Friday 13 September 2019

Tasting the "world's most uncollectable" whisky: Craigellachie 51 Years Old (Tasted #464)

Australian readers: See the bottom of this post for how you can win the chance to taste this incredible whisky next month.
As much as I dislike the word, there's definitely been a "premiumisation" of older whiskies in recent years, with ultra aged whiskies (typically those over 50 years) regularly coming in bigger and bigger boxes, fancier and fancier bottles, and with significantly higher price tags as the years progress. So much so that many would say there's now a complete disconnect between the quality of some of these whiskies, their price tags, and indeed reality.

...all of which makes it incredibly refreshing to see how Craigellachie handled the release of their "newest, oldest" whisky, which is coming to Sydney next month. Here's an incredibly long-aged whisky (51 years old), released in a standard bottle (if it wasn't for the 51yo and "single cask" on the label, you could mistake it for the 13yo), with no fancy packaging...and no price tag.

That's right - you can't buy the Craigellachie 51yo. The distillery is making all 51 bottles (they swear the outturn is a coincidence) available only via "Bar 51" - a pop-up bar held in only 4 cities around the world - London last year, New York earlier this year, Sydney next month, and an as-yet unannounced city in South Africa later this year.

The Duke of Clarence will host the experience for 80 lucky punters, for 3 days only from 23-25 October, and alongside the 51 Year Old attendees will taste the 13, 17 and 23 year old expressions in a private tasting led by Global Brand Ambassador, Georgie Bell.

We were fortunate enough to attend the launch for the 51 Year Old last week - especially fortuitous timing for me given I happened to be in Sydney that week, giving Hendy and I a rare chance to actually attend a whisky event together (and not just via video conference).


Taking over the incredible Firedoor in Surry Hills, Craigellachie had "both Georgies" (Georgie Mann, Australian Ambassador and Georgie Bell, Global Ambassador) hosting a small group of media and a who's who of the Sydney bar scene for a delicious meal (all cooked on an open flame) accompanied by a range of Craigellachie, including:
  • 51 Year Old
  • 13 Year Old
  • 17 Year Old
  • 23 Year Old
  • Exceptional Rioja Wine Cask Finish 23 Year Old Double Cask
  • Craigellachie Old Soul cocktail

In what was a really refreshing change for these types of events, the 51 Year Old was served first - before our palates were bombarded with various flame-cooked flavours, and before anyone lost their subjectivity having had 1-2 cocktails and 3-4 other whiskies. Bravo to whoever planned the menu.

Georgie (Bell) talked us through a brief history of the distillery and the whisky, explaining that way back on 22nd December 1962 when it was distilled, the distillery ran on 2 coal-fired stills, and at the time the refill ex-bourbon hogshead was filled, no-one would have imagined it would lay dormant for 51 years, to be bottled in 2014 at 40.3% ABV.

Craigellachie are often seen as an "unconventional" whisky distillery (just look at the ages of their core range), and Georgie explained that that ethos fitted perfectly with the idea of giving away such an old and rare whisky via free tasting events, rather than having it languish on a collector (or worse, investor's) shelf. It's a hard sentiment to argue with, and on that note, we lifted our glasses and got to it...

Craigellachie 51 Year Old Single Cask #001940 (40.3% ABV, 51yo, Speyside, Scotland, not for sale)

Martin's tasting notes:
Colour: Yellow/orange golden sunset.

Nose: A balance between citrus and oak, with orange oils and vanillin most noticeable, with some pineapple and hints of coconut making it equal-parts woody and fruity.

Palate: Oak at first. It's not "chewing on a lump of wood" oak like you get from some whiskies of this age, and it's balanced out by other notes, but for me it was the dominant note. There were also old leather books, damp earth, a slight floral perfume, and very subtle lemon notes. Woodspice remained throughout.

Finish: Long, slightly tannic, drying oak. After some time in the glass (30+ minutes) some noticeable notes of cigar box emerged. Lovely.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. For a whisky to make it to 51 years old (and still be "whisky" - i.e. above 40% ABV) is an impressive feat. For it to do so and still retain complex notes of fruit, earth, perfume and not be entirely dominated by wood is even more so. Yes, this is an oak-led whisky, but not at the expense of enjoyment or other notes.

Hendy's tasting notes:
Colour: Golden ale.

Nose: The nose is surprisingly fruity, light citrus and apple peels. The nose is oily, quite viscous and creamy. There's a hint of coconut and honey with some vanilla.

Palate: The palate is dry, waxy with a light oak wood character. It's also quite viscous and chewable, which follows the characters from the nose. There's more of the fruit characters; burnt orange, berries followed by dried fennel spice and a light tar.

Finish: The finish is long and dry with remnants of the dried spice that remain.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100.

Truly an incredible, one-off experience, and one that 80 lucky whisky fans will get to experience in just over a month.

The competition for Bar 51 closes on Friday 11th October (Midnight AEST). To be in with a chance to be one of the lucky 80 winners to attend Bar 51 for a tasting of CRAIGELLACHIE 51, enter the lottery at

A heartfelt thanks must go to both Bacardi / Dewars / Craigellachie, both Georgies, and Wanderlustunion for a stunning event and a very, very special tasting.

Martin & Hendy.

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