Cragganmore (Pronounced: CRAGganmore)
57°24'34.614 N, 3°23'11.2272 W
Tormore, Glenfarclas, Dailuaine
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
1,600,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Diageo > UDV (since 1968)
Ballindalloch, Glenlivet, Banffshire AB37 9AB, Scotland
Yes, receiving a few thousand visitors each year
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
- After the introduction of the "Distiller's Edition' of Cragganmore in 1997 (which is double matured in port pipes, unlike the other Classic Malts that are re-casked into sherry casks), new 'limited editions' were launched after 2000.
2002 - A visitor centre was opened in May 2002. According to the 'Malt Whisky Yearbook 2006', the centre receives just a thousand visitors each year. So, it's not quite the touristic hotspot of the Speyside region, to say the least.
2011 - Parts of the pot stills at Cragganmore distillery are replaced.
The Cragganmore distillery was built in 1869-1870 by one John Smith
(what's in a name, right?) who had previously been involved with the
Glenfarclas, Macallan and Glenlivet distilleries. John was related to George
Smith (founder of the Glenlivet distillery), but the details are either vague
or disputed. John Smith's trustees continued the operation between 1886
and 1893, after which John's son Gordon took over as manager of the
distillery. Cragganmore was rebuilt in 1902 and sold two decades later.
Cragganmore is Gaelic for great rock. John Smith ordered the construction
of a railroad track to the Ballindalloch railway station when he built the
distillery. Just a few years later Cragganmore became the first distillery
in Scotland to transport their whisky efficiently by railway.
In 1923 the Glenlivet Distillery Co. Ltd.
became the new owners of the Cragganmore distillery.
This parent company was owned by two parties; the Ballindalloch Estate and White Horse Distillers Ltd. Gordon Smith remained manager for thirty years until the sale in 1923. The White Horse shares were transferred to DCL in 1927 and all remaining shares were eventually acquired by DCL by the year 1968. This last change in ownership took place not long after the number of stills was extended from two to four. Cragganmore was eventually 'inherited' by Diageo when United Distillers (UD) and International Distillers and Vintners (IDV) merged by the end of the second millennium.
Cragganmore uses lightly smoked malt. Just like most other distilleries, Cragganmore doesn't have its own maltings anymore; their malted barley is obtained from Diageo's central maltings . A lauter mash tun was installed in 1997. The copper top and wood along the sides of the mash tun are purely 'cosmetic'; the business end is made of stainless steel. There are still some 'natural' details in the Cragganmore distillery though; all six washbacks are made from European larch.
In 1967 the number of stills at Cragganmore doubled from two to four.
Both wash stills are 'lantern' models while the spirit stills are the 'boiling ball' type. Both spirit stills have flat (T-shaped) tops instead of the usual 'swan necks'. This shape supposedly increases the 'reflux' of condensed spirits inside the stills; part op the vapour trickles down again to be re-distilled. This, in turn, produces a smoother spirit. Interestingly enough, Cragganmore still uses ' worm tubs'. Most distilleries have now turned to other cooling solutions but when I write this five out of the six distilleries in Diageo's original 'classic malts' range (nowadays expanced) still use worm tubs for cooling purposes: Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Oban and Talisker.
The only exception within the 'Classic Malts' range of six can be found on Islay - it's Lagavulin.
For many years the company James Watson & Co.
has played an
important role in the history of the Cragganmore distillery. This firm
was founded in 1815 in Dundee and had grown into an important
bottling and blending company. James Watson & Co. owned four
distilleries Balmenach, Glen Ord, Parkmore and Pulteney until 1923.
During the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century,
James Watson bought all malt whisky produced at Cragganmore.
The development of the railway network
in the UK was important to many whisky distilleries in Scotland. It allowed raw materials like barley and coal to be delivered to the distillery easily and affordably - which is not unimportant if you know how inaccessible parts of the Highlands were before the train was invented. Even better; the whisky that was produced with these raw materials could be easily transported to the main markets for Scotch whisky in England - and later Europe, the USA and further abroad.
That's also why John Smith built his new distillery near Ayeon Farm along the Strathspey railway. Diageo's advertising people would really like you to believe that the location was chosen because of the pure spring water or the friendly leprechauns in the area, but the truth is that John Smith probably understood the importance of logistics for whisky producers.
Cragganmore is sometimes presented as the most complex malt whisky, but it's the second lowest selling 'Classic Malt' - right after Glenkinchie.
