Cragganmore 14yo 1989/2003 (46%, Cadenhead, Original Collection, Sherrywood, 696 bottles)

Early on in my “Whisky career” I used to be a “regular” at one of the few Cadenhead Shops that were around. Amsterdam had one of the first shops outside of Scotland. I tried quite a few Cadenhead bottlings in those days and bought maybe even more, so I still have quite a few of those older bottlings. However, almost all the Cadenhead bottlings I brought home were cask strength versions, called Authentic Collection. At the same time Cadenhead bottled part of the same cask at 46% ABV, calling it the “Original Collection”, although I suspect, sometimes the whole cask was reduced and bottled at 46%. I’m not sure if there exists a cask strength version of this Cragganmore. I have to admit I hardly own an “Original Collection” bottling (if any). Cragganmore of course is one of the Diageo Distilleries, and is represented in the Classic Malts range. Since Diageo hugely promotes these Malts, it is always nice to compare that to one of the independent bottlings. I’ve already reviewed some of them on these pages. The 12yo, the 1988 Distillers Edition and the 29yo Special Edition. I also had a great 1993 Sherried Cragganmore, bottled by Duncan Taylor. Lets see how this 1989 Cadenheads offering will do.

Cragganmore Cadenhead 1989/2003Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Rich and sweet. Fruity. Waxy apple skin. Funky raisins, honey and cherry water. The initial fruity acidity is quite thin so after a while you don’t smell it anymore. If you use a lid for a while, the acidity gets concentrated and is noticeable again. Without this acidity, this is a dark and brooding offering. A bit goth I would say. Damp earth and slightly rotting leaves on forest floor. Still smells quite toffee-sweet and underneath there is some vanilla as well. Dusty with notes of dull wet wood mixed in with more toffee and caramel. Quite aromatic but at the same time sweet and syrupy. A two-faced puppy this is. Put a lid on it, and its more fruity and acidic, let it breathe and it becomes more brooding. Very interesting malt though. Smells nice and appetizing.

Taste: Almond and toffee sweetness (which dissipates quickly). Lots of toffee. Short licorice attack. Apple skins and apple aroma’s more akin to Calvados. Very nutty (Sherry) this is. Probably a Sherry that aged under flor, so not from our usual Oloroso and PX casks. No, this is more Fino or Amontillado. Wine people believe this is Sherry royalty, much better than Oloroso and PX, which are the most popular casks for ageing Whisky these days. Just check out the bottlings of Glendronach. Having said that it, obviously doesn’t automatically mean the Whisky is better off as well. This has some wood, with a slight bitter edge, but also vegetal bitterness, like you get from biting fresh leaves. Strange? Get out of your chair then and spend some more time in nature! The body starts big, but gets light quickly and the finish isn’t as long as expected, and the aftertaste, with a strange chemical fruitiness to it, is otherwise, with, paper, sweet toffee and caramel, quite anonymous too. One to take in in big gulps, to maximize the flavour. Seems likeable, but also a bit unbalanced and short. Many flaws, but still likeable.

Personally, I find Fino Sherry casks can produce very nice, but different Whiskies. For me it was something I had to grow into, and I guess I’m not finished growing just yet. I really do recognize the quality of the result, but it somehow is not something that like right off the bat. It needs some work. On the other side, I believe, this profile suits a nice Cuban cigar, if you are able to pick the right one for it.

Points: 82

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Dufftown 17yo 1979/1997 (58%, Cadenhead, Sherrywood)

Belgium’s own, Bert B. came into the Cadenhead’s shop in Amsterdam (The Netherlands), with a tale of buying the ‘Winkeldochters’ in an old liquor store in a long forgotten town, near the coast. Howling wind and rolling bushes through the streets. Winkeldochters translates into shop’s daughters. It’s a great Flemish word for those items that are around for a long time in a shop which in fact never get sold.

Well one of these bottles he bought was this Dufftown from Cadenheads. He opened it in the shop and we tried this. He didn’t like it then and exchanged it with Andries (The Cadenhead’s Shop owner) for a wedge of cheese, a cup of coffee and a wooden clothes pin. Andries was kind enough to pour me a nice sample of this (100ml) to take home with me. Cleaning out the closet, I stumbled across this sample, so here it is…

Color: On the edge between copper gold and copper brown.

Nose: Very musty Sherry. Boiling vegetables with great spices like nutmeg immersed in the nicest oak. This is no plan oak you get on the nose, but this has the finest oak smell I’ve come across in a long time. Tarred toffee and a lot of dust. Dry with liquorice. Sawdust and gravy. The nose is actually pretty fabulous!

Taste: Thick musty Sherry. Tarry and again quite a bit of wood, but very nice. Lots of red and black berries followed by a nutty flavor. Very nice warming and very fruity finish with some stale toffee and quite a lit of tar, with a little complement of bitterness. Oxidation did wonders for this Whisky. Let it breathe. Wow.

First time around I scored this a measly 87 points, but that was from the freshly opened bottle. This time around, where the whisky was allowed to breathe, it definitely a lot better. I’ll have to revise my score…

Points: 92

Bert, aka Mr. BenRiach is also the man behind Asta Morris. Probably no coincidence Asta Morris never bottled a Dufftown. Bad call though, Bert, to leave this behind, but thanks a million bro! Thanks also to Andries for providing me with such a large sample. I will enjoy finishing this. Cheers!