Fuller-bodied and (usually) more complex spirits such as certain rums, French brandy and Mezcal have been my preferred drinks as of late. This is due to most readily available whisk(e)y not hitting the spot for me.
I tend to not prefer wood-forward spirits anymore since I left my “termite phase.” Termite is a term I recently heard from Eric Kaye of Holmes Cay. It refers to people who like their spirits wood-forward. Complaining about bourbon being wood-forward may sound foolish, for example, but oak flavors don’t have to dominate it. Among the better-known brands who are more grain or distillate-focused, Four Roses Single Barrel is a great one. The market is also starting to get flooded with American whiskey finished or double-matured in ex-wine casks. American whiskey is starting to look like Scotch, isn’t it?
At the same time, there are times when I think that Scotch is slowly morphing into forms similar to American whiskey due to its over-reliance on wood flavor. Again, being over my termite phase, I’m prefer to taste the distillate’s character or, as some say, “distillery DNA.” There have been too many recent first-fill ex-sherry cask releases by Scotch brands. The market is flooding with overpriced half-assed sulfur bombs of ex-wine cask finished Scotch that tend to “clickbait” and disappoint consumers.
We all know the story with Japanese whisky and “Japanese” whisky. Despite being tasty, both are usually overpriced and hard to find.
Irish whisky is something I still need to explore more, but the majority of the brands are not available where I am. I already put in a lot of patience, chance and effort in getting lesser known rum and brandy, and for now, I’d rather invest in those than whisky.
As a result, I’ve been mainly focusing on ex-bourbon refill cask-aged single malt Scotch that come from distilleries with worm tub condensers. Whisky that comes from distilleries with worm tubs tends to have more character. By character, I mean it’s more full-bodied, more layered and “dirtier” compared to your clean and “smooth”-tasting supermarket brands like Glenlivet and Glenmorangie. It’s common knowledge among the well-learned whisky folks that worm tub condensed whisky have more character, mainly due to less copper contact during the distillation. The lack of copper contact means less sulfur are separated from the distillate. More sulfur in the distillate lends to more flavor and character in a spirit.
Shell and tube is now the most commonly-used type of condenser in the Scotch single malt industry. I think it’s mainly due to the cleaner spirit it produces. Clynelish is the easiest exception to this, but I’ve also heard that worm tubs can be a pain to work with since they’re inconsistent. They also take up a lot of space, which is why the ones in distilleries like Dalwhinnie, Mortlach and Old Pulteney are all outdoor. Before the creation of shell and tube, the only choice of condenser was worm tubs. Sadly, I have no idea when the Scotch industry started their shift to using more shell and tube condensers. I even asked Diageo’s Senior Global Brand Ambassador, Ewan Gunn, this question, and he doesn’t know.
The only type of condenser I know of that’s older than worm tubs are the bowls of water placed on top of the clay pot stills used by Mezcal distillers. The bowl has cool water in it. Below the bowl is a spoon or something else that catches the condensed distillate after the distillate, in steam form, touches the bowl’s bottom. I also just recently learned that clay is also good for separating sulfur from distillate. These bowls of water are still used today by Mezcaleros. They’re just not preferred for industrial scale production. I’m guessing making too large of a clay pot still would result in structural integrity issues.
Cragganmore has always been a distillery that flies under the radar. I didn’t really see it when I traveled around Asia. Its lack of variety doesn’t help with its visibility, either. Aside from the regular 12 year, there’s the Distiller’s Edition and the 25 year. It’s a single malt I’ve always liked having at bars once in a while. The last time I had any at a bar was this Cragganmore Manager’s Dram 17 year old in Kyoto.
Having the 12 year old for the first time around six years ago left a good impression. Despite being another worm tub-condensed single malt, like the Dalwhinnie 15, I didn’t find anything unpleasant about this. The sulfuric and coarse texture I didn’t like in the Dalwhinnie wasn’t present in the Cragganmore 12. I remember it tasting fuller and having more textures than the more accessible Diageo single malts, so I was pleased when this was part of the virtual tasting I had with Ewan Gunn. The tasting also made me buy a Cragganmore 12 Rare by Nature 2019. I don’t really like buying Diageo special releases due to the high pricing and usually disappointing quality, but this is a rare medium-peated Cragganmore. I just had to give it a go. The regular ones are lightly peated.
Additional Cragganmore notes from Mr. Gunn are: Fermentation time in wooden mash tuns are around 50 to 80 hours. It uses the same yeast as Dalwhinnie. Longer fermentation means more production of congeners. More congeners mean more flavors.
Cragganmore 12 Years Old – Review
On the nose: Initial aromas are tart, medium intense apples, grape jelly, vomit, cranberries and raspberries. Lingering at the front to the middle is a light, earthy, creamy and smoky aroma. Think of smelling a freshly-poured espresso where the crema is still untouched; the texture on the nose makes me think of that. I assume this is due to the lightly-peated barley. The tart acidity is still present and even a bit more pronounced now. It’s starting to make me think of cherry jam with light banana jam, salted peanuts and digestive biscuits.