1) The distillery is located in Ballindalloch - close to where the rivers Spey, Avon and Livet meet.
2) The spirit at Cragganmore is filled into bourbon casks which are stored in the three on-site warehouses.
Bottling is done in Leven, Fife three kilometres due east of Glenrothes.
3) Cragganmore was part of United Distiller's original series of six 'Classic Malts', together with Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban and Talisker. Cragganmore represented the Speyside region in the series, but at the time several other Speyside distilleries were considered as well; Glen Elgin, Linkwood and Mortlach. This series of classic malts was first released in 1988. Around the year 2005 some other distilleries were added to the range of 'classic malts'; Caol Ila, Cardhu, Clynelish, Glen Elgin, Glen Ord, Knockando & Royal Lochnagar.
4) Before the launch of the 'Classic Malts', the Cragganmore malt whisky was used mainly in blended whisky.
The first blend that depended on Cragganmore for its recipe was the James Watson Number 10 blend.
These days, most of the Cragganmore malt whisky is used for the Old Parr and White Horse blends.
5) Cragganmore is one of the few Scotch whisky distilleries still using worm tubs to cool the freshly made spirit.
Cragganmore 14yo (40%, OB for the Friends of the Classic Malts 2010, 13000 Bts)
Nose: Odd. Weird fruits - is this a finished whisky? "Rang" strawberry fruits. Hint of oil and smoke?
Taste: The same weird "Rang" artificial strawberry notes that I found in the nose. Dry, fairly dull finish.
Score: 77 points - this is certainly not a boring whisky, but it loses 1 or 2 points in the dry, chalky finish.
Cragganmore 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/-2008)
Nose: A fairly polished malt. A little nondescript with the faintest possible farmy notes in the background.
Cragganmore was never a real favourite of mine in the 'Classic Malts' series, and I'm not growing any fonder.
Hey wait - something vaguely metallic after a few minutes of breathing. All in all, a lot remains hidden.
Taste: Decent whisky, but very little remarkable about it. A suggestion of smoke on the palate, very subtle?
A lightly malty, medium dry centre with a decent mouth feel but little character. A fairly light finish.
Score: 75 points - precisely average, the profile of this whisky has slipped quite a bit over the years.
Cragganmore 1993/2007 Distillers Edition (40%, OB, Port Wood Finish)
Nose: Dusty fruits; quite unique. Whiff of leather in the distance? Hint of banana? Some oriental spices.
Something oily after a few minutes of breathing. I like most port finishes and this is no exception.
Taste: Strong fruits like in the nose. Goof stuff. Sometimes a whisky is so pleasant I forget to make notes.
However, when I went back to it almost a year later the palate had dropped off substantially. Too bad.
Oil? Quite a bit of smoky notes, especially in the finish. The centre is smooth enough. Slightly tannic finish.
Score: 83 points - I'd pick this over the regular 14yo OB every day - a recent batch scored only 75 points.
Cragganmore 17yo 1988/2006 (55,5%, OB, 5970 Bts.)
Nose: Light. A little farmy. Fairly MOTR with some fruits. Smoked nuts? Nice but not very expressive.
Taste: Malty. Big and solid. A tad rough in the finish. The higher proof lifts the score into the 80's.
Score: 82 points - recommendable, but I actually prefer the double matured expressions.
Cragganmore 10yo 1993/2004 (60.1%, OB, Bodega European oak casks, 15000 Bottles)
Nose: Faint spices and a whiff of smoke. A lot going on in the background. Slightest touch of perfume?
Seems bigger and sweeter in the nose than during round one. Very alcoholic, but nice. Bakery aroma's.
Taste: Soft for a microsecond, quickly powering up. Sweet and fruity. Excellent mouth feel. Long, dry finish.
Central heating for the palate. Reminds me a little bit of the Glenfarclas 105, although this seems lighter.
Liquorice on the palate. Potent and pleasant, but perhaps not quite HIGHLY recommendable.
Score: 84 points - although I should add that the high proof might have lifted my spirits a bit.
Cragganmore 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, L15T00687045)
Nose: Smooth and a bit spicy. Then it grows maltier. Spices & organics grow stronger.
Faintly fruity and flowery. Malty. Very light liquorice? A little bit of everything, really.
Taste: Weak, watery start. Dry and pretty flat. Fairly bitter. Oy, that's too bad...
