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 Glenlivet distillery), but the details are vague.
John Smith was a visionary. He 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.
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.
In 1923 the Glenlivet Distillery Co. Ltd. became the new owners of the
Cragganmore distillery. At the time 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 distillery was eventually 'inherited' by Diageo when the corporations United Distillers (UD) and
International Distillers and Vintners (IDV) merged by the end of the second millennium.
Cragganmore is located in the central Speyside region of Scotland,
with Tormore, Glenfarclas and Dailuaine as its closest neighbours.
To be honest, the Cragganmore distillery isn’t the most attractive in
Scotland - or even the immediate vicinity. If you feel that ‘looks’ are
important, Glenfarclas would probably be a preferable destination;
it looks much nicer - and they’ll pour you a nicer dram as well.
Nevertheless, you can visit Cragganmore if you really want to...
The last time I checked their website they were open for hourly distillery tours between 11:00 AM and 17:00 PM.
1) Both wash stills at Cragganmore 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 spirit vapour
trickles down the still again to be re-distilled.
This, in turn, produces a smoother spirit.
2) In 1967 the number of stills at
Cragganmore doubled from two to four.
6) 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 is Gaelic for ‘great rock’.
7) 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) 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.
8) 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.
9) Cragganmore is one of the few Scotch whisky distilleries still using worm tubs to cool the freshly made spirit.
However, so did most other five ‘classic’ distilleries at the start of the millennium, so this cannot be the (only) source
of its supposed complexity. Furthermore, at the time it was Diageo’s second lowest selling 'Classic Malt' - right after
Glenkinchie. Complexity may be good for blending, but single malt drinkers seem to go for flavour.
5) The distillery is located in Ballindalloch - close to where the rivers Spey, Avon and Livet meet.
2000 - After the introduction of the very first “Distiller's Edition” of Cragganmore in 1997 (which was double
matured in port pipes, unlike the other 5 Classic Malts that were re-casked into sherry casks), new 'limited editions'
were launched after 2000.
2011 - Parts of the pot stills at Cragganmore distillery are replaced.
2014 - A 25yo official bottling of Cragganmore is released - and receives a lukewarm reception.
2017 - Independent bottlings of Cragganmore are quite rare, so the 27yo 1989 release by The Whisky Agency
(TWA) and La Maison du Whisky received quite some attention. And at 250 Euro’s the price was not outrageous.
2006 - A visitor centre was opened in May 2002. According to the 'Malt Whisky Yearbook 2006', the centre
annually received just a thousand visitors four years after the opening. So, I guess Cragganmore is not quite
the touristy hotspot of the Speyside region, to say the least.
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 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 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 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.Keeps a punch of perfume.
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, Bottled early 1980s)
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.
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.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Cragganmore malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Cragganmore I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Cragganmore.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
A lauter mash tun was installed in 1997. The copper top and wood
along the sides of the mash tun are '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.
The Cragganmore distillery 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 .
Interestingly enough, 'worm tubs' are still used at Cragganmore.
Most malt whisky distilleries have now turned to other cooling solutions.
By contrast, at the start of the 3d millennium 5 out of the 6 distilleries in
Diageo's original 'classic malts' range still used worm tubs for cooling
purposes: Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Oban and Talisker.
The only exception within the original 'Classic Malts' range
of six distilleries can be found on Islay - it's Lagavulin.
For many years the company James Watson & Co. played
an important role in the history of the Cragganmore distillery.
This firm was founded as early 1815 in Dundee and had
grown into an important bottling and blending company.
During the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, James Watson & Co.bought all of the malt
whisky produced at Cragganmore. James Watson owned Balmenach, Glen Ord, Parkmore & Pulteney until 1923.
Unlike many contemporaries, the Cragganmore distillery managed to survive to this day. John Smith chose wisely
built his new distillery near Ayeon Farm along the Strathspey railway. Diageo's advertising people would 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.