In the mouth: Immediately fruitier at the beginning. I get medium tastes of grape jelly and an assortment of dark berries. At the end of this layer is a light bitterness which makes me think of cloves, nutmeg, tannins, fried Chinese peanuts with the skin and fried ginger bits. Further at the end are lighter tastes of dehydrated lemon and orange peels. More sips lead to the peat being more expressed. It’s like a slightly smoked mocha.
An absolutely good whisky. This doesn’t have the sharpness I get from the Dalwhinnie 15, which makes me think this is a good single malt to introduce to drinkers who haven’t had any worm tub-condensed single malt yet. Assuming it’s available where you are, that is.
There are no gaps or dull moments in this. It’s full of flavor and is pretty well-layered. I get no unpleasant notes. A good example of every 40% ABV whisky not being boring.
(if using TWE or local price)
Cragganmore 12 Rare by Nature 2019 – Review
Color: White tea.
On the nose: Noticeably smokier compared to the regular 12 year. The smoke and peat also make the fruity notes seem more sour than tart. The same fruity notes are there, but they’re more pronounced due to the higher ABV. I get grape jelly, cherries, an assortment of berries and apples.
The smoke initially hides the other aromas, but after sitting in the glass for about ten minutes, the smoke dissipates. Pronounced and lasting aromas of honeysuckle, ripe mango skin and an assortment of berries come out. At the end are light aromas of tea, dried mango, peaches and nectarines.
In the mouth: Similar to the nose, the smoke hides some of the characteristics. Upon being poured from the bottle, it tasted smokier and peatier. The peat is nothing like the Islay peat that gives off a medicinal and coastal taste. This is just more smoke with an earthiness to it. The smoked mocha I got in the regular 12 year is what I tasted first, but it’s immediately followed by sour fruit notes I got on the nose. A hint of honeysuckle comes out at the end.
After sitting in the glass for ten minutes, the peat also dissipates. The sour fruits liven up and become tarter. The smoked mocha taste moves to the back but is just as intense. Actually, the tart fruit notes envelope the whole dram and become the dominant note. At the end are light tastes of honeysuckle, elderflower, slightly smoked tea, and plums.
This is like a two-in-one whisky. At first, it’s very uncommon, and a peatier Cragganmore at cask strength. The peat and smoke is the dominant character. Peatheads may find the peatiness of this underwhelming, but it’s a new and different experience.
After being in the glass for about ten minutes, it’s more like a regular Cragganmore 12 that’s just bottled at cask strength. Anyone who loves the fruity and tart notes the regular Cragganmore 12 has will love this one, too.
As someone who is also weary of recent limited-edition single malt Scotch being unbalanced due to wood-heavy and even sulfuric tastes (from ex-wine casks), this limited edition is a breath of fresh air. That said, would I buy it again? No. It’s good to try something new and different, but the pour really didn’t make my heart skip. Do I regret buying the bottle? No.
(8 if bought at price upon release)
Cragganmore 12 image courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.
Cragganmore is a Speyside whisky built in Ballindalloch, a site chosen not only for its proximity to the River Spey, but also to the Strathspey railway line. Aged in 2nd fill bourbon barrels, the whisky is slightly peated and is a component for blending in Johnnie Walker, White Horse, and Old Parr whiskies.Is Cragganmore 12 smoky? ›
Cragganmore 12YO has been matured in second fill bourbon barrels and like mentioned, the whisky is slightly smoky. This malt is also a component for Johnnie Walker, Old Parr and White Horse blended whiskies.How much alcohol is in Cragganmore 12? ›
cragganmore 12 years matured the entire time in oak barrels. Filled with mild 40 vol. % Alcohol.What are the characteristics of Cragganmore? ›
- Nose: Aromatic, floral. Heather, fruit salad, creamy texture. Smoked almonds, stemmy hay.
- Palate: Rich, honey, stone fruits, chestnuts, walnuts, almonds. Berries.
- Finish: Smoky, good length, delicate peppery spice.
It is also the least peated whiskey produced on the island coming in at 3 ppm of peat compared to 55 ppm for Ardbeg on the other end of the spectrum. This bottling is aged in ex bourbon and ex sherry which comprises 30% of the blend. 100% malted barley from a single distillery.How can you tell if Scotch is peaty? ›
How do we measure peatiness? Peated whiskies are generally compared using a measure of phenol parts per million (PPM). This refers to the quantity of phenols in the malt itself rather than the contents of the finished whisky. Some lighter whiskies might measure up to 20ppm.What does Cragganmore taste like? ›
Palate: Cream and honey to start, then caramel and vanilla notes. Apple and pear again. Malty, with Graham cracker notes. Not as much smoke as the nose suggested, but there is a little something here tingling the taste buds.What is the difference between peaty and smoky scotch? ›
In short, smokiness is more carbon-based, whereas peatiness is more organic. PALATE: Smokiness on the palate typically has an ashy or charcoal flavour.How do you drink Cragganmore? ›
The best way of drinking the Cragganmore is with a dash of water as it opens-up becoming sweeter, fruitier and less spicy. There are a few facts worth knowing about the Cragganmore: Aged for a dozen in second-fill bourbon casks.Is 14.5% alcohol a lot? ›
Medium-High Alcohol Content (13.5%–14.5%)
As you move up the scale, you'll notice bolder flavors as well as higher price points.
