They say, apparently, absence makes the heart grow fonder, but does it apply to whisky?
We’re always moving forward as whisky enthusiasts. Seeking the next release and new whisky experience. There seems to be little time to truly appreciate what’s already opened and to retrace our steps. To go back over old stomping ground and seek out old friends and whiskies that we’ve consigned to history. Well today, we’re going to pick out a handful of whiskies from Diageo’s Classic Malt’s selection and see how they stand up.
This article is based on feedback from you the reader and our Patreons, who also supported this feature through their support. At times Malt can be focused on chasing the next unicorn, or an extremely limited single cask. A release that is only available to those who know a password and are able to be at the Cowdenbeath football ground at 10pm on a certain day. You get the point. There’s a high probability that some of the whiskies we review on a regular basis are unobtainable to you, whether it is by pure location or financial. On the whole, I believe we do have more variety and are less unicorn coverage than some other destinations, but there’s always improvements to be made. So, expect a few more of the obtainable, the supermarket and the dismissed in the coming months.
Kicking off this focus we have 4 regulars within the Diageo Classic Malts range. This is just a marketing gimmick from the corporate giant of whisky. If you were to pick out a handful of whisky enthusiasts and ask them to write down distilleries and whiskies (5 of each) that fitted the meaning of classic, I’d wager there’s a high probability that none of the whiskies or distilleries below would feature.
Instead, I’d counter this is more of a starter range that conveniently takes in some of the whisky regions and subtle differences across the Diageo stable. That doesn’t mean they are worthless or without value, as we’ll discover.
Cragganmore 12 year old – review
Bottled at 40% strength, this should be widely available. Expect to pay £38.45 from the Whisky Exchange, whereas Master of Malt ask £36.90 for a bottle and Amazon come in at £36.89. This whisky is also available in a dinky 20cl size for £14.19.
On the nose: it’s all lightness with toffee, honey and some dried bark. Also oats, some ginger, rock candy and Kiwi fruit alongside apples. An inoffensive and delicate assortment.
In the mouth: more engaging thankfully, but only just. A hint of smoke and fleeting texture that suggests promise, but is quickly snatched away. Apple, toffee, vanilla and honeycomb. Some chocolate, malty vibe and an easy-going nature.
Dalwhinnie 15 year old – review
On the nose: light caramel and vanilla, sawdust, worn varnish of the wood then some sweetness wiht honey and golden syrup. Fleeting floral elemnts and some white chocolate.
In the mouth: apples vanilla, some pears and an inoffensive woody finish. Quite flat, no development, threadbare and lacking character.
Glen Elgin 12 year old – review
On the nose: soft meadow fruits, caramel, vanilla, buttery. Some warmed cinnamon, fig and ginger, but mostly its those apples and pears that dominate.
In the mouth: lacking power but still satisfying, delicate honey, vanilla, apples and shortbread. A scattering of wood spice and then its gone.
Royal Lochnagar 12 year old – review
On the nose: dried orange, vanilla and honey. Some caramel, almonds, Custard Creams and ginger.
In the mouth: still retains an element of texture despite the strength with a subtle chewiness. A little drying in parts, more caramel and vanilla. There’s a touch of spice on the finish. Refreshing in parts with hints of citrus.
I’ve always had fond memories of the Cragganmore 12, so it was good to return to this core offering tucked away in a historical part of Speyside. Time has not been kind to either the whisky or myself. I was disappointed by the actual presence and feel of the Cragganmore. Now, it is outdated and lacking the elements of the presentation that can really showcase what a lovely dram it can be.
In its current form, this is easy drinking and offers a hint of what might be. A slightly higher strength and less interference: before it is poured into a bottle, would all pay dividends. I appreciate some whiskies need to be a stepping stone and all that into this wonderful realm. Cragganmore is more of a foundation stone than a bridge. I think it deserves better and the experience of today’s version, has motivated me to try and pick up some of the deleted versions of the 12 expressions for a comparison.
Whenever I think of Dalwhinnie, I think of the best toilets on the A9 as I’m driving north. A wonderful spot to pull up at, do your business, and look around the distillery shop, before heading on your way. Occasionally, there might be a bottle or special edition of interest, but Diageo has stripped much of the character of this whisky away, like the casks that are transported to the Lowlands to mature.
Returning to the staple whisky after too long away, reveals a rather inoffensive and pedestrian example. A corporate whisky if you may. Well made and inoffensive. And that’s the best word to sum up today’s Dalwhinnie: inoffensive. I’m not here to give meaningless scores like 95’s or lavish praise. For this sort of asking price and 15 years in a cask, I’d expect more. And that’s not just the experienced enthusiast talking today. That’s me several years ago as well.
Yet what we know of Dalwhinnie today is very limited. I cannot recall the last independent bottling from this distillery and some freedom would be beneficial. I’ve only had a couple of Dalwhinnie unicorns over the years and it is an illusive whisky. I know it’s capable of much more than this. The 15 offering will start your day, or tasting, and freshen up your palate, but it will soon become a mere footnote in your whisky journey. For the price and age, this whisky should be saying more.
The Glen Elgin suffers from the same presentation issues as the rest of the whiskies in this article. Despite saying this, it feels more comfortable and at home with its situation. The classic Speyside characteristics are all present and that sense of approachability. Designed as a very easy drinking dram, it ticks the box with ease. The only downfall is that at around £40 and as a consumer, you can spend this elsewhere and obtain greater value and a better experience.
Leaving us with the Royal Lochnagar, which is a very small distillery by Diageo standards. Bottled at 40%, I had feared the most for this whisky, but it still retains echoes of promise and a pleasing texture on the palate. Again, fitting the easy drinking approachable style with ease, it is a pleasant whisky with few thrills but a reliable option.
As always, I’d refer you to our Scoring Guide to categorise these whiskies. Generally, scoring 4-5 means these are average and have redeeming qualities. Having worked my way through them for this article, I’m reminded that they serve an easy drinking or starter dram purpose for many.
Diageo is by its own very nature interested in selling as much as possible. This means catering to the largest proportion of the market for its products. These whiskies don’t more demand huge experience, insight or time. They are enjoyable for what they are and widely available.
The presentation is a little tired by today’s standards. We’d hope to see things at 46% nowadays and less filtration and colouring. These feel like relics from the 1990’s and have become a little jaded and sidelined. As an onlooker there is a need for Diageo to refresh its range. While we can have core releases such as these, once you’re done with the entry level whisky: what comes next? The Special Releases are overpriced nowadays and out of the reach of many. Like Chivas, Diageo doesn’t seem to appreciate the interest in many of its distilleries and how beneficial a new step-up range would be.
Instead, it is all about the numbers and the fulfilling such needs. For many of us, once these whiskies have served their purpose, we’re forced to look at the independent bottlers for diversity and better presentation. Leaving behind what are solid enough expressions, but lacking the hook to keep us stimulated on a long-term basis.
With the exception of the lead image, other photographs kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange. There are commission links within this article if you wish to discover, or rediscover, these whiskies. As you’d expect, their existence doesn’t affect our judgement.