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    Craigellachie Single Malt Whisky

    Craigellachie is a distillery located in Aberlour, at the heart of the famous Speyside region. The distillery sits close to the point where 2 of Scottish whisky’s most famous rivers converge as the River Spey meets the River Fiddich. Although the building was rebuilt entirely in 1965, the original building was designed in 1891 by renowned local architect Charles Doig, who is credited with the design of more than 50 Scottish distilleries. The name Craigellachie translates to ‘rocky hill’ and refers to the cliff which overlooks the River Spey.

    Based in a thriving whisky region Craigellachie sits directly across from The Macallan distillery, the better known of the village distilleries. Also just outside Craigellachie village is Speyside Cooperage – who produce over 100,000 barrels each year for the numerous local distilleries. As one of the few to function on a full seven day working schedule, Craigelacchie is one of the most productive distilleries in Scotland and has an annual capacity of approximately 3.6 million litres.

    Charles MacLean explores the early history of Craigellachie Distillery

    The region we now know as Speyside was the heart-land of Clan Grant, whose territory stretched between two ‘craggy rocks’ [Creag Eilechaidh in Gaelic], one to the south of Aviemore, marking the border of Strathspey and Badenoch, the other on the left bank of the River Spey itself at the narrows close to where the River Fiddich meets the Spey, described in a nineteenth century guidebook as “a lofty, picturesque quartz rock… eminently beautiful”.The latter was the clan’s gathering place, summoned by a beacon on the summit; it also gave rise to their slogan or war-cry – “Stand Fast Craigellachie” – and to the Grant crest, ‘a mountain inflamed, proper’. The narrows also provided a convenient place to cross the river – by ferry until 1815, when a handsome single arch iron bridge 160 feet in span, was designed and installed by Thomas Telford, ‘The Father of Civil Engineering’. Until the 1860s, Craigellachie village was little more than a hamlet with a post office. Then the Strathspey Railway arrived, via a new viaduct across the Spey, connecting the village to Elgin in the north and Aviemore in the south, while a branch line led to Dufftown. The railway opened up the whole district to sporting visitors and made it possible for commercial distilleries to be built along its path: Glen Grant (1840; John and James Grant were very influential in bringing the line as far as Rothes), Dailuaine (1854), Cragganmore (1860), Glenrothes (1878), Glenfiddich (1886), Craigellachie (1890). 

    Two men were behind the scheme to build a distillery at Craigellachie: the first was a young local man, Alexander Edward, the second was Peter Jeffrey Mackie, owner of Lagavulin Distillery, Islay, and of the White Horse brand of blended Scotch. Alexander Edward was the son of a local farmer and distiller who had acquired the lease of Benrinnes Distillery in 1864 and who made the lease over to his son in 1888, when Alexander was twenty-four years old. 

    In 1878 Peter Mackie had joined his uncle at Lagavulin, and in 1890 had succeeded him as senior partner of the family firm. He was energetic and opinionated – known as ‘Restless Peter’ – and met all councils of caution with the words “nothing is impossible”. A friend described him as “one third genius, one third megalomaniac, and one third eccentric”. Although an ardent Tory, he was made a baronet by a Liberal prime minister in 1920; an authority on shooting – he wrote a guidebook for gamekeepers - and a vociferous champion of many worthy causes, including that of allowing whisky to mature, he also took a somewhat obsessive interest in his employees diet, inventing a ‘power flour’ called ‘BBM’ (‘Bran, Bone and Muscle’) which was prepared at Craigellachie, and which he required all employees to take each day for their health. With the support of some investors, Mackie and Edward employed Charles Doig of Elgin, the leading distillery designer of the day (and the inventor of the pagoda roofed malt-kiln, known as the ‘Doig Ventillator’). Building commenced in 1890; that autumn the National Guardian reported that the barley was to be brought down from the fertile Laich o’Moray by train: “An important feature is [the distillery’s] proximity to a railway station, which, compared with the long distances which separate some of the Glenlivet Distilleries, means an annual saving in cartage alone which will lessen the cost of production by 2d or 3d per gallon”. Next year, the Aberdeen Evening Express was reporting: 

    “…the latest addition to the already large number of manufactories for the production of “mountain dew” which have made Speyside so famous. It has just been completed, and is situated close to Craigellachie station. In fact passengers from the station may see its tall stalk peeping over the hill top which flanks the right bank of the Fiddich… it is said that very good “dew” has, during the week or so that the distillery has been in operation, been produced. 

    “On Friday evening [10th July] the workmen and the people of the surrounding district were entertained to a ball celebrating the inauguration of the concern. A large number attended and all enjoyed themselves heartily.” 

    With Craigellachie Distillery up and running, Alexander Edward turned his attention to Benrinnes, transforming it into a joint stock company with eager investors, “largely engaged in the Spirit Trade in the South”, investing in the venture. The same year, he took over the brick and tile works in Craigellachie village. The National Guardian reported that the business was small scale when he took over, but “now Mr Edward has completely remodelled it and has introduced machinery and other appliances by which a vastly increased amount of work can be accomplished….. The peculiarity of the Craigellachie bricks and tiles is that they do not sustain any damage from exposure to frost…” Having expanded the brickworks, he went on to take an interest in the Craigellachie Building Company and began to build ‘new villas’, which could be rented out to summer visitors. Next year, 1895 - he was still only thirty-one years old – he embarked on an even grander scheme: the building of a substantial hotel which would transform the village from a railway hub into a tourist destination. The Dundee Courier and Argus reported on 15th August 1896: 

    “I am bound to say Craigellachie is difficult to beat. Strange as it appears, it was only within the past dozen years or so that the beauties of the situation as a resort for strangers was discovered. This did not satisfy Mr Edward however. He saw that something more was wanted than villas to make Craigellachie the fashionable place it is now. He determined to 

    build a first-class hotel. 

    “There was an old hotel or roadside inn, I know not which, 

    but of the same class as was common at points along public roads fifty years ago. Though good enough in its way and capable of 

    giving a very limited amount of accommodation to a certain class of people, it was quite unsuited for modern requirements, especially of that class which it was Mr Edward’s intention to encourage to visit." He, therefore, set about forming a company and giving the shares to the public… 

    “The result was the erection of the present handsome structure. To make the thing complete a tennis court was made behind the hotel, and a piece of ground with walks enclosed and seats put down and soon there will be a golf course. But what to many is the greatest boon and attraction of all is a stretch of fishing on the Spey open to any person staying at the hotel…” After some years of decline, I am happy to report that ‘The Craig’ has now been completely (and superbly) refurbished under new ownership and its legendary ‘Quaich Bar’ greatly expanded. I can recommend it whole-heartedly. 

    Despite the huge amounts of spirit being produced and its prestigious locale, Craigellachie is a relatively little-known distillery. Single malts from Craigellachie are relatively rare, with an estimated 98% of the spirit produced here being used for Dewar’s blended whiskies. A limited range of official Craigellachie expressions released in 2014, including 13, 17 & 23 year old editions, were the first to have been released since ownership of the distillery was taken by John Dewar & Sons in 1998.

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