Today I will be reviewing something a little bit special. It comes from one of my personal favourite distilleries, and has recently won a rather prestigious award. The world’s best single malt whisky! It is the Craigellachie 31yo!
Craigellachie distillery was founded in 1891 by a consortium of whisky blenders, led by Alexander Edwards, the then owner of Benrinnes distillery and later to build Aultmore, and Peter Mackie of White Horse distillers. Craigellachie was designed by the famous, and prolific, distillery architect Charles Doig, though little now remains of the original buildings. It was substantially rebuilt in the mid 1960’s to increase production, and like so many of the DCL’s expansion/rebuilds it was done so in their ‘Waterloo Street’ style, meaning that the distillery lost much of its character in exchange for output and efficiency. I have been lucky enough to see round the distillery, which isn’t open to the public, and there is still plenty of character to go round though. Craigellachie is a very unique tasting malt, resulting in large from its unique process. They use Barley which has been dried in a kiln using oil instead of hot air and peat. As well as this they have short and fat (very fat) stills, and use worm tub condensers. The dram we are trying from this great distillery is the Craigellachie 31yo, which recently claimed one of the highest awards that a whisky can get – the world best single malt whisky for the year of 2017. This is a competition hosted by the whisky magazine and is judged blind by a panel of industry insiders, so if they think it’s good then it really has to be! Let’s give it a try!
Natural colour, non-chillfiltered and presented at a cask strength of 52.2% ABV. Nose
Holy bejesus, it’s won the world’s best whisky and it is obvious as to why! As soon as you put it near your nose you can tell that it is a whisky with a good age behind it. Rich woody oak sweetness, rolled tobacco leaf and mature leather. It has a surprising amount of sweetness and fruitiness for such an old whisky. After a point most drams are overly cask dominated and woody. Sweet honey is the main sweetness, as well as black treacle and pineapple syrup (the syrup you get in a tin of pineapple rings). While on these tropical fruit notes the nose is a plethora of dried exotic fruits, with papaya standing out, as well as dried mango, citrus peel, pineapple chunks and coconut shavings. A touch of coffee and liqueur chocolates lead into a development of spices with vanilla standing the boldest with softer hints of cumin, garam masala and anise in the background. Then, at the last, there is a curl of wood smoke and a whiff of sulphur. Palate
The alcohol shows more on the palate though it is still remarkably gentle for its strength. The palate starts with the earthier, heavier notes from the nose. The sulphurous character from the worm tubs and short stills mixes with well-aged oak, creating a very drying and mouth drawing start to the palate. Old leather, furniture polish, sweet oak tannins and pine needle tea are the initial flavour profiles that come forward. A mouth-watering sweetness cuts through the drying oak which reintroduces the honey and caramel notes into the palate. The fruits again come through in a big way; this is a very tropical dram. Apricots come over first before being accompanied by papaya, guava and cantaloupe melon. There is also a note that is almost kiwi-like but not quite, I can’t quite place it. A prickle of alcohol and savoury spice develops mid-way through the development with fiery chilli on the sides of the tongue, cracked black pepper and more garam masala. It’s a hugely impressive and busy palate. Finish
Gentle savoury spice carries through from the palate; it’s almost a spiced meat note. Softer fruits appear in the finish, the apricots from the palate show, as does ripe white peach and nectarine. Earthy Manuka honey and melted white chocolate balance out the drying oak which would otherwise kill off the finish and a long lasting note of pine needle tea join all of the above in what is a long lasting and fairly acidic finish. Well, there we have it, a dram of the world’s best single malt whisky thoroughly enjoyed! I find this dram very impressive considering its age. Everyone loves an old whisky, obviously, but what I tend to find is that after a point whisky can become a bit one dimensional with the cask having had a bit too much influence, resulting in a bitter and astringent product. The Craigellachie 31 has an amazing balance, for me, of distillery character, maturation and oxidisation, likely the result of using some very good quality refill casks to manage the influence over time. This is a real ‘sipper’ of a dram. Sit back, relax and take your time to explore this as every time you go back for another sip or smell you will find something new. I only wish I had more to enjoy. I hope everyone gets the chance to try this spectacular malt!