Cragganmore 12 Years Old

Readers of a certain age will remember a famous advert on UK television for a soft drink called Tango, which was an orange fizzy drink still available to this day. The advert featured a man painted bright orange, slapping a man who had just taken a sip of his drink with both hands, to emphasise the poweful hit of orange, with the strapline, “You know when you’ve been Tango’d”. I’m old enough to remember it being a part of school playground humour, which I believe led to its banning due to some children having their eardrums damaged by other children copying the stunt. Well, if you want to see a whisky that has well and truly been ‘Tango’d’, its this Cragganmore. It is very orange in colour! Of course in this case it is a result of the much maligned E150a colourant that has been added in healthy quantities to this malt. It does come across as very heavy handed, and perhaps even out of touch with the supermarket malts of today, where you would expect to see it most. In my review of the Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, I noted how little colour appeared to be added, despite it being the type of whisky where they could have been tempted to add a healthy dose.

Diageo certainly make some bold statements about Cragganmore 12 on the packaging. I will give you the wording on the front of the label verbatim; “An elegant, and sophisticated Speyside with the most complex aroma of any malt. Astonishingly fragrant with sweetish notes and a smoky maltiness on the finish”. Don’t hold back guys! It sounds spectacular doesn’t it? I can’t wait to nose “the most complex aroma of ANY malt”. Although, as a seasoned whisky drinker, we all know to not only take these statements on labels with a pinch of salt, but perhaps an entire silo load of it.

They also talk about how in the 1920’s, Cragganmore was voted the finest of all Scottish Malt Distillers’ malts by their blenders, and was titled as being A1 for blending. That tells us this was pretty fantastic whisky…one hundred years ago. I’m not going to carry on with the marketing speak on the label, but it’s safe to say they talk a good game.

Cragganmore 12 is one of Diageo’s six classic malts, and represents the Speyside region. They also include Glenkinchie 12 for the Lowlands, Dalwhinnie 15 for the Highlands, Talisker 10 for Skye, Oban 14 for Western Highlands, and Lagavulin 16 for Islay. The only official region missing is Campbeltown, where Diageo don’t currently have a distillery.

Cragganmore is one of Diageo’s distillery’s that we see very little from as a single malt. We get this 12 year old, an annual Distillers’ Edition, and occasional special releases. In many cases when this happens we can look towards the independent bottlers to fill the gaps, but unfortunately it seems we see almost zero sold to the independents. Apart from a few with big age statements and prices to match, I haven’t seen anything in recent years I can get my hands on. One would therefore assume it is still highly sought after for blends, as it was back in the 1920’s.

Is there anything interesting to be said about the Cragganmore distillery? They use worm tubs, which is often seen as a big plus amongst enthusiasts. Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Glen Elgin, and Mortlach are a few other distilleries in the Diageo stable using them too, with all of them valuable for blends, and not as prominent in the single malt market. You do get to see them as independent bottlings more often though. This only enhances my impression that Cragganmore must be REALLY sought after for blending, which is hopefully a good sign.

It is worth looking at the RRP of this Cragganmore. Diageo are asking £43.49 on their own website, but elsewhere it can be had for just under £40. That’s a very competitive marketplace right now. It has to stand up to the likes of Arran 10, Glencadam 10 and Deanston 12, which all offer a much better bottling strength for a similar price.

I bought this after having a wonderful experience with the 1984 vintage Distiller’s Edition, which I believe was the first of the Distiller’s Editions from Cragganmore, and was released in 1998. It gave me a desire to explore the distillery further, and what better place to start than with the classic 12 year old. It is bottled at the minimum 40%, chill-filtered and with colour added, but let’s see how we get on.

Cragganmore 12 Years Old – Review

Nose : At first its quite leafy and damp soil, with heather honey, treacle and light whisps of smoke. The more I nose I start to get some white flowers, toffee apple, orange oil, furniture polish and burnt toffee. There’s also a woody, sawdust edge to it with some hazelnut. It’s not a bad start.

Palate : It’s rather quiet and the mouthfeel is thin and a little watery. There is some barley sugar, burnt orange, sultana, heather honey, vanilla and honeycomb. We then get some sandalwood, and it is a little bitter, drying and tannic in its influence, with a little ginger spice prickling through and giving some interest, but its all rather flat.

The finish is tame and short lived. We still have the wood tannins, some black tea, cream and a dash of salt.

Conclusions : How disappointing. The nose has some promise, but it is all too flat and subdued, particularly on the palate. I thought this would give me a good starting place to get into Cragganmore, and then possibly onto one of the more recent Distiller’s Editions to see how that compared with the 1984 vintage I was so fond of. I was hoping for more of those mechanical notes, the tropical fruits, and the smoke. Instead, I no longer have that desire, and will wait until the day an independent bottling comes along which doesn’t break the bank, and hopefully gives me the authentic Cragganmore experience.

I’m sure there is a good whisky there wanting to get out, but it is hidden behind poor casks and poor presentation from the owners. I am assured by others in the know that the 12 year old was a better whisky in the 90’s and even the 2000’s, but today it appears to be a shadow of what it once was. It makes it difficult to recommend when you look at what else is available in this price bracket.

Score : 4/10 Below Average

(Score descriptions can be found in the About page)

Vital statistics

ABV : 40%
Non-chill filtered : No
Natural Colour : No
Maturation : Unknown, but mostly refill ex-bourbon would be my best guess
Region : Speyside
Colour : Tango’d

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