Distillery Exclusives. What’s not to like about it. And for us whisky lovers/tourists it seems the way to bring something home from your favourite distillery. A liquid souvenir, something truly special that you can only buy at the distillery.
Last year during the Spirit of Speyside festival I bought this Cragganmore Distillery Exclusive. I had a great tour there, followed by a nice whisky & food pairing. A good memory, which had to be sealed with a Distillery Exclusive. Yes, I’m a sucker for these distillery exclusive bottlings. I do not know exactly why, since I never bought souvenirs when I went on normal holidays. Since whisky is in my life, I’ve only been on whisky vacations… Which reminds me I need to book a normal holiday again!
These distillery exclusives come in all forms and sizes. Where some distilleries even offer the possibility to fill your own bottle in the warehouse or have the option to bottle your own in the visitor centre. At other distilleries, you can buy a distillery exclusive bottling that is already filled, but all of them are single cask releases and bottled at cask strength. However, this is not the case with most of the Diageo distillery exclusives. These generally come in larger quantities (so several casks are used), and are often reduced to an ABV of 48%. Also, these versions often don’t tell what kind of casks have been used and none of them has an age statement. I think that’s a shame.
When you make the long trip to a distillery, you also want to buy something that matches the experience you get during a tour. As if the whisky was taken straight out of the cask that you have just seen in the warehouse, something raw and pure. It has to be something special, not another limited NAS edition, which are already released enough nowadays.
Also, these Diageo bottles are in the same price range as several other distillery exclusives. For comparison: this Cragganmore, with no age statement or whatsoever, did cost me £90. For the same money, I also bought a Balblair 2006 distillery exclusive, a single cask release that you can bottle yourself. Or last year I bought a distillery exclusive at Aberlour which I believe was £70. This bottle was already filled by the people of the distillery itself, but it was again a single cask release and was even 16 year old. The latter one is unfortunately no longer for sale, but you get the point.
Anyway, I don’t want to say that all these Diageo bottles are not worth it, because they probably aren’t (I hope). But those I have tasted so far were all a bit disappointing compared to other distillery exclusives that I have bought. They were actually more or less mediocre, and some of them weren’t even that much better than most in their core range. And those are a lot cheaper. Of course, I do understand many of these distilleries have to cater to a larger audience, some of whom never visited a distillery before. So I can imagine that they want to make sure the step between the core range and the distillery exclusive is not too big of a gap. But with just a little bit of extra effort, the experience could be so much better. Like, they do at Glenfiddich, for instance. They don’t have single cask releases either (they have batches), but you can fill your own bottle which is a 15 year old from their Solera vat, bottled at cask strength. And that fits perfectly in the experience of their tours.
For me personally, that is no different, even though I have visited a lot of distilleries in the meantime. The experience at the distillery is one thing, but I also love it when I can open such a bottle at home and think back to all the memories that I have gained during my holiday or distillery visit. That memory that pops in mind when you drink that fantastic Old Pulteney 1997 I bottled myself or that Tomatin 2005. It is also one of the reasons why I keep going back to Balblair. My first visit was great and so was their distillery exclusive. In the meantime, I have already bought several good bottles there, and always with new memories.
But now onwards to this Cragganmore Distillery Exclusive. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about it, but it had an outcome of 1700 bottles and was bottled in 2016 at 48% ABV. It has been on sale since 2016 and I believe it is still available at the distillery.
Cragganmore Distillery Exclusive – review
Noortje’s tasting notes
On the nose: Quite subtle. Somewhat floral and honey sweetness at first. Followed by sweet oranges and a hint of lemon. Caramel too. Pink grapefruit, but this tends more towards the freshness of this than the bitterness. A very small touch of coconut.
In the mouth: Wow, this is different from what the nose suggests. Not as subtle, but more aggressive. Tobacco leaves, a lot of caramel here too. Some honey and oranges and a citrus note in the very background. Milk chocolate. Coffee notes. It is quite bitter actually. A few spices, like pepper, a hint of ginger, some cinnamon
Jason’s tasting notes
On the nose: a little flat and spirity. There’s not much development beyond the initial arrival of sour green apples, shortbread, honey and marzipan. There’s a citrus note that brings some refreshment and lightness.
In the mouth: very dull which is surprising given this is a Cragganmore. More of that cereal biscuit base and vanilla custard ethic. A touch of green peppercorn, and some lime towards the finish. Returning there’s milk chocolate and slight density that feels underpowered.
Noortje: The nose is ok, but the taste is a bit of a setback. The subtlety is gone and the fruit too. It is quite aggressive for an ABV of 48%. With water this will be slightly better in the taste, but not very much. Too bad, in my memory, it was much better. Certainly not worth its price.
Jason: My problem with this whisky is its engineered and devoid of true character. This could have come from several Diageo distilleries and I would have guessed numerous names before reaching Cragganmore. Normally a whisky from this distillery has body, style and panache. Here it’s a faint echo of what it should be.