Whisky and Words Number 57: Cragganmore 12

Well, hell, this blog ain’t dead! And neither am I. Just been a bit distracted, you know. Can’t think of why, offhand. Let’s see, something about a bat virus has got everyone het up. But, just in case you were thinking I wasn’t drinking, I have been. In moderation. Really (has not been easy…). And a recent add is the Cragganmore 12.

The Cragganmore 12 at rest.

I was really motivated to try this after the last review, of the Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition (Crag-DE for short)., which is a Port finish. I thought the Crag-DE was not up to the complexity of the Quinta Ruban, but then, maybe that was not their point. I was right—now having tried the Crag 12, I see where they went for the Port finish version. The Distiller’s edition is a well-applied, direct upgrade and enhancement of the standard 12-year. It rounds out, not overwhelms, the flavors in the standard 12.

No reason for this except it’s a really neat photo. Click!

And what indeed is the 12 like? First off, comes in an attractive monochrome carton. New model pricing (idiotic tariff edition) is about $70 here in Oregon. That compares with Highland Park 12 at $54, The Macallan 12 at $75, and Clynelish 14 at $68. I had to have high hopes for a tasty, well-refined malt.  After all this is one of Diageo’s Classic Malts, standing alongside such greats as Oban, Talisker, and Lagavulin, three of my faves.

The carton text advertises an “elegant, sophisticated Speyside” which is fair enough but goes a bit jumping the shark with “the most complex aroma of any malt.” Any malt? That’s tall taking, for sure. But the complexity and elegance one does find in this malt points to why they went with a subtle Port finish in the Crag-DE. (Fair enough, the DE is getting a minor rewrite, as I think they did a really good job improving, not transforming, an already good malt.) As you can see in the photo below (click for hi-res), the Port finish barely imparts color. It is a touch deeper amber with a hint of blush.

The Distiller’s Edition (Port, l.) vs. the 12-year (r.)

The 12-year is good. Is it great? First off, it does have an impressive nose. The plum I noted in the Port finish is there, but the Port reinforced it with a sturdier, woodier note. The 12’s notes are  varied, none dominate, all are well balanced and subtle. Maybe the marketing team went a bit overboard but the nose is serving up multiple delicate aromas. Which makes the palate a nice surprise. Solidly sweet but not sticky, they leaven it with the herbal side of several melons. Really interesting and these melon-ey notes were somewhat overwhelmed the Port treatment. Here, they shine. The finish cleans up with the usual tannins, light on the bitterness: sharp, not clumsy, a hint of pine and juniper still hanging on.

Cragganmore 12, Speyside Single Malt, 12-year old 40% ABV

Nose: Plum, juniper, sandalwood, honeysuckle, rose, drying hay. A little mineral note in the background.
Palate: Malt syrup, watermelon, honeydew, juniper, drying evenly to tannic bitters like you’d find in a red Campari.
Finish: The melon lingers as do the fresh oak tannins and bitters.

Bottom Line: This is a scotch you will pay attention to. It does not hit you like a fully muscled, Sherry-casked Islay would; instead, it intrigues and delights. Is it the most complex aroma of any malt? I don’t know, there are a lot I have not tried, but I’d say this is more interesting than some $100 whiskies I have tasted. It wipes the floor with the Clynelish 14 and does it in style. To me, it is more interesting (and a few bucks cheaper) than the Distiller’s edition, though the Crag-DE is that more fully muscled style. Save the Crag-DE for finishing up after a big, fatty steak. The Crag-12 is for following up a summer Chef’s salad. Recommended.

The Cragganmore 12 and another classic, the 100 Days.

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.

Continue reading “Whisky and Words Number 56: Cragganmore Distiller’s Port Finish”

Whisky and Words Number 55: Talisker 57° North

The 57 Degrees North. A fine whisky.

Normally, I review whiskies one can find at a reasonably well stocked liquor store. But now and then I cover something a bit harder to get. In this case, my wife had the Talisker 57° N shipped from Scotland for my (57th) birthday. I can imagine the cost of shipping rivaled that of the whisky. I have searched about 10 online liquor shops in the US and none of them had this expression. But if my wife can get it, so can you. It just takes will…and some extra cash.

Talisker intended this whisky to be a tribute to their remote location on the isle of Skye, 57° North latitude. What do they say about it? On their website, Talisker 57° is said to be “an untamed, natural expression of the Talisker’s full power: a volcanic, intensely appealing flavour that most drinkers will have only experienced in a cask strength bottling.” Indeed, 57% alcohol is pretty strong, a true 100 proof. True cask strength whiskies (except for the oldest) are typically higher than that, but 57% is on the cusp. Their flavor map has it dead center in weight, and pretty high on the smoky range. It’s not far from where they put their 10-year expression. I also find the label appealingly similar, the classic off-white label with Talisker in an embossed-style font.

