The name of Crabbie has remained famous throughout its long history in the Scottish drinks trade but latterly only for the company’s peerless Green Ginger Wine, an essential ingredient in the Whisky Mac cocktail, and more recently for a successful alcoholic ginger beer.
This was not always the case. The Crabbie company can trace its roots back to 1801, when Millar Crabbie first established an upholstering company in Edinburgh. Millar Crabbie soon switched to grocery and from there to import and export of spices, blending and distribution of cordials and eventually, under the control of Millar’s son, John Crabbie, blending whisky.
The company flourished and by the middle of the 19th century had acquired extensive warehousing and bonded premises in Leith and the Haddington distillery in East Lothian which produced grain spirit for the company’s products until the middle of the 1860s. Subsequently, in the 1880s, Crabbie was involved in the foundation of the North British grain distillery alongside Andrew Usher and William Sanderson, and became the first chairman of the board.
The Crabbie company continued producing blended whiskies throughout the 20th century but its fortunes dwindled following its acquisition by Diageo forerunner Distillers Company Limited in the 1960s. Production of the company’s own brand whiskies ceased in the 1970s and the Crabbie brand was sold in the 1980s to MacDonald and Muir, owners of the Highland Queen blend and Glenmorangie distillery.
Halewood International acquired Crabbie in 2007 and set about reviving the brand, first with the previously-mentioned ginger beer. The new owners have ambitious plans for Crabbie, last year announcing a proposed new Edinburgh micro-distillery to produce both gin and whisky.
In the meantime, to continue the brand’s renaissance Crabbie have introduced two new sourced whiskies, an 8 year old Highland dram and a single cask 30 year old Speyside single malt bottled at natural strength from a refill Oloroso sherry butt. Just 330 bottles of the 30 year old have been released for the UK, but luckily we’ve managed to secure a small parcel of stock, and of course we had to try it. Here’s our tasting notes:
Nose: A symphony of oak and fruit straight off the bat: the kind of really, really classy polished old wood and hints of raisins and cooked apples that lets you know straight away that this is a great whisky. There’s pretty much everything you’d want: autumn leaves, damson jam, sponge cake and a wonderfully floral edge of orange blossom and honeysuckle. Develops more on patisserie with fruit cookies, then fine milk chocolate, coffee ice cream and roast hazelnuts. The integration and balance are absolutely fantastic, nothing dominating, everything intertwined.
Palate: Medium-full in weight but very full flavours. Big but not overpowering oak attack initially, then hints of marmalade. A flash of dusty bookshelves, faint bonfire smoke, then fruit buns, burnt raisins on the edge of a fruit cake, apple pie, icing sugar, chocolate again, dried figs – absolutely textbook refill sherry. The balance is very good and water isn’t really necessary, but a very small drop lifts a tinned fruit syrup flavour. Gets more nutty with time in the glass.
Finish: Warming and very good length. Cinnamon bark, malt loaf, fruit leather and cracked black pepper on a slow fade.
Comment: Majestic stuff. This nigh-on perfect refill sherry cask is the epitome of an autumnal whisky, begging for a comfy chair and a fireplace – it’s really got the long-matured, oak-reactive X factor that only a long time in a cask can bestow. There are big, soft-edged tannins and it’s quite warm on first tasting at full strength but the fruit always wins out and the oak is finely-poised but never too dusty or bitter. Just fantastic whisky.
Although we can’t reveal which distillery Crabbie 30 year old is from, we can promise that if the distillery name was on the bottle it’d be cheap at five times the price of this bottling, which is available for £500 here. We suspect there could be a rush on this product once word gets out, so don’t hang around if you want one!