CRAIGELLACHIE SINGLE MALT
Exclusive single sherry cask #HL15353 selected by K&L (2018)
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 119.8
AGE – 12 years 2 months
DISTILLERY – Craigellachie (bottled by Hunter Laing & Co.)
PRICE – $60 (oh 2018… sigh…)
WORTH BUYING? – Yes
This is the second bottle of this single cask release I bought, and it’s been lurking in my bunker since I picked it up from K&L in early winter 2018. When I uncorked the first bottle, I was at work and a colleague and I determined we needed an end-of-a-long-week pour. I’d just picked the bottle up that day. When we clinked glasses and took a sip, both our eyebrows shot up and it’s likely we said “woah” in unison. I immediately hopped online and bought this second bottle, not wishing to repeat a sad event earlier that autumn, whereby I’d paid very little for an exquisite Ben Nevis 21 Year single cask and missed the chance to nab a backup.
Since 2018, many other whiskies have come and gone from my home shelf. Meanwhile, this impressive bottle, curated and released by the great Hunter Laing & Co., has sat patiently awaiting its uncorking. Why the time was finally right, I can’t say exactly. Some combination of chance, curiosity, and my mixed relationship to bunkering. I’d just finished a bottle of Laphroaig Sherry Oak, and wanted to open a scotch that would be similarly pungent in its own way. My memory of this Craigellachie made it the right choice.
Would it be as good as I remembered? Would I be disappointed if it wasn’t? Would it essentially be a new experience, given what all is new in me five years on? My palate, values, and interests have all evolved significantly since 2018. How would this bottle hit me now, with five more years of life and libations to influence it?
These questions might now actually count among the few reasons for me personally to bunker a second bottle of anything these days. Revisiting a special whisky years later is a way to track how we ourselves might have changed. This Craigellachie, tightly corked, will have remained frozen in time. But not me.
So here we are, near three weeks after uncorking and just three pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – smoky sienna-oranges that smolder in light
NOSE – caramelized sherry notes, salty sea breeze, drift-wood oak, ripe plum, boysenberry and blackberry jams, strawberry preserves, orange marmalade, caramel taffy
TASTE – dusty and smoky, just a hint of ash wafting by, dark and tangy red fruit sauces, caramelized peach and strawberry fruit sugars, an edge of tannic wine and oak
FINISH – rich dark red fruits, chocolatey caramel, a bit of mango and pineapple cooked into a compote, a touch of the ashy smoke curling around the drift-wood oak, drying tannic red wine
OVERALL – a dark, broody, fun, seaside dram
While not as immediately compelling as my 2018 experience, this remains an impressive pour. It’s a much more familiar experience for me now than it once was, so my eyebrows have not been moved upward in response to the surprise of any new sensations. Nor is this an unusually exceptional rendition of familiar sensations. Now it comes across to me more like a solid, natural, unmediated workhorse of a sherried single malt.
And that is Craigellachie’s usual purpose. Situated across the River Spey from that mainstream behemoth, Macallan, this lesser known distillery is among the key contributors to Dewar’s blended scotch. Today a bottle of Dewar’s aged twice as long as this Craigellachie single cask might still only go for roughly one-and-a-half times what I paid for the latter in 2018. Craigellachie would be in there, swirling amongst other mostly single grain whiskies.
But on its own? It’s good.
At nearly 120 proof, it is just a touch hotter than I tend to prefer these days. There’s a slight roughness to the tannic notes that the proof accentuates. The spectacle of higher proof whiskies used to dazzle me. They still do when the ease of an experience belies a scorching ABV. But generally I now find the 100-115 proof range is my sweet spot. But in the winter’s snow? Or on a cold ocean beach? Pour me a glass of this, for sure!
As I continue to sip it, the chocolate and caramel notes lean forward alongside the sherry’s dark fruit aspects. It’s just a bit Hollywood, like a once-indie film company picked up by a mainstream distributor, affording a slicker approach to their indie vibe. But hey, I like A24 movies. And I like this Hunter & Laing Craigellachie find.