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The Bottlers Cragganmore 1981

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

Colour: fudge.

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.

Jason’s Conclusions

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.

Score: 7/10

The Bottlers Cragganmore 1981 – Noortje’s review

Colour: caramel

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.

Noortje’s Conclusions

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.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Graham
    Graham says:

    Jason,

    Interesting review. The topic of whisky from a new distillery is an interesting one. For me it comes down to price-point; and on that to defend Kingsbarns and Eden Mill. Of course these whiskies are not the finished article but are fairly priced and drinkable. That is enough for an enthusiast like me to take a punt and give them support. Neither will I rush out for a second bottle but i’d say my initial contribution is quite generous for the time being.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Graham

      Thanks for commenting. Yep, it is all about price and value. Your 2 examples tried to offer initial releases with an emphasis on value. Eden’s hip flask series was fun and helped stem the demand for the single cask release that I opened during the Fife Festival. That was £395, so priced at collectors or investors, which is a different market. Then, someone like me comes along and opens it!

      Then, you have the Glasgow distillery that was around £100 for a 50cl and even then they took your money 5 months prior. I asked them why via social media and they never responded, which isn’t great. Neither was the whisky in all honesty. There are different dynamics behind the prices and who is looking to buy. However, I know of some new distilleries that are committed to keep initial prices low; thereby building that trust and respect. Other distilleries I guess, have yet to decide. Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    WhiskyWolverine says:

    Jason, do you write the intro after you have written the review and scored the whisky? Or before? Just trying to asses where the tenor of the intro comes from.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WW,

      This one was written ages ago, or seems that way. I was aware from my tasting experiences of the Bottlers their emphasis on quality. So, I knew where I wanted to go with it.

      Tasting the sample shortly afterwards confirmed the quality theme was valid and it was pretty simple thereafter. But it’s also a theme for me generally in recent times. Here’s a bottler that prides itself on each release. Can we say the same of the main large independents nowadays like the SMWS or even Cadenhead’s? No, I don’t believe we can. So that worked it’s way into the overall vibe alongside these new distilleries charging £100 for a 50cl 3 year old.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        David says:

        Jason,

        The independent bottler landscape has definitely changed but I do not understand a comparison of pride in releases between a company the size of Bottlers to either SMWS or Cadenhead’s? I would argue that the job done that one takes pride in is a very different job at different organization sizes.

        David

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi David

          They were examples, but the emphasis, or lipservice they give to quality is just the same. At least on paper.

          I’ve worked at small family owned companies and giant corporations. I take that same pride in my work and the quality of, the size of my employer never enters my mindset. Interesting angle though.

          Cheers, Jason.

  3. Avatar

    Have not tried this Bottler’s Cragganmore but the tasting notes echo our thoughts on the Managers Dram Cragganmore we’ve tasted. We felt that bottle was way too sweet, cask heavy and dessert-like. Unbalanced in that way like most Port Ellens. Still enjoyable but not worth current hype prices. Slange.

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