Craigellachie is one of those whiskies that can be tough to find in little old South Africa. In fact, until very recently you’d be hard pressed to find even a single bottle of Dewar’s, having absolutely no presence in the country and being the primary recipient of Craigellachie’s single malt output.
Fortunately, this is one case where mega-corporate politics has worked in our favour. Bacardi – yes, that Bacardi – bought Dewar’s and some of its component single malt distilleries (most notably Craigellachie, Aultmore and Aberfeldy) from
The Legion of the Damned Diageo back in 1998. And given that Bacardi rums have been on sale in South Africa for quite some time, the gateway was open for these malts and blends to make it to our shores. Fast forward to 2018 and Dewar’s is on the shelf of every respectable bottle store in Cape Town, with Aultmore 12 and 18 popping up from time to time as well.
While Craigellachie has yet to land in full force, I was recently treated to something… different, scored from the distillery itself by the obscenely well-dressed Nick Koumbarakis. The summary says it all:
Craigellachie. 21 years old. Single cask, Oloroso. Cask strength. Non chill filtered. No Crayola colouring. No bullshit. Firmly girding my loins, I dove right in:
Oh, hello Aberlour. Specifically, Aberlour A’Bunadh – darkly sherried, massive alcohol vapours, rich red fruits and honey-drenched apples. However, this one has an abundance of that Aultmore-esque banana and pineapple (which makes sense, given the near-identical manufacturing processes between Craigellachie and Aultmore). You’d be forgiven for thinking “rum cask” with all those tropical fruits – but given this was a single Oloroso cask, those Caribbean flavours are from the spirit alone. Nice.
The strength is hot, but not “Glenfarclas 105 nasal inferno” hot. In fact, once the initial shockwave has subsided and it gets some time to mellow in the glass it becomes supremely huffable – one of those complex, multi-layered expressions that surprises you with every whiff. Lovely!
Phwoooooar. Yes sir. Yes indeed. Correct. Strong, dry sherry, plums and apricots, dark chocolate, raisins, honey-sweetness. Chewy as hell, coating your gums with an oily, lip-smacking moreishness that makes you appear to have recently schnaafed some sort of Class A regulated substance.
At cask strength, the finish here is eternal. Spicy and warming, mince-pies and marzipan.
Unsurprisingly, this little monster can handle water. But beware! Despite the strength, anything more than a teaspoon or two renders it a sickly sweet sherry cough-medicine, with all of that 21-year malty goodness dragged into the abyss.
However, that little bit of water works real wonders. You get a spicy, cinnamon nuttiness at the back of the palate, coconut, milk chocolate and a faint orange peel afterglow.
While there was a chance this was going to be one of those needlessly aged, limited edition “buyer’s remorse” bottles that everyone feels compelled to enjoy, I’m happy to say this isn’t the case. Instead, this Craigellachie 21 is one of the rare ones – perfectly aged (old yet not over-oaked), one-in-a-million natural bottling strength, and a perfect sherry influence that supports but doesn’t drown the spirit.
Of course it’s also hellishly expensive, being a run of only 510 bottles. And if you consider that a standard batch of readily available Aberlour A’Bunadh offers (nearly) the same experience at 1/6th of the price, it would be tough to recommend anyone rush out and pick up one of the last remaining bottles still floating around the distillery.
But if you’re lucky enough to get a cheeky dram offered to you (thanks Nick & Cam!) savour it while you can and count your blessings!