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”