So if the label on a bottle says 12 ABV, it means that the content contains 12% pure alcohol. This is a useful way of checking how much alcohol you're consuming, rather than simply how much beer or wine. Some ales, for instance, are 3.5% ABV, but some stronger lagers can be as much as 5% or 6% ABV.Is Cragganmore a Speyside? ›
CRAGGANMORE: A TASTE OF SPEYSIDE
Following your tour, you can enjoy a tutored tasting of 3 of Cragganmore's finest Single Malt Whiskies, showcasing the diversity of flavour within the Cragganmore range.
Speyside whiskies are known for being frugal with peat and full of fruit. Apple, pear, honey, vanilla and spice all have a part a role in expressions from this region, which are commonly matured in Sherry casks.What are the tasting properties of a Campbeltown whiskey? ›
Campbeltown. A tiny region at the tip of a peninsula between Arran, Islay and Northern Ireland, Campbeltown once thrived, but is now home to only three producers. Its malts are pretty unique, giving off salt, sweetness, smoke and flavours of vanilla and fruit all at once.Is Bunnahabhain 12 discontinued? ›
A 1980s bottle of Bunnahabhain's standard 12 year old whisky. This is the old presentation, now discontinued, at the old strength of 40%.What does peat mean in whisky? ›
However, the "peaty" flavor in Scotch actually comes from the malting process, where the dried barley absorbs the smoke odor from the burning peat used in the drying." Peat may have been used due to the whisky being produced in areas of Scotland like Islay with few alternate sources of fuel, like trees.Which is better peated or unpeated? ›
A majority of connoisseurs like both peated and unpeated Whiskies. Another fraction prefers peated Whisky and tolerates unpeated Whisky. However, a non-negligible percentage of connoisseurs do not like peated Whisky.What is the difference between peaty and non peaty whiskey? ›
Peated whiskies are suffused with a smoky flavour by compounds that are released by the peat fires used to dry malted barley. The result is a beautiful smoky flavour and aroma. The malt for unpeated whisky is dried with hot air, without any smoke.What happens when Scotch goes bad? ›
While the taste might change over time, whisky doesn't technically go off. After a point, you may decide that a bottle has been opened for too many years and it tastes too different from what it originally was and consequently get rid of the remaining contents.What is the difference between Speyside and Highland taste? ›
You may have heard that whiskies display 'classic' Speyside or Highland character, but in reality, the range of styles found in whiskies from both regions is huge – it is far too simplistic to say that Speyside whiskies are all about clean, fruity elegance while Highland drams are characterised by rugged spice and peat ...
On the nose, there is a marked citrus note followed by a hint of smoke and a savory/briny note. These are followed by some sweet dried fruit notes, a bit of vanilla and some tropical spice notes of cloves and allspice. There is also a bit of sandalwood, historically a characteristic marker of Bunnahabhain malts.What does the name Cragganmore mean? ›
Cragganmore is derived from the Gaelic creagan mór translated as 'Great Rock'.Which distillery makes sassenach? ›
The Sassenach Blended Scotch Whisky is the brainchild of Scottish actor Sam Heughan of Outlander fame and Master Blender Michael Henry of Loch Lomond Distillery.Who is Cragganmore owned by? ›
Distillers Company Limited bought the share of Mackie & Co, renamed as White Horse Distillers, in 1927. DCL then acquired full ownership of Cragganmore in 1965. They would eventually become part of Diageo, which retains ownership today.What is the best scotch for smoking? ›
When it comes to smoke, that may be no scotch brand more associated than Ardbeg. This single malt from Islay provides a major dose of peat flavor, while still finding a balance with sweet malt notes for a sip that will satisfy any smoke lover.How do the Scots drink their Scotch? ›
Scots ask for their blended whisky by name and are served it neat (because ice makes it difficult to see if they are getting a full pour!) along with a small pitcher of water they use to cut to taste.Why doesn't wine get me drunk? ›
Age. If you're drinking wine for the first time, you'll likely need less wine to get drunk than someone who has been drinking wine for years. Seasoned drinkers developed more of a tolerance for wine. The same is true for different alcohol types.What is the strongest alcohol? ›
What type of alcohol is the strongest in the world? Spirytus, a 96% alcohol by volume vodka created in Poland, is the strongest alcoholic beverage in the world (ABV).Is 12.5 a strong wine? ›
Moderate-Alcohol Wines: 12.5%-14% ABV.Is Bunnahabhain a whisky peaty? ›
Core Range. Our Core Bunnahabhain whisky range is matured predominantly in ex-sherry casks, and is known for being unpeated, natural in colour and non-chill filtered.
That said, thanks to a lack of peat and the use of sherry-seasoned casks for aging, the overall effect of most of this Speyside range is a rounder, somewhat more fruit-driven experience compared with many single malts.How peated is Highland Park 12? ›
If you're into numbers, it might interest you to know that Highland Park's malt is peated at approximately 20 parts per million (PPM). Though after being blended with the non-peated malt, that number drops to between 4 and 6 ppm.