Craigellachie (13 year)

I do a lot of the tastings for this blog based on samples that I’ve purchased from either Master of Malt (although not since they were purchased by AB InBev and stopped shipping to the US) or Flaviar. So many, in fact, that I often end up with a big backlog of samples that quickly go obsolete. One benefit to tasting from sample bottles is that I have no preconceived notions about the full bottle price while I’m tasting. This frees me from expecting too much (or too little). When I write up the tasting notes I like to try and guess the price, and it should be no surprise that I’m almost always on the cheaper end of the range when I do this. It’s probably because my brain is anchored to prices from back in the early 2010s, and now I say stuff like “Back in my day Macallan 18 was $80 a bottle!” We also walked uphill in the snow both ways to school.

This official bottling (one of three from the distillery including a 17-year and a 23-year, all new in 2014 after Bacardi assumed ownership) comes from a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and is bottled at 46% ABV without added coloring and without chill filtration.

I’ve only reviewed one other Craigellachie, so I don’t have much of a point of reference. Both times it has appeared to me to be a middle-weight Speysider with a decent balance of fruit and caramel notes that is otherwise forgettable.

Nose: Potent spike of caramel sweetness, with oaky vanilla overtones. There isn’t a lot of additional complexity – just various shades of wood and malty sugars. After a rest in the glass, some ripe banana notes creep in.

Palate: Medium body. An initial wave of banana and toffee is accompanied by a very mild tongue burn. Then, slightly bitter and slightly smoky barrel char, oak chips, and burnt caramel.

Finish: On the short side. A very consistent finish, comprising the good notes from the nose and palate, but without much bitterness. Unfortunately it fades quickly, without evolving.

With Water: A few drops of water release a nice orange peel note which merges well with the caramel. The palate seems thinner, the finish livelier. Water is a good idea with this malt.

Overall: A fairly one-dimensional malt that is somewhat marred by my least-favorite flavor note (banana). The wood is nice, as are the well-balanced sugar notes that verge on toasty toffee and caramel, but there isn’t much else to recommend it.

Tasting price-blind, I said I would be hesitant to pay more than $35 for this. Now that I see it retails for $48+ I’d call that a “Try Before Buy” kind of situation, unless you see a screaming deal. Upon further reading, I wonder if the famous sulphur note that everyone says is a hallmark of Craigellachie might be hitting my jaded senses as banana. That will require more investigation…

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

A Speysider previously in Diageo’s catalog but sold to Bacardi recently. It was built in the 1890s to make use of the railway lines running to the town of Craigellachie. The use of worm tubs, wooden washbacks, and a distinctive sulfuring process during malting make Craigellachie spirit weighty – some say waxy – and fruity.
Craigellachie (13 year)
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $48-$60
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.

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  • I think this is one of those cases where it’s a shame that you didn’t have a full bottle to review, because this is one that has a lot going on. I know that it is financially impossible for you to always review full bottles and that I’m blessed to be be able to drink exactly what I like everyday because I don’t have the pressure of having to write a blog entry every Monday. I’m also not saying that you would have loved it, because it seems to be one of those malts that people either love or hate. It’s in my regular rotation and I pay $42 a bottle for this in New York. If you have an idle 20 minutes, check out Ralfy review number 497. I should also that I’m grateful for those Monday blog entries. Happy Labor Day!

    • Thanks Joe! This review has me wondering if all the dozens of times I’ve written “banana” or “rotten banana” in a tasting note if I was actually reacting negatively to the (quite common) flavor/aroma of sulfur. Sulfur in whisky is kind of like cilantro – people either love it or hate it. That’s a guess, though, I need to find more “sulfury” whiskies to taste and see if I can confirm it. Thanks for the note. Cheers!

  • I’m with Joe on this one. I rank C13 as one of the top entry level Speysiders. I find it quite singular in that the nose could just as well be one of Glenlivet or Glenfiddich, but the palet and finish are completely different – grassy, mineral, spicy and thought-provoking. It is rare I don’t have a bottle of this in my cabinet and when I introduce a Johnny Walker-drinking friend to it they almost always go buy a bottle for themselves.

  • I’m with the Noob on this one. Tried it awhile back and, while I don’t have my notes, I found it indistinguishable and overpriced for what it was. And as far as I know, the only true distillery in the town of Craigellachie is the John Dewar & Sons one at the top of the hill. Noob, do you think you could tease out the Craigellachie whisky as an ingredient in Dewars blends?

  • I could have sworn you had reviewed this one before! ANYWAY, I quite enjoyed it (could have something to positive early experience with Dewar’s 12). Didn’t get much “meat” or “smoke” like so many others, but there was a burnt? nuttiness that I also enjoyed with Glenmorangie 10 and An Cnoc 12. It’s funky in a way that’s reminiscent of Springbank, but nowhere near that level. I’ve only taken my first dram, so who knows my opinion later? Just regret not picking it up sooner, especially with prices continuing to jump!
    PS unrelated to the scotch itself, but I also love their retro-looking bottle shape+labeling/packaging/presentation

  • I have found that your reviews are mostly spot on, but I think that your opinion of the Craigellachie 13 is off the mark. I have finished 6 bottles of this Single malt and found this bottling consistently very tasty.