At the 2017 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards the prize for the best 12 Years Old and under went to the widely available Aberlour 12 Year Old. A very sweet sherry finished whisky which I have previously reviewed at Aberlour 12 Year Old Double Cask Matured
The runner up was today’s review of the Cragganmore 2003 Distillers Edition so I am interested to see if I agree with the judges. Is this port finished whisky just not quite up to the same standard as the Aberlour? Did the judges get it wrong?
The Cragganmore distillery was built in 1869 by John Smith at Ballindalloch.
The distillery was purpose built and carefully considered for how raw materials would get to the distillery, how the whisky would be produced and how finished goods would reach the market. This was a time of increased global commerce and automation in the United Kingdom and Cragganmore distillery is just one example of this.
The distillery still uses wormtubs for condensing the vapour. Combined with the shape of the stills this gives the meaty spirit which has become the house style of the single malts at the distillery. The majority of the produce goes into blends in the Diageo range with just two single malts available in the core range, the 12 year old and the Distiller’s edition which we are about to review. Finding either of these bottles is going to be fairly difficult and reserved for specialised retailers only really.
The 2013 release of the Distiller’s Edition is a Port wine finish. The length of time in the finishing pipe is not disclosed but being a 2003 vintage and bottled in 2015 making it 12 years old I doubt it was very long. Apart from anything else a Port pipe can very quickly overpower all the complexity and intricacies in a malt.
Being from Diageo this expression will be most probably artificially coloured which is a shame. Cask maturation done correctly can give a great colour, cask maturation done on the cheap gives little to no colour. Perhaps that was the reason for wide spread use of E150a over the entire portfolio or perhaps it’s just for “consistency” between batches. Reader to consider on their own I suspect.
Regardless, it is bottled at 40% ABV and is available for around £60.
Colour – vibrant orange
Nose – very sweet with startburts, pineapple cubes, fruity with lychee, cherries and finally a drop of honey and vanilla. Very promising so far!
Palate – hmm this feels a little thin and hollow. Not much happening mid palate really, but there is a sweet and sour element from the port cask and the original wood maturation.
Finish – The length of finish isn’t bad actually. Better than I was fearing at least. More of the sweet and sour thing going on but the wood is more assertive. Cinnamon is fairly noticable and some well used tea bags. More vanilla notes but it is more vanilla essence rather than vanilla extract.
So, do we have a conclusion on our preference between the Cragganmore and Aberlour? Well yes the order was correct the Aberlour is superior to the Cragganmore. The nose promised so much but it simply couldn’t keep up the original pace. The problem has been the bottling strength mostly I suspect even an extra 3 percentage points would have saved a little face here maybe. At £60 a bottle I don’t think this is acceptable especially with the breadth of competition on the market just now.
This is definitely a good and pleasant dram please don’t misunderstand. I can’t see many people, if anyone, not enjoying this one. However, to buy a whole bottle and get continued enjoyment and stimulation from the experience. Probably not.