This is hard to find. It also has a 46% ABV and retails for about $3,000.
It is similar in style to its younger siblings, offering more distinctive floral aromas that feature rose petals. There are also some tropical fruit notes, including some dried mango and a hint of coconut, along with some cooked cereal.
The whisky is matured in refill hogsheads. While it is incredibly smooth and creamy, it is a tad lighter on the palate than its siblings, but it still offers the same candied sweetness. The finish is long, silky, sweet, with a hint of pepperiness and lingering tropical fruit notes.
What about the Craigellachie 51? Well it’s a lot like its siblings, only better and richer. If you want to know any more then you will have to grab a taste at Bar 51.