Back to a traditional experience: Cragganmore
TL;DR: The last distillery in this trip was Cragganmore, producing a malt we were not too familiar with. It was the most traditional whisky experience of the weekend, of course in a good way. We just wish they’d improve the whisky presentation and move away from the 40% and chill-filtering, to allow this good dram to fully express!
After the visit to Macallan, we were almost bamboozled by being back in the daylight. We drove to Aberlour and had a soup and a coffee at the Gather’n Cafe, officially our go-to place when we are in the area. We also sneaked in the Walker’s cookies shop a few meters down the road, another one of our must-go in the village.
Back to the car, we drove directly to Cragganmore distillery, in Ballindalloch. Unlike Tormore, or the new Cairns (which we spotted several times just driving around Speyside), Cragganmore is quite hidden in a narrow valley…you really want to be there to see it (well, not as much as Nc’Nean!). It does make sense, however, that so many distilleries in Speyside popped up in such hidden places, given the history of distilling in the region, in particular pre-1823 (date of the Excise Act, for more info check out the dedicated episode of the Liquid Antiquarian on YouTube).
We didn’t know what to expect: Cragganmore is one of those many drams we came in contact with after the beginning of our whisk(e)y journey, when we were already members of the SMWS and had already visited a few distilleries. Because of this, and because of its 40% presentation (and it’s probably artificially coloured and chill-filtered) we never got into it, we had just tried it once or maybe twice in bars. Well, it’s kind of nice to discover a new whisky, isn’t it?
We arrived at the distillery 10 minutes before the tour start, so we took a look around to admire old-style buildings. The visitor centre didn’t go through much renovation (unlike other Diageo’s distilleries, like this and these two), just enough to make it pretty.
Albeit much smaller, it reminded us a bit of Lagavulin’s one, as it mainly consists of a shop and a very cozy tasting room, with a fireplace, sofas and chairs. The tour we had booked is “A Taste of Speyside”, and it is still the only available one (for the very reasonable price of £16, still at the time of writing). Our guide for the day was Gary, a former firefighter which instead of dully retiring, decided to work part-time at the visitor centre (something we observed a few times around distilleries). Anyway, we started the tour by gathering at the centre of the courtyard, and after the usual health and safety instructions, we moved to the production area.
As usual, we started from the milling room with its red Porteus mill (and as usual, we got told the story of Porteus company running out of business because their machines were too robust and never broke… maybe at the time the evil programmed obsolescence was not a thing). We rapidly moved on to the copper-lidded mashtun and the washbacks, where the distiller on shift “fished” a sample of fermented wash for us to see and smell (not drink, fortunately).
Before moving to the stillroom we could spot from the window the box containing the worm-tub condenser, one of the features of the distillery. The distiller came with us to the whisky safe, where the spirit from the 4 stills goes through and gets checked. There, he gave us a very detailed explanation of the distillation process. Although it is computerised now, the lever to start collecting the second distillation heart (from 68% to 62%, much lower than Macallan!) is still manual…Interesting! We then moved outside to check the warehouse, only from the outside, unfortunately.
In the tasting room, three drams were already waiting for us, poured in tiny glasses: their flagship, Cragganmore 12, the Distillers Edition (commonly across Diageo’s distillery, this is the same age of the main core release but finished in a different cask, ex-Port cask for Cragganmore), and the Distillery Edition (a more recent release quite common across all Diageo distilleries, usually a batch of few-thousand bottles non-age stated, bottled at 48% and priced between 85 and 100 quid, a bit pricey, but apparently casks are selected by the distillery personnel). The drams were quite nice, despite the watery presentations (in our opinion): a shame for such a potentially robust and rich of flavour malt. We even got something to include in a future tasting…we won’t say anything else, but stay tuned in 2023 for more!
Overall, it was a pleasant visit, and Gary was super nice as a tour guide, and of course him involving the distiller on shift was the cherry on top. Compared to the other distilleries we visited during the same trip this was the most traditional one, what probably you’d expect when thinking of Scottish single malt distilleries. It was a very interesting comparison though, with Fettercairn being still old-style at core, but with a more modern visitor centre, and Arbikie and Macallan being definitely among the most modern we visited. We believe that this is reflected in the philosophy of the whisky production, and indeed Cragganmore feels very traditional, in every sense.
Until the next time, Slainte!
Cragganmore: A Taste of Speyside
Price: £16.00 pp (September 2022)
Tasting: 3 drams, Cragganmore 12y (40%), Distillers Edition (40%), Distillery Exclusive (NAS, 48%)
Value for money: good (10% off on anything in the shop if you attended the tour)
Highlights: the old-style distillery atmosphere
Things we did not like: samples are super tiny (10ml? Definitely no more than 15)
Distillery only expressions: Distillery Exclusive (NAS, 48%), £85