Bottles labelled as ‘Ballindalloch’ are often historically associated with being produced at Glenfarclas – the moniker used infrequently by independent bottlers over the past 20 years. Future labels of this ilk are now much less likely to be utilised with Ballindalloch Single Estate Distillery based in the grounds of the castle (of the same name) now up and running – though patiently waiting a fair few more years (at least until 2022) before any bottling will take place. However, not all Ballindallochs can be attributed to the family-owned Speyside distillery – including today’s example.
Ballindalloch Castle and the Macpherson-Grant family have been tied to whisky in one way or another for over 150 years. In 1869 Sir George Macpherson-Grant leased part of the castle’s estate to John Smith to build the Cragganmore distillery – following Smith’s death in 1923, the family became joint owners of the distillery with White Horse Distillers. Their ownership lasted until 1965 when they sold their share of Cragganmore to the then DCL.
Whilst the Macpherson-Grants have turned their attentions to their own distillery, their ties with Cragganmore have remained throughout the decades. Visitors to the new Ballindalloch distillery get the treat of tasting drams from the family’s private collection of Cragganmore casks – I can inform you from first-hand experience that these are memorably excellent. But, in addition to these highly limited bottlings, a small selection of the family’s (presumably extensive) private reserves of Cragganmore seem to have been bottled between 1989 and 2002 as ‘Ballindalloch Castle Private Stock’.
Several of these were only available in miniature form, including our review today – which as far as we can tell is the oldest, hailing from 1966 and being bottled 26 years later in 1992.The precise reason for these bottlings remains unclear, but you’ll occasionally see them floating around auction sites – and you'll note from my review below, they’re well worth keeping an eye out for. Bottled at 43% ABV and described as a ‘pure malt’, this is not 100% guaranteed to be Cragganmore – but, given the family history, labelling as ‘Castle Private Stock’ and overall profile, I’d say it’s a very safe bet indeed.
Nose: The 60’s distillate style shouts loudly here – big lemony polish, copper coins, Brasso and Autosol, old books and musty cellar earthiness. Sitting on top, bright but ancient fruitiness – fermented orange juice, hints of pineapple and tutti frutti sweets. The two amalgamate perfectly. In the background, mushrooms and forest bracken and something rather interesting – I can only describe it as the aroma I associate with unwrapping the cellophane on a new product. Resting is worthwhile, releasing a complex selection of old woods – mahogany tables, teak panelling – alongside further gradations of fruit – grapefruit, melon and lychee.
Taste: The arrival feigns some thinness at 43%, but the mouthfeel is actually relatively fatty. Fresh maltiness, dunnage floors, mushrooms, ferns and mosses with sharp biting citrus and astringent old oranges. Polishes and lacquers mingle with machine oils, steeped tea, and aspirin-like chalkiness. The mid-palate reveals more complexity with tanned leather hides, liquorice and dusty white pepper. There’s initially some astringency and dryness here, but resting reduces this substantially, offering improved integration, less acidity and a similar array of white fruits as the nose.
Finish: Long with old furniture, mentholated lemons and subtle suggestions of smoke influence.
This venerable 1966 Cragganmore is hauntingly beautiful. Whisky from a near forgotten age, where seemingly regardless of the length of maturation, the spirit character is able to shine through brightly. It’s not perfect - the relatively low ABV doesn’t provide much scope for dilution – which in places feels like it might be beneficially in terms of diminishing acerbic edges (some of which feel like they’ve developed ‘in bottle’). Nevertheless, this is heading towards the realms of spectacular. Eyes peeled.
With thanks to the Lowe's.