Benriach The Twelve vs Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition

If I was excited about yesterday’s tasting, then today’s is a bit of a letdown. I keep returning to this one bottle I have in my collection, thinking that somehow I will one day change my mind and peel apart something new that I haven’t noticed before. Sometimes that works, as I discover nuances in flavour. But more often than not, it feels like I am drifting in the other way and losing some appreciation for the whiskies that I [possibly] liked. On the other hand, it’s very much essential to continue and experience the lows so that I can recognise and celebrate the highs. I’m not saying that one must spend a lot of time around a poor quality product – but one must have a benchmark and a baseline of where to begin, and a reminder thereof once in a while is needed. So let’s dive in, but first, music! Now playing: Ben ChatwinThe Hum.

With the first pour, I taste The Twelve from the Benriach. It is part of the distillery’s