It feels like the Last Great Malts range has been around for years, which I suppose is testament to the good rebrand and distribution powers (money) of Bacardi, or rather the Bacardi-owned John Dewar & Sons. These distinctive bottlings seem to be ubiquitous – from small whisky shops to filling sections at travel retail. It was only in 2014 that the range began to take shape, and whisky drinkers around the world rejoiced at (a) the heavy use of an age statement and (b) some decent core ranges of whiskies that were only really given lip-service in previous incarnations.
They’ve been excellent whiskies, too, from the Aultmores through to the more gentle The Deveron range. My only quibble has been pricing on the older age statements: whilst the entry levels have been very reasonable, I think it’s fair to say that the prices of some of the older whiskies have been… well, a bit silly. Asking £180 for a 21 year old Royal Brackla is a decision only a Diageo board member could be proud of. (See Mortlach for extreme examples of fleecing whisky drinkers for insane amounts of cash.)
Anyway, Craigellachie. I’ve written a little about this fantastic distillery in a review of the 13 Year Old, which I have to say is one of the most flavoursome entry-level whiskies you can buy, so read that for more on things like worm tubs and what is just a damn fine whisky.
The 31 year old has recently been voted as the best single malt whisky in the world at this year’s World Whiskies Awards, so I’m rather excited about that, as well as exploring the range further with the 23 year old. The 31 year old clocks in at 52.5% ABV, and will probably cost you around £500 at auction – if not more since the award – whilst the 23 year old is bottled at 46% ABV, and you can pick it up for just under £400.
Craigellachie 23 Years Old
Colour: russet, but very vibrant.
On the nose: that’s lovely: a nice oily, slightly dirty and industrial note balanced by orchard fruits. (Almost evoking Campbeltown, until the fruit takes over.) And it’s in that baked apple, heather honey and mead zone that the dram settles. Sulphur – just a hint, just enough. Slightly soapy too, with a flash of tarragon and something meaty, like a chicken broth. I would say that despite the age and interesting presence in the glass, it isn’t too complex.
In the mouth: baked apples, pears and a heft of meatiness dominate the palate. Oily, and the characterful sulphur comes to the fore. Herbal, and slightly ashy. Honey, but it’s not that sweet. Nutmeg. I think this one just feels too heavy on the refill casks (second or third-fill perhaps? I could be completely wrong); so there’s a lovely texture that comes through, but the complexity doesn’t follow. And there’s an oaky, tannic bitterness with cloves and pepper that unbalances things on the finish. Nice, complex enough, but I’m afraid I just couldn’t justify you buying it at that rather questionable price.
Craigellachie 31 Years Old
Colour: russet again, but with even more brightness.
On the nose: oh now then. Now we’re talking. Exceptionally more balance and finesse than the 23 – a hugely sensual experience. A trio of sweet, industrial and floral notes mingle here. On the sweet side: strawberry jam, dried apricots and sultanas, butterscotch, toffee fudge, Werther’s Originals. On the industrial side: a whiff of the petrol forecourt. Then jasmine and honeysuckle. Herbal notes and dried tea.
In the mouth: again, a perfect trio, echoing the nose, and a beautiful texture. Tarter fruits: blackcurrants, redcurrants, sour cherries with brazil nuts. The sulphur note, that industrial or meaty edge (and, I think, it’s interesting to note how sulphur used to be considered a flaw but is described here, induced by worm tubs, as a positive). Charred meats: Chinese Five Spice seasoning, with cloves and it’s intensely herbal (mixed herbs rather than any one specific). A lingering note of black pepper and plum jam.
The best whisky in the world? Whilst one can’t really compare like for like, the Craigellachie 31 Year Old certainly a stunning dram and a class above what I’ve been finding in the rest of the Scotch industry (there’s a lot of tired old wood, rushed releases, average product). In many ways, I salute the judges for selecting something with vast amounts of pugnacious attitude. It’s the complete opposite of last year’s winner, the mellow, subtle Old Pulteney 1989 (still a good whisky, but in a different way). The 23, as you can probably tell, I’m not too fussed about.
Suffice to say, the 31 is an astonishingly good whisky and I love it to bits. Worth the many hundreds of notes? Only you can make that decision.
Note: samples were sent to me on behalf of John Dewar & Sons – as you can probably tell, things get an honest assessment round these parts.