It is a small turning off the A95 and if there hadn’t been a brown tourist sign for Cragganmore I would have missed it. In only a few yards you feel in the middle of nowhere. Further along there are some old warehouse type buildings, now used as an agricultural store. Two pitched roofs joined in the middle, under one is a sign for “Cragganmore” under the other “Ballindalloch”. Background colour maroon, typeface cream. Unmistakably from the old days of rail. This is important. Forget all the guff about a distillery nestling unobtrusively in the lee of a hill to be near the purest of water sources, you also need transport links and in the Nineteenth Century that meant railways. Cragganmore was on a short spur of the Strathspey Railway, which ran ‘whisky specials’ from 1887. The Strathspey line was closed in 1965 for traffic and 1968 for goods but traces remain.
The road goes nowhere apart from the distillery and could be one of the shortest B roads in the country and when you arrive, the distillery is just as unobtrusive. But to welcome you there is an archway with the Cragganmore name in rather ornate ironwork. I must admit I rather like the decorative lettering.
Now it is here that I must admit to a couple of failings. I didn’t do well by this distillery. I should have wandered around to see if there were footpaths that would have taken me to a vantage point where I could take a photo of the buildings, isolated in a gentle valley. It could have been pretty but I missed the opportunity. Also I didn’t do was go on the tour. I had just missed one and didn’t want to wait for the next (I don’t know why I had the feeling that I had to press on).Instead I contented myself with an impression of the site, the visitors room, a brief chat to the people who manned it, and a tasting.
A limited interaction but strangely enough I came away thinking that this had been one of the finds of the holiday. Previously I had ignored Cragganmore. I had seen bottles of the 12 yr old on the shelves but, for no good reason, passed them by. Somehow I didn’t have any compelling reason to investigate – no story to get me hooked, nothing that left out at me and engaged my imagination. More fool me.
The two samples I tasted (21 yr old and the port finished Distillers Edition – the only two official bottlings) were surprisingly lovely. The aromas were delicate, complex (meaning I couldn’t quite identify all I was smelling) but fresh. I have always been a little suspicious of port finishes but the Distillers Edition seemed to have the balance just right (i.e. it was not overwhelming). Hmm. This distillery had been hiding in plain sight as it is, after all, one of Diageo’s Classic Malts – but they don’t push it that hard. I have been to whisky festivals and it has not even been on their table. I read somewhere that it was the second lowest seller in the Classic Malts range, just ahead of GlenKinchie and in terms of visitor numbers it is at the bottom of the Diageo table.
It raises the interesting question as to why the names of some malts have added lustre, whilst others are in the shadows? Why are some distilleries fashionable and others not? The answer sometimes has nothing to do with the quality of the spirit.