Bacardi’s Craigellachie sits alongside Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Macduff and Royal Brackla as part of the Dewars & Sons group of distilleries. Until recently, it’s not a distillery that you really would have seen much of, save for independent bottlings – until 2014 there was only a 40% 14 year old, a 43% 14 year old (Flora and Fauna bottling) and a handful of special editions produced for local venues including the nearby Craigellachie Hotel. Then, as part of Bacardi’s Last Great Malts series, a veritable sea of Craigellachie bottles have been released over the last four years, introducing the distillery to a much wider audience. One of these releases included the 31 year old ‘Very Old Reserve’, which went on to win Best Single Malt at the World Whisky Awards in 2017.
Today’s Craigellachie is not to my knowledge an award winner of any description, it’s also a slightly obscure older bottling, but it’s worth talking about nonetheless. I’m going to guess that it was distilled sometime in the 70s, though, despite a 20 year old age statement on the label, I’m struggling to find any information online to confirm a precise distillation year. It was bottled by Cadenhead’s and clocks in at 46% ABV. I struggled to get the lid off this one for several minutes, then my wife managed to open it in under 5 seconds – I do hate it when that happens.
Nose: Sweet, sour, bitter and umami – this has got it all going on. Starting with dusty dunnage warehouses and grubby decades old barrels, furniture polish and surface cleaner are not far behind (and super pronounced). Herbal honey and freshly picked peaches introduces sweetness, but sugars are only part of the story here - there’s a thick oily, almost engine-oil aroma here – it’s quite umami, and reminds me of greenhouses packed full of ripening tomatoes. Resting allows the dram to develop further, introducing a bouquet of florals – poppies and lilies, as well as letting our dusty dunnage transmute into wet old soils and hay. Polish aromas also heighten, part sweet, part bitter and brassy.
Taste: A much bolder arrival than the nose (and ABV) would have you expecting. The mouthfeel is wonderfully oily, almost waxy in texture and has real weight. To begin, a wave of soured citrus, old dusty wood planking, polish and spicing – pepper and ginger – hits on arrival. This develops through the mid-palate, taking on herbal elements – liqueurs or bitters (Unicum, Metaxa, Kummel etc), both herbal tea (nettles and mint) and steeped black tea, as well as some minerality and metals. There’s a ton going on here, and resting brings a touch more cohesion to the affair – underlying malts and sharp, tart yellow fruits – lemons and grapefruits. Still packed full of old wood and polish, this really shouldn’t work so well. But, it does.
Finish: Medium to long and packed full of old oak, pepper and metal polish.
There’s a lot going on with this old school Craigellachie - so much so, I’m somewhat surprised that it all works together as well as it does. The nose is gloriously complex, offering all the aroma styles other than salty, and a wonderful juxtaposition between sweet and savoury. The palate, somehow manages to take the complexity level up another notch again, translating well from the nose, but bringing a whole host of well-defined herbal flavour – all of which sits within the woody, polished and spicy heart of this whisky. When tasting, I often run out of perceptible flavours to note – here, I ran out of paper first.