Score: 78 points - better than average, but not quite as good as two earlier batches I tried.
Cragganmore-Glenlivet 14yo 1989/2003 (46%, Cadenhead's, Sherry)
Nose: Smooth. Honey. Heather? Fairly subtle sherry influence. Cookies? Toffee?
Not very expressive at first, but it definitely opens up with time. Faint organics
Taste: Watery, fragmented start. Slightly sweet. Hot and a little soapy. Burning.
Score: 81 points - my initial score of 78 points for the first dram was too conservative. On closer inspection this one showed plenty of redeeming qualities, especially after time. Maybe it's a tad too subtle for me, but if you give it time there's lots of fun to be had. With a matching palate it might even have scored in the upper 80's.
Cragganmore 29yo 1973/2003 (52.5%, OB, Special Edition, 6000 Bts.)
Nose: Not very expressive. The faintest hint of peat or chloride, perhaps. From a tired cask?
Taste: Sharp and quite flat on the surface. After a lot of breathing it mellows out a little bit.
Score: 79 points - I didn't feel like this edition was all that 'special', quite frankly.
Cragganmore 1988/2002 Distillers Edition (40%, OB, CggD-6553, Double matured in port casks)
Nose: Sherried and very fruity. Apples? Ginger? Strawberries? Much heavier than the 12yo.
A faint hint of peat after five minutes? Beer-like prickle in the back. Good balance.
Taste: Watery and woody. Fruitier towards the centre. Astringent, oaky finish.
Score: 80 points - double maturation has infused the Cragganmore with some extra weight & wisdom.
Cragganmore 12yo 1990/2002 (46%, MMcD, MM 1416, Bourbon).
Nose: Grassy and flowery - like a mountain meadow in Spring. Spicy prickle. Hint of honey?
It starts off smooth and friendly but becomes grainier and oilier. The bourbon takes centre stage.
Taste: Rough start. Flat centre. Hot, woody finish. Beer? Hint of eucalyptus? Too dry, too bad.
Score: 74 points - the nose is very pleasant but the palate drags it down below 'average'.
Cragganmore 13yo 1989/2002 (46%, Signatory Unchillfiltered, Oak Cask #962, 375 Bottles)
Nose: Surprisingly light and flowery, before becoming creamier and fruitier. Smoke?
Is that citrus? Stale beer? Farmy notes. It completely falls apart after two minutes.
It makes a quiet comeback after a few more minutes. Spices and organics. Sorrel?
Given time it grows ever more complex. This malt needs some time to reveal itself.
Taste: Bittersweet start, growing smoother and fruitier towards the centre. Malty.
Not terribly complex, but endearing enough to make up for the weak moment in the nose.
Score: 82 points - the nose has some weak moments, but the palate keeps it in the 80's.
I have to admit I'd prefer this over the 12yo OB - it just has much more body at 46%.
Cragganmore 1976/1993 (53.8%, G&M, Casks 3588-3591)
Nose: Spicy and flowery with a light touch on honey - or maybe nectar? Mighty complex.
Opens up nicely with time. Toffee. Sherry and organics. Peppers? Spicy black Chinese beans.
Taste: Toffee sweetness. Big burn, but drinkable at cask strength. Pleasant mouth feel.
Strong bittersweet centre. Responds well to water, becoming sweeter and smoother.
Score: 85 points - leaning towards 86. This is the best Cragganmore I've ever had.
Cragganmore 1973 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Bottled +/- 1990)
Nose: Fruits on the top of the nose, with an undercurrent with more organics. Tea.
Sweet and creamy elements, but there's a distracting perfumy off-note as well.
That's not all - the perfumy element seems to grow stronger over time.
There's a lot going on beneath the surface, but the perfume overpowers all.
Taste: Ooooh! Perfumy start, quickly settling down into a fruitier centre.
Once I get such a heavy punch of perfume on the palate I'm out for the count.
Score: 74 points - the nose has many appealing elements, but the perfume drags it down.
Cragganmore 14yo 1969 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice, old brown label)
Nose: Fruity. Polished. More open and accessible than many later CC bottlings. Hint of Chloride?
Taste: Oy... Very bitter at first. Oxidation? Smoother in the fruity centre and finish. Impressive body.
Score: 79 points - but I should add that this miniature was almost empty, so maybe it was oxidised.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Cragganmore Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Cragganmore page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Cragganmore expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or