Friday, January 17, 2020

Whisky Review: Hepburn's Choice Craigellachie 18 Year 1995/2014 for K&L

I reviewed this whisky once before from a sample and promptly vowed to get my hands on more of it. While that was a bit tricky due to K&L's inability to ship to Oregon (or anywhere outside California, these days), I was able to split a bottle and get a decent amount to drink.

This whisky was distilled in 1995, filled into a sherry butt, then bottled in 2014 at 54.3% for K&L Wines without coloring or chill filtration.

Hepburn's Choice Craigellachie 18 Year 1995/2014 for K&L

Nose: rich sherry, Starburst candies, vanilla, dry malt, leather, savory, mild sulphur, farm-y, American oak

Taste: sweet sherry with background malt and vanilla through the front and middle, floral top notes beginning in the middle, fading into a tangle of orange peel, gunpowder, mild oak tannins

Finish: lingering sulphur, nutty oak, sherry residue, dry malt

If I wasn't able to get ahold of a whole bottle, half will do. While my interest in sherry-driven whiskies has waxed and waned over time, this one really hits the mark for me. The dirty style isn't sexy in the same way as a cleaner Macallan or (modern) Glendronach, but it gives a counterpoint to the sherry that prevents it from becoming unidimensional. Even the sulfur has its place, though it reads as more earthy/manure than the meaty sulfur of Mortlach. If the Inchgower from K&L has some overlap with Tobermory, this leans more towards Ledaig, albeit without the peat. I will be very sad to see the end of this as I don't expect I'll be able to find anything comparable in the near future.

Diluted to 50%

Nose: dark, dank sherry, mild sulfurous funk, moderate oak, dried herbs, milk chocolate, caramel, citrus and tropical fruit, and a thread of wood smoke

Taste: sweet sherry up front that slips underneath the other flavors from the middle, a malty thickness throughout, muddled fruit and citrus starting in the middle, American oak and a bit of creamy vanilla near the back

Finish: thick, dark sherry, creamy malt, American oak, herbal

While missing a bit of complexity compared to the malt at full strength, this works really well. It has less heat, but still has good depth of flavor. It makes for a very nice middle ground between the two other strengths I tried. While I'm glad we got it at cask strength, this wouldn't have been bad as an Old Malt Cask bottling.

Diluted to 45%

Nose: pleasantly soft sulfurous sherry, ripe berries, herbal, nice oak, dark chocolate

Taste: bittersweet sherry up front, malty undertones, thicker around the middle with floral notes, fading into gentle oak tannins with some background sulfur

Finish: sherry residue, pleasant oak tannins, herbal/floral malt, gentle suflur

While it doesn't have the punch of the whisky at full strength, this is still very nice. I'd say this is comparable to something like G&M's Mortlach 15 Year. Just like with that, it becomes something of an easy-going malt, albeit with the controversial sulfurous notes. As I said above, I'm glad we got this at full strength, but it's a testament to the quality of the malt that it takes water so well.

It's become increasingly rare for me to find malts where I wish I had bought multiple bottles, but this is one of the few where I would love to have two or three more. While it's become common to bemoan the lack of complexity in 'modern' malt whiskies, this Craigellachie shows that good spirit is still being distilled and filled into quality sherry casks. As a bonus, this was far cheaper than a Mortlach of comparable provenance, highlighting the way that some distilleries manage to fly under the radar while others get all the attention. I'm hoping I'll be able to find something like it again, but we will have to wait and see.

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