Diageo kept the classic design for this expression.

There is a bit more on the carton, telling us they’ve aged the spirit in American oak refill casks, and it is “Sweet to start, and explodes with smoke and volcanic pepper.” Wow, I did not know volcanoes made pepper, got to get me some of that. I like pepper.

So, where’s the there, you wonder? On the pour, it doesn’t assault the room like a Laphroaig, but that’s not the Talisker way with peat. (Talisker tends to be medicinal in its phenolic content, not oily and ashy like the Islay peat monsters.) I find the nose very similar to the 10, but richer in the top end, where the grassier aromas from the oak are found and lighter on the bottom end, where the 10 brings more fruit to the nose. It’s nice – we probably have younger whiskies in this dram (it’s a NAS after all) but the malt master has done a great job selecting casks to bring out the best in young whiskies. There is no sting from the alcohol: they’ve really nailed the heart on this dram. There are 43% whiskies that sting far more than you’ll get from the 57.

The Talisker 10 (l) and 57 North (r) are very close in color. Sad day for lighting though.

So, on to the taste. I expected..well, it’s a NAS of which I am always dubious and the tasting notes were a bit over the top but yowee, they deliver on this whisky. At first, straight, no water needed, you notice the very nice caramel sweetness and then moments later, the ‘volcanic’ pepper does indeed explode. Holy cow. And then it gets smoky, in a less oily way than an Islay whisky. As I say in my tasting notes, a sip of this is like a drag on a truly good cigar. This is a roller coaster of flavor. Where the 10 is smooth, medical and subtle in its smokiness and spice, the 57 makes no bones about its flavor profile. It’s a big, but precise, flavor delivery engine.

Talisker 57° North, Island (Skye) Single Malt, NAS, 57% ABV

Nose: Very maritime: seaweed, earthy peat, like the 10 but more so. Sweet red apple, celery, fresh cut grass. Smoke is persistent but not overwhelming or oily. Surprisingly gentle on the nose for a near-cask-strength whisky.
Palate: Big toffee and caramel lead, and I get a bit of apple and strawberries. The sweet is quickly balanced by the traditional Talisker medicinal phenols (a bit Listerine, in a good way). Wow, yes it does explode in the peppery spice on the sides of the tongue, transitioning to a hefty serving of ashy smoke near the end, like a drag on a really good cigar. Remarkably smooth for a strong whisky; there is no harshness on the throat.
Finish: The ash stays with you once the pepper finishes its beat-down of the caramel and toffee; those spicy notes continue to balance as the smoke lingers.

Bottom Line: An exceedingly well done NAS whisky. And for a change, the tasting notes from the malt master are dead on. I have to say, the 57, along with the very solid standard ’10’ and the awesome 25-year-old I tried in New York really cements my appreciation for the brand. I am not letting my friends have any more of this. I’m totally going to hog this whisky. Kudos to the best-of-all-wives for ordering this from the Home Country!

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Whisky and Words Number 52: Edradour 10-year

The Edradour 10-year Distiller’s Edition. Dark and lovely.

I first encountered Edradour whisky at The Ship Inn, located on the water in a little town called Stonehaven. Stonehaven is just north of Dunnottar Castle on the east coast of Scotland. The Ship Inn had a hefty book full of single malts to try and I liked their description of the Edradour 10-year. You can read the description in the photo below. It was a good dram, and I was pleased to find when I returned to the US I could find a 10-year ‘Distillery Edition’ in my state. I do not know if it is the same expression as I had at the Ship inn, as that might have been their cask-strength version, which is also 10-year aged (and non-chill-filtered).

Description of the whisky at the Ship Inn. Click to zoom.

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Whisky and Words Number 50: Bunnahabhain 12 re-review!

It’s been a long time since I reviewed my old fave Bunna 12, and since then they have revamped the packaging, making it a good choice for the 50th review. The new packaging introduces a new style, new palette and a new Bunna captain as well.

The new 12. We expect great things.

Of the whisky inside, the features remain the same: 46.3% ABV, natural color, non-chill-filtered, “Double Matured in Ex Bourbon and Ex Sherry Casks.” What does that mean? The folks at Distell tell me Bunnahabhain “is made using 70% sherry casks with 30% bourbon casks, these casks are married (mixed) together in a vatting.” In this case, both sherry and bourbon casks will have been aged for at least 12 years. This is contrast to other part-bourbon, part-sherry offerings, like Glenmorangie’s Lasanta, where they start in bourbon casks and move to sherry for a final (shorter) maturation. So, Bunna is not actually ‘double matured,’ but the Bunnahabhain approach should result in a richer, more sherry-influenced profile.

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