As some of you may know I am recently back from my adventures up in Speyside – you can read all about it here in my Speyside Road Trip – where I visited several distilleries, amongst those distilleries visited was the Cragganmore Distillery. There are a few reasons that I decided to visit this distillery while up in Speyside, the main reason though is that the Cragganmore 12yo is one of the first malt whiskies that I ever tried when I was just starting out on my whisky adventure, and I immediately fell in love with it. Since then this malt has always had a spot on my shelf and I always enjoy going back to have a wee try of it. I couldn’t go all that way and not visit a distillery so close to my heart!
Cragganmore distillery is located on the Ballindalloch estate in Speyside, just along the road from Tormore, and opposite from the newly built Ballindalloch estate distillery. Built here in 1869 it was only made possible by the opening of the Strathspey railway line some six years earlier. Cragganmore is one of the few distilleries to boast flat topped stills, an unusual feature which will likely increase the amount of reflux during distillation, though any lightness this many impart onto the spirits character would be counteracted by the use of worm tubs for condensing. Now owned by Diageo this malt is one of their ‘Classic Malts’ range, and it is a superb style of whisky they produce.
My partner and I arrived just in time for our tour, we had booked onto the 12 o’clock tour and were running slightly late no thanks to the dualling of the A9, and burst through the door literally 3 minutes before our tour was supposed to go out. Once we had caught our breath from the rush from the carpark and everyone was assembled it was time to start our tour. We had booked onto the expressions tour, this option allows you to try some extra whiskies from the distillery, which is definitely worth the extra money as the tasting was excellent.
Our tour Guide for the day was Rebecca, who unfortunately told us that we were not allowed to take pictures while in the production areas – if I can find any picture I will put them in to break up the writing a bit – and gave us the usual spiel about health and safety and all the rest. Our tour started in what was the old malting barn, now it is just taken up by several giant wooden malt hoppers, which make for a rather cramped space; it felt like we were all crammed into a small hallway. Swiftly moving on from here we were taken to see their mill, like so many distilleries they have a Porteus mill, those wonders of engineering that just keep going. Our tour guide obviously knew their stuff but the tour did feel very scripted and lacked some of the personality and humour that you get with others, to be honest though I was more interested in just seeing the production areas than anything else.
The mash tun at Cragganmore is a thing of sheers beauty. They have a wooden clad mash tun, with a highly sheened copper canopy over it which looks absolutely stunning. It is from the mashing that you are also able to see their worm tubs. Another unusual feature at this distillery, other than the fact that they still use worm tubs, is that they have rectangular worms, which I don’t believe any other distillery has, I highly doubt this would alter the taste any but I just thought it was quite interesting. From here we were shown through the fermentation and the distillation. The stills were of a very nice shape. The wash stills were of a flowing lamp-glass shape, while the much smaller spirit stills with their flat tops also include boil-balls. From here we were taken for a fleeting stop in the warehouse, where all output that will be bottled as a malt is stored – the vast majority is matured elsewhere for blending – before we were taken to a gorgeous tasting room for our samples.
We were going to get to try 3 expressions of the Cragganmore. They were as follows.
Cragganmore 12yo – the ‘classic malts’ bottling, which I will no doubt review in the near future as it such an enjoyable dram.
Cragganmore 2016 distiller’s edition – this was a very interesting bottling of Cragganmore. This edition was matured first in sherry casks, then for a secondary period in bourbon barrels before then being finished in sherry. Bottled at 48% it is limited to 1,800 bottles.
1999 Single Cask Cragganmore – this whisky is fantastic!!! Seeing as how it’s never going to get bottled you have to get yourself up to Cragganmore to try this. Filled in 1999 and bottled at the start of this year it is a 16yo Cragganmore matured in a refill barrel and presented at 53%ABV. Seeing as how I would never get to try this whisky again I decided to take my time and took the following notes:
Nose – rich toffee, vanilla and coconut, a big sulphury-malt character and a slight whiff of smoke. Sweet tannins and a little lemon rind.
Palate – huge sweet arrival with honey, toasted bread, orange peel and again bitter lemon rind. Tannic woody drying, leather and pepper.
Finish – the finish continues on from the palate with lots of sweetness and leather but it is a bit fruitier and bitterer.
After our tasting was finished and we had had a wander around the study room we then thanked Rebecca for the tour and headed back to the car for the next part in our Speyside Road Trip, a stop at Glenfarclas!