Warren Buffett once famously said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it, and went on to suggest that if you think about that, you’ll do things differently. He may not have been talking about whisky, but his advice is as meaningful and applicable to the liquid we all love.
When faced with reviewing this Cragganmore, I had various strands to weave a theme of interest. The topic I could not shake was the one presented by this Edinburgh-based bottling company, formed in 1993. Whilst inactive nowadays (or, as I prefer the term, in hibernation), their last release was a Port Charlotte in 2015. Dubbed The Bottlers, a whisky was only released when they felt it was up to their exacting standards. Indeed, a “quality and not quantity” approach that ensured their name and reputation was highly regarded by customers and enthusiasts.
This, in turn, resulted in the situation where many blind purchases were made simply because of the quality of their selections. Admittedly not everything they bottled was liquid gold or excellent, but they were from my experiences interesting and provocative whiskies. These were always naturally presented and at cask strength, fundamentals that were in the 1990s overlooked by many.
All this work and dedication created the reputation that will outlive the company and entice onlookers to try a release given the opportunity. But what of today’s bottlers and distilleries? Do they prize their reputation or even care remotely about the brand they are creating?
It’s a question I ask myself on a regular basis, particularly when faced with a rather youthful whisky from a young distillery. The rush to bottle at 3 years to open up that revenue stream seems the driving force for many. Quality, value and encouraging repeat customers seems to be further down the list, and this doesn’t seem a successful long-term strategy for a business. Are whisky drinkers gullible fools? Is the investment and flipping craze encouraging such behaviours from bottlers and distilleries who can release almost anything to market?
Ask yourself this: do you go back for a second release from a new bottler or distillery after being disappointed by your last purchase? The seeds of doubt are invasive and multiply. Word of mouth is as infectious as the latest flu epidemic. I know, myself, I would really have to question stepping into finalising that transaction again. Let me give you an example of the inaugural Glasgow distillery whisky. I wasn’t taken with this whatsoever, nor with its aggressive virgin cask usage to boost what seems to be a fairly inept whisky.
It may have sold out given the ballots and marketing, so from the viewpoint of the distillery, it was a remarkable success. Will it be their finest hour? I’d be surprised it truly transpires as such, nor should I say such behaviours are exclusive to this distillery. Scotland is currently busting a gut with its fill of three-year-old whisky at excessive prices. The Kingsbarns Dream to Dram release was more than half the price of its Glasgow counterpart and a 70cl bottling as well. Better presented, and a little more refined, many have found it to be somewhat acceptable. Personally, I wouldn’t rush out to purchase a bottle of it, but I will keep an eye on what’s next for Kingsbarns and take it from there.
Are distilleries and bottlers in danger of ruining any prospect of a favourable reputation with their actions from an early stage? Only time will tell, and as consumers, whisky enthusiasts should vote with their feet and wallets. We’re far too loyal and understanding when things go wrong. If something isn’t good enough, then it should be chastised and the culprit sent home to think again.
Meanwhile, we’ll return to the firm ground of the Bottlers and their reputation. This Cragganmore was distilled in June 1981 before being bottled in August 2001 at 20 years of age. Refill sherry butt #1589 was bottled at 59.3% strength, and my thanks to Noortje for the sample, and who also joins me now to offer her verdict.
The Bottlers Cragganmore 1981 – Jason’s review
On the nose: a real mixing pot of worn hemp, wet wool and rubbed brass. There are walnuts, a strong oaky vibe and a clutch of raspberries. Then chocolate fudge, wild blackberries and a rich toffee. Glazed cherries offer some light relief through the density before a savoury red wine gravy reduction kicks in. Water reveals more spices in the form of freshly grated nutmeg, all-spice and a twist of orange peel.
In the mouth: balanced and neither the cask nor the spirit have the upper hand here. Lots of chocolate features, more oak and oats. Digestives, toffee and toasted wholemeal bread. A slight tartness is noticeable. Water is beneficial revealing chocolate orange, wet soil, tobacco and a puff of smoke with resin and nutmeg rounding off the journey.
A very pleasing and fun Cragganmore. Certainly not worth the secondary prices of today but back in 2001 a delightful purchase. In some ways, it has revived memories of the Cragganmore’s available as part of the Ballindalloch tour. Lacking that extra touch to warrant an 8 score, a splash of water is very beneficial.
The Bottlers Cragganmore 1981 – Noortje’s review
On the nose: a slight hint of tobacco. But then it gets quite sweet. Stewed forest fruits, it feels like a mix of blueberries, blackberries and strawberries and red berries. Yep, that’s a lot of berries. A hint of brown sugar. Sweet mandarins.
In the mouth: sweet again, but nice. Stewed forest fruit again. There’s honey. Which is followed by tobacco. Then I get a hint of ginger. Milk chocolate. And there is a slight bitter edge which reminds me of coffee. Somewhat oaky in the finish.
A lovely bottling from The Bottlers. Yes, it is sweet, but the kind of sweetness I like. The whisky has a nice thick mouthfeel and has a nice array of flavours that slightly change with every sip. Dangerously drinkable at 59.3% ABV.