I don’t have very much experience with Craigellachie; in fact, I’m not sure if I’ve had anything other than this G&M bottling for the Party Source. As with Diageo’s Mortlach, Craigellachie produces a heavier, meaty spirit and the G&M cask I tried was as close to Mortlach as I’ve come from any other distillery. I did like that one quite a bit and so have been on the look out for more since: of course, there hasn’t been very much of it around—especially in the US—since, as with so many distilleries, it mostly produces for blends (it is a core component of the Dewars blends). The owners, Bacardi announced last year that they would be launching a new range of single malts from Craigellachie. The new 13, 17 and 23 year olds have been well-received, on the whole, but from what I can tell they’re not deeply sherried brutes. And so when K&L announced this single sherry cask I put aside my misgivings based on their 2013 selections and got a bottle.
Well, I opened it for my local group’s April tasting and it was quite popular. Due to the vagaries of schedules we actually did two small group tastings separated by a couple of weeks, and while I liked it fine the first time, I liked it even more on the second occasion. Let’s see what I think of it now that it’s been open for about a month.
Craigellachie 18, 1995 (54.3%; Hepburn’s Choice for K&L; single sherry butt; from my own bottle)
Nose: Organic notes at first (rotting leaves, manure) and rubber; sweeter sherry notes below (raisins, orange). Gets saltier as it sits and that organic note is quite reminiscent of mossy peat. Tart apples too now along with some brighter citrus (lemon). After a bit the rubbery note transitions to camphor/mothballs; just a touch of cocoa powder too. With water the apricot that showed up late on the palate shows up on the nose as well. That mossy, peaty note is still around but it’s in the background now.
Palate: Quite salty arrival with the citrus (orange peel) expanding below it; the organic notes are here too but not as dominant. On the second sip there’s lemon and then an increasingly bitter zesty edge (not unappealingly so). With more time it gets fruitier in a slightly cough syrupy kind of way. With even more time the lemon peel is less bitter and there’s a bit of honey and some apricot too now. Water makes it fruitier and sweeter still but also less interesting as those more bracing notes recede almost entirely.
Finish: Long. The zesty citrus hangs around a while, picking up salt and oak spice along the way. The sherry separates just a tad at the end (the taste of blood/iron in the mouth). As on the palate with water.
Comments: I don’t think this is likely to be a crowd-pleaser: it’s a bit extreme at first, or, more accurately, it’s a very particular “dirty” sherried style. I don’t mean to suggest that only true adepts will like this; only that it’s a very particular style and probably not for everyone (especially not for people who don’t like any notes of sulphur). At least, that’s the case if you drink it fast. Give it a lot of time, air and eventually some water and it’ll mellow out nicely.
Rating: 87 points.