The long-awaited revival of John Crabbie & Co is finally here with the first Edinburgh-distilled single malt in nearly 100 years. We sat down with the team for a taste of Crabbie Chain Pier, which will be landing with Master of Malt shortly.
It’s fair to say that we’ve been waiting for a taste of Crabbie Chain Pier single malt for some time. We first reported on the revival of this great name in Scotch whisky in 2018. We’ve tried various independent bottlings under the Crabbie name and even visited the distillery last year. But still no Edinburgh single malt.
Now, at last, the wait is over. But before we dive in, a quick recap on the John Crabbie story. According to master blender Kirstie McCallum his name was “synonymous with whisky, most people don’t know that.” Crabbie was one of the pioneers of blended whisky like John Walker and, like Walker, owned a grocery and tea-blending business. Eventually, he set up his own distillery in Leith producing whisky and also gin and the famous ginger wine that still bears his name. He was also one of the founders of the mighty North British grain distillery.
Following his death, the Crabbie name was passed around until it was only known for ginger wine. In 2007, Halewood acquired the brand. This is the company behind a vast array of interesting spirits including Aber Falls, the first single malt from North Wales.
The Crabbie revival
Work began on a new Crabbie’s distillery in Leith in 2018 but there were delays in this Bonnington site, so the team set up the Chain Pier experimental distillery in nearby Granton.
According to head distillery James Lockhart, it was “almost like a homebrew set-up.” He fermented for between 40-72 hours and when distilling “we only cut the middle portion” and didn’t use the feints or foreshots.” It’s “pure middle cut spirit.” The first barrels were filled in 2019 with 39 in total filled.
This distillery has now been dismantled now that the Bonnington site in Leith is up and running. According to Lockhart, at the old site, they did all the experiments with temperature, yeast etc. to “create the spirit we wanted.” Marketing director James Stocker elaborated: “The Chain Pier distillery was operational for just a year (between 2018 and 19), yet it gave our team a great opportunity to continue John Crabbie’s legacy of innovation – handcrafting unique distillations and trialling everything from malt types to custom casks”.
This first release is the second cask filled. It’s a virgin American oak cask with a no. 3 char. Master blender Kirstie McCallum said “we didn’t do anything apart from put it into a bottle. It’s the taste of whisky as it came out of the cask.” It’s bottled at cask strength, 57% ABV and 234 bottles have been filled.
Tasting Crabbie Chain Pier single malt
The big question is, is it any good? There’s a full tasting note below for those who like such things. In brief, however, the thing that struck me is that despite its youth, it’s almost exactly three years old, it’s smooth and not at all raw. As you’d expect, the virgin oak cask imparts a lot of big flavours but without smothering the spirit. It’s a bold sweet drop but there’s plenty of peachy fruit and a few drops of water reveal a surprising elegance. All in all, an extremely impressive debut that promises much for the future. Well done to McCallum and the team.
So what will they release next? According to McCallum “we have another 35 casks to play with”, including sherry and Australian shiraz casks, “so you will see something soon.” We can’t wait.
Crabbie Chain Pier single malt will be available soon from Master of Malt. RRP £65. Keep watching the New Arrivals page.
Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt
Nose: Lots of cereal, malted barley, and oats, with vanilla, burnt toffee, wood spice, and orchard fruit. There’s no alcohol burn despite the high ABV. Water brings our marzipan, peaches, and a touch of tobacco.
Palate; Lots of spicy chilli, black pepper, and sweet caramel notes. It’s a thick round dram. Water brings out peaches and a waxy texture.
Finish: Toffee and dark chocolate, spicy
Overall: It’s a big bold young whisky but manages to have plenty of fruit and not be raw or spirity at all.