Whisky and Words Number 56: Cragganmore Distiller’s Port Finish

Chromey bottle, lovely light amber spirit.

We’re back to a whisky you should be able to find in a well-stocked ‘class 6’ (that’s for you ex-Army brothers and sisters out there). This is on the pricey side at $76 a bottle in Oregon (post-tariff pricing). The Cragganmore visual style has an old-time flair to it (see photo, left), highlighted by a Victorian font with chrome highlights on a restrained olive background. Very small text on bottle and carton claim “the most complex aroma of any malt” which was according to Michael Jackson. You know, this Michael Jackson.

The Distillers Edition Cragganmore gets a scant buildup on their website, found on Malts.com, this being a Diageo brand. Sure there are tasting notes and a review but all they say about this expression is “The complexity of Cragganmore makes it an out-of-the-ordinary choice for a second cask finish. However, port-wine casks provide the perfectly harmonious partner.” That’s an odd statement. They are trying to say there is so much going on in the regular Craggie that adding a (moderately) exotic maturation would not be a benefit. I’ll have to try a regular Cragganmore next.

Craggie D.E. carton rear label. Informative! Click for hi-res.

The carton gives us a better hint – that all the Classic Malts series from Diageo each have a Distiller’s edition, each one being a different take on the classic standard. The mysterious master distiller ‘LB’ at Cragganmore chose port wood barrels for the second maturation. (Laura Vernon is the current Cragganmore master distiller according to Wikipedia.) The other hint we get is from the front of both bottle and carton – “double matured” (that’s the usual bourbon casks followed by the port wood) and “distilled in 2008, bottled in 2018.” We have a total of 13 years of maturation, a goodly time. Since Cragganmore’s standard maturation is 12 years, it’s a fair guess they spend an additional year in the port. Mind you that’s a guess, but it would mirror Glenmorangie’s approach for their Quinta Ruban, though Glenmorangie go for an extra two years on a 10-year standard spirit.

I think this matches the decor nicely.

In the Quinta Ruban review, I used this Cragganmore as a foil for reviewing the Glenmorangie. I noted “the Cragganmore is flatter, delivering more malt and less toffee-and plum-than the Q.R. Indeed, the Distiller’s Edition’s nose sits between that of the Glen 10 and the Quinta Ruban. It is more refined than the Glen 10…no graininess, no sting, with subtle hints of oak, red apple and mineral peat. But it is not as robust as the Quinta Ruban.

It’s been a few months since I wrote that, let’s see how this whisky strikes me at several removes. The nose is indeed smooth and has a hefty amount of fruit and robust floral (rose, honeysuckle) before giving way to a nice grainy malt. There is just a bare hint of smoke in there, but not enough to offend even the tenderest taster. On the palate this comes on with a thick helping of toffee and at first I thought it would be cloying and suitable just for dessert, but it gets spicy and peppery on top of the apple, pear and floral notes. There are some herbal features as well. I may as well get on to the notes….

Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition Port Finish, Speyside Single Malt, 13-year old 40% ABV

Nose: Plum and pear, rose, honeysuckle and light herbs. A grainy malt as you get more aggressive with it. A hint of smoke and some mineral notes.
Palate: Toffee, honey, lively spice from the casks with not quite enough tannin to fully balance. It’s almost a dessert palate; contributions from the cask vanilla, spicy exotic woods (mirroring the herbs on the nose), and moderate tannins follow a quite unctuous and sweet onslaught.
Finish: The finish is mostly spicy aromatics, persistence of peppery tannins, lingering sweet/floral notes. Not especially long but pleasant. This would go better with a sweet confection than my usual treat (85% chocolate) or cheese.

Bottom Line: Pricey but could be worth the extra coin if you are looking for an unusual whisky to add to your cabinet. I would go for this if the spice and herbs won you over the fruitier (and less expensive) Quinta Ruban. There are no ‘craft’ aspects with regards to ABV or filtration, but they’ve constructed a good whisky. It has complexity, from the heavy toffee foretaste to the spicy notes that follow. I’d like to know more about the casks used; most distillers today use barrels specially seasoned with either port or sherry for their doing a second maturation, and I’d bet those barrels are purpose-built from European oak, which has a spicier profile than American. Sadly, it’s not easy to get contact information for Diageo distilleries. But I’ll keep trying and hopefully will report back with more on on the casks used for this dram.

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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