This distillery (with emphasis on the “ell” syllable) is completely new to me. I have learned that Craigellachie Distillery was built to take advantage of new railroads in 1891 on what is known as The Rock of Craigellachie in the Village of Craigellachie, not far from Thomas Telford’s elegant cast iron Craigellachie Bridge. The village is also home to the imposing Craigellachie Hotel, that itself houses the rather famous Quaich Bar, which stocks more than 700 malt whiskies. (I believe Craigellachie just rose to the top of my list of villages to visit along the River Spey!)
David Wishart writes that Craigellachie’s mash tun “is one of the most technically advanced in the industry, with continuous sparging, by which hot water is added continuously rather than in the traditional three batches. The arms move up and down while rotating and use a combination of rakes and blades to ensure maximum extraction of sugars.” That all makes it sound very modern, so it is good to know that “Craigellachie is one of the few distilleries to have retained traditional copper worm condensers” (see Whisky Classified, 2012 Edition, page 112). Wishart and others say this gives the Craigellachie juice a rich, sulphury character, but in this single cask expression – The Exclusive Malts’ Craigellachie 12 year old, untinted by any coloring, un-chillfiltered and bottled at a cask strength of 111.9 proof – there is richness galore and only the slightest, faintest wisp of sulphur. But I’m getting ahead of myself… The distillery did its own floor maltings until 1994 or 1997 (depends on who you read), so the whisky here at hand, bottled in the year 2000, was distilled after floor maltings had ceased.
At first, you don’t get a very broad redolence from this copper-amber, oily elixir, but give it time and its layers, slowly, begin to unfold. I get vanilla sugar icing, honeycomb, sweet lemon-orange glaze, new oak, sawn oak and those orange circus peanut confectionary treats that show up in bags around Halloween. There is also something very fresh and green, new moss with a small pinch of clove sprinkled on it, cantaloupe, sugar cookies, spearmint and just the slightest, not-unpleasant-in-the-least hint of sulphur. And, surprisingly, a brief, almost ghostly suggestion of smoke. Malt, the citrus, the sugar cookies and the vanilla icing become more prominent with water. This one is not very easy to disentangle and it’s a bit reticent, but take your time and make the effort and you will be pleasantly rewarded. (21/25)
Right away, I’m smitten. This has a beautifully full, oily mouthfeel. I taste wildflower honey, spelt, some spent-candle waxiness, a fresh mix of lemon and orange juice, sweet malt and a definite oakiness. There is also warm vanilla cake, Ak-Mak Armenian crackers, warm, pleasant spice, dried cherries and maybe some cherry juice. Adding a few drops of water dials down the sweetness – which wasn’t cloying to begin with – and emphasizes the oak, spelt and malty qualities. Truly a rich, satisfying dram. (24/25)
In any whisky, the one thing that usually gives me the most pleasure (if it is there), and thus the one thing I most hope to find, is a radiating, rich, soft-searing burn in the finish that goes all the way down to envelop the heart in its profligate, pleasant warmth – and here it is! The finish on this whisky hugs you like a loving, well-padded mama hugs her troubled child. It is long enough and warming with lots of oak and just a touch of peat smoke and some warming clove and a wonderful lack of harsh pepper or stinging cinnamon. Add a bit of water and just a bit of exotic (not black or white) pepper sneaks in. A deeply friendly dram. (24/25)
I have seen this whisky referred to as “muddled,” but I strongly disagree. While it may lack the clean, precise structure one often finds in these Exclusive Malts single cask bottlings, it is certainly not muddled. Slightly out of focus, perhaps? Or a bit fuzzy, like a thick cashmere sweater worn against the winds of a cold, cruel world? Yes, the nose is a bit niggardly, at least at first, so I suppose this potion is some distance from perfect, but it’s the kind of imperfection you might savor or smile about in a friend or lover. This whisky builds as you take your time with it, growing in quality from the nose to the richer palate and finish. I’ve already located a couple of bottles online and I’ll be ordering them in the morning. (22/25)
This website makes me drool! http://www.impexbev.com/exclusive-malts
A big thanks to ImpEx Beverages and to Katia for the sample.