Cragganmore was the third distillery I visited on our Sunday in the Speyside in June. I’d not actually had any plans to visit it. The plan was Strathisla in the morning, followed by Glenfiddich, and then the afternoon at Ballindalloch Castle. After Glamis Castle on the way to the Speyside, however, we weren’t feeling like another castle tour and so decided to just hang out in their gardens—which include extensive play areas and activities for kids. When we got there, one of the gents at one of the activity tables asked my friend Daniel and me if we’d been to Glenfarclas yet (it had somehow come up that we were interested in whisky). No, we said. You should really go, he said, it’s just a few miles away. And so off the two of us went. And found that Glenfarclas is closed on Sundays. Rather than go right back we decided to drive a few miles the other way to Cragganmore, which we’d established was open on Sundays. We arrived just about 20 minutes before closing but got a warm welcome.
Cragganmore, as you know, was the Speyside representative in Diageo’s original “Classic Malts” lineup (along with Lagavulin, Talisker, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie and Oban). The Cragganmore 12 was one of the very first single malt whiskies I drank when getting into the business of being deranged about whisky and I always enjoyed it. However, given the lack of expressions from the distillery—or, for that matter, from the independents—I sort of drifted away and lost interest in them. This is why visiting Cragganmore was not on my list in the Speyside—the “I’ll go if I can” backups were Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and Benromach. But I’m glad that I ended up stopping in. It’s a small but charming distillery. And even though we didn’t see very much of it, it was a pleasant stop and a reminder of how nice almost everyone in the whisky business in Scotland is.
As I said, we arrived 20 minutes before closing. There was no question of doing a tour, obviously, even if we’d wanted to, and we were also quite clear when we entered the visitor centre/shop that we were just there to take a look. But they couldn’t have been warmer if it had been 11 am on a Tuesday and the two of us looking to buy everything in the store. The manager of the shop (at least I think she was the manager) offered us pours of the regular 12 yo, the latest version of the Distillers’ Edition and their distillery exclusive, and readily answered the questions we asked her about the distillery. There was no hint of pressure to buy anything and no sign of impatience at having to deal with tourists at the very end of the week.
The distillery itself is small. Strathisla is also small but Cragganmore is not as attractive as Strathisla. But I have to say that I found the aesthetic of Cragganmore rather pleasant after the shiny surfaces and stained wood and distressed leather of Strathisla and the scale and marketing overdrive of Glenfiddich. It looks like what it is: a small working distillery with a little shop attached: no nonsense, no pretension.
Here are some pictures of the outside of distillery buildings and the inside of the shop. Take a look if you’re so interested and scroll down to see what’s coming next.
The last picture is of the new, small Ballindalloch distillery, located off the A95 across the river from Ballindalloch Castle—you pass it on the way to Cragganmore. It is also closed on Sundays. A pity as that would have been a nice quick stop. If any of you have visited it, do let the rest of us know what it’s like. Please also write in if you know what those two old sheds at Cragganmore are—the ones with the Cragganmore/Ballindalloch signs on them. We only noticed them on the way out and so couldn’t ask the person at the shop.
Next on the blog: a review of another unassuming Vietnamese restaurant in the Twin Cities south metro and then a write-up of Aberlour, which I actually toured. And then a review of the Aberlour 10 to close out the week.
I’d like to see Cragganmore receive it’s fair share of love from the whisky community so thanks for popping in! Only the likes of Knockando and Tamdhu can challenge it for proximity to the Spey and hence the the most particular use of the term ‘Speyside’.
During my visit I also experienced a lot of friendliness from the person working in the shop, and the tour is worthwhile for the unusual shape of stills and those worm tubs.
As for the barns/sheds you mention, I think barn is probably correct. The hint as to their agricultural rather than whisky function is the little metal ‘chimneys’ across the top of the roof, designed to ventilate the barn.
Tours of Ballindalloch are sadly only by appointment – I also tried to just pop in last autumn but the visitor centre was stoutly locked.
Yes, they seem to be barns now. But I was wondering if they were something else before and if that’s why two of them have the Cragganmore and Ballindalloch signs on them. (Also, why “Ballindalloch”?)
If someone reading is going to be visiting the distillery anytime soon, could you ask?
My bet would be that these have always been barns. When John Smith had a siding and station created on the railway line for his new distillery, Cragganmore, it is likely that nearby farmers would have taken advantage of the new route to market for their livestock and other wares. They would have been stored there before being taken south and east on the train, or coming off the train.
These don’t have the look of being former dunnage warehouses, just on the architectural features alone. Further, if Diageo decommissions warehouses it tends to pull them down afterwards. I think these barn type buildings have just been overlooked for a while. Just guesses, however, and maybe tour guides would have the true picture.
Ballindalloch is the name of the wider area around the distillery and would grant specificity to Cragganmore, which is itself more of a literal geographical description than a particular place name in that part of the world.