Whisky Advocate

Speyside visit update: Cragganmore

April 29th, 2008

Good news. I was going to be out of the office the next few days and would not be able to blog about my trip. (I bought a boat. I was going to drive to the Jersey Shore today to the marina where the boat is and take the boat to the slip that I rented.) But all this has been pushed back one week.

So, you will hear a lot from me this week, and very little from me next week. I am sitting with my computer on my lap and my golden retriever at my feet. (I decided to work at home today and skip going into the office. I get more writing done.) I thought I’d post briefly on my visit to Cragganmore.

I toured the distillery with Nick Morgan, Director of Malts for Diageo (and a longtime friend) and Andy Cant, Distilleries Manager for Cragganmore, Cardhu and Knockando. (No, I didn’t even “go there” regarding the whole Cardhu thing.) The highlight of my visit was the tasting after the tour.

Lined up in front of us were the six distillery bottlings released over the past decade or so. They were (in the order that we tasted them): Standard 10 yr., Distillers’ Edition 1992 Vintage, 14 yr. old, 10 yr. old cask strength, 17 yr. old cask strength, and 29 yr. old cask strength. Of this group, the 14 yr. old and 17 yr. old expressions were not imported to the U.S.

The most humorous part of the tasting (for me, not for Andy) was when Nick was looking at the whisky labels and said: “Hey Andy, did you know that you opened Bottle #1 of the 14 yr. old?”

Andy looked at the label and continued staring at the label as his face turned white. Not a word was spoken for what seemed like minutes (although was probably only about 10 seconds). Nick and I then began to laugh. Although, I really felt sorry for Andy.

You see, distilleries like to keep Bottle #1 of any limited releases. Many times, it will be on display at the distillery. Not this time. (According to Nick, the 14 yr. old was released in 2001 for the Friends of Classic Malts.)

I’m not sure if Andy has told his boss yet. If he hasn’t, let’s hope the guy’s not reading this blog! Andy told me later that it took him several hours for him to recover from the whole thing.

Anyway, back to the whiskies. It was interesting to see the difference in personality between the six whiskies. The Distillers’ Edition is finished in port, the 14 yr. old was what I would call “moderately sherried” (probably a combination of first, second, and maybe even refill or fino sherry casks), and the 10 yr. old cask strength was very sherried (my guess would be mostly first fill sherry cask). The standard 10 yr. the 17 yr., and 20 yr., all seemed to be from ex-bourbon casks.

My take on the whole thing? (And I think this was unanimous, by the way.) The 17 was the best of the bunch. So much so that I brought a bottle home with me. It was dry and balanced like the standard 10 yr., but deeper and more complex.

I actually liked the standard 10 next, followed by the 29 yr. (Although there was some subtle mustiness in the 29. Looking back, I wonder if the bottle wasn’t corked?) Anyway, the moderately sherried 14 yr. and port wood finished Distillers’ Edition were also very nice, although masking some of Cragganmore’s more subtle notes. The only one that I didn’t fancy was the very sherried 10 yr. limited edition cask strength. The sherry dominated the flavor profile. Of course, as luck would have it, this is the bottle I have in my drinking collection…

All-in-all, the tasting was a lot of fun–and very educational. I hope it will help you with your decision-making process the next time you see one or more of these whiskies on a retailer’s shelf.

6 Responses to “Speyside visit update: Cragganmore”

  1. sam k says:

    One comment: the happiest days in a man’s life; the day he buys a boat, and the day he sells the damn thing! Have fun, skipper!

  2. John Hansell says:

    Yes, I have always felt that the best boat is a friend’s boat. I have lost all sense of financial prudence. Perhaps too much whisky? Or not enough, maybe? I don’t know.

  3. John Hansell says:

    It’s a used boat, so we were having a survey (inspection) done on the boat to make sure nothing is wrong with it. After the survey, we went to a small diner on the site of the marina where the boat was docked when the guy at the table next to me said:

    “You know what BOAT stands for, don’t you?”

    I said, “No. Tell me.”

    “Break Out Another Thousand,” he said.

    That about sums it up.

  4. John Hansell says:

    Andy, the distillery manager for Cragganmore, saw my post and had this to say:

    “Hi John,
    Thank you for reminding me of my faux pas. I had just about got over it but now realise that several more sessions of therapy are required to truly block it out.”

    And then when I asked him if he wants to post his thoughts up on the blog, he replied:

    Hi John,
    Please feel free to put it on the blog. I would put it on myself but a) I’m a bit of a technophobe and b) It would make me late for the public flogging that my boss has arranged.”

    I love his dry sense of humor!

  5. sam k says:

    That really was a major misstep for Andy, but one which provided an experience you’ll not soon forget. Glad to hear his therapy will soon be finished! When was the last time you had the privilege of tasting bottle number one? Let me guess…

  6. John Hansell says:

    I don’t recall ever having the priviledge of cracking open a Bottle #1. Barrel #1, yes. But not Bottle #1. I do have one (Bottle #1 of a Bushmills Millennium cask I purchased back in the ’90s), but it’s still sitting my my shelf in my bar. Soon, though. Very soon.

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