You may have heard of Craigellachie recently after a certain whisky award for its 31-year-old expression. Convenient timing for what was a struggling revamped Last Great Malts range, despite bringing some welcome spotlighting to the overlooked distilleries within the Bacardi stable. Clearly the excellent presentation wasn’t enough to back up the premium pricing; especially for a series of distilleries that were relatively unknown.
Everyone has a ceiling when it comes to whisky pricing. For some distilleries you may go that extra mile, as you understand its qualities that sets it apart from the rest of the field i.e. Tormore. Others you are somewhat dubious and resistant to meet the asking price. I’m sure this is part of the conundrum as to why Craigellachie and its brethren have remained relatively static across retailers. The official whiskies I’ve had from the distillery as very enjoyable, but ultimately overpriced. Facing this situation where do you turn to? Yes, it has to be the independent bottlers.
A recent visit to the Carnegie Whisky Cellars in Dornochprovided an opportunity to scour their bulging shelves full of bottles. It’s an enticing selection and I particularly enjoy the fact that things are stacked alphabetically, but with the official and independent releases standing side by side. This allows you to contrast and compare, debating whether the presentation warrants the higher price tag, or if the whisky itself proves more desirable. Craigellachie has been on my mind lately, after the award to a certain degree but more so the one that got away. This was during the 2016 Dornoch Whisky Festival and their Gala event, at the Douglas Laing stand where a 15-year-old was a delight coming from a refill sherry butt.
From memory the Douglas Laing was a great price and I learned the hard way that hesitation never pays, as what stock was left simply sold out. However once something has registered upon my radar, it’s likely that eventually I will catch up with the fiend. My recent return to Dornoch and the Whisky Cellar introduced me to an older sibling from the same distillery, utilising another sherry butt for the admirable price of £78. This is around £15 cheaper than the official 17-year-old expression and 4 years older, featuring a style of cask that many will pay a premium for.
Needless to say there was no hesitation this time around. Part of the appeal is that I find Douglas Laing one of the most reliable independent bottlers who produce consistently good releases. The fact that their prices are realistic and the presentation is informative whilst retaining a touch of class, makes this family company the complete package. This bottling comes from their Old Particular range, which means the cask and their contents are left well alone. When the time comes for bottling, it’s at cask strength devoid of colouring and with no chill filtration.
Overall, it feels as if half the battle has been won. The final icing on the cake is a whisky that you’ve essentially bought without tasting, but using all your senses and knowledge should pull through. Time to open it up and see if it’s gold or an own goal. This Craigellachie was distilled in September 1995, before being bottled in September 2016 at 51.5% volume, from sherry butt number DL11343.
Nose: oddly I cast aside the initial impression of ready salted crisps and changed the glass. Instead hazelnuts were delivered, crushed almonds with red grapes, an oily maple syrup sweetness with noticeable stewed apples with a delicate dusting of cinnamon. Elements of honey, apricots, barley sweets and then water delivers more red fruit alongside toffee.
Taste: there’s a slight oiliness and sense that the cask has not overpowered the spirit greatly. More red grapes arrive but with cranberries and a rich caramel. Honey glazed apples and the sense of a bold reflux spirit with some nutmeg. The addition of water lifts the fruits with raspberries, a herbal thyme aspect and a worn leathery forcefulness.
Overall: the strength of the distillate is noticeable, as is the fact that the sherry cask has stepped aside. In reality this is probably a 2nd fill cask and a gentle one at that, but the essence of Craigellachie shines through. The final result is a layered whisky with much to discover, arguably not to my own personal tastes but its distinct and robust. Qualities that I can appreciate in any whisky, although I’m still swayed towards the aforementioned 15-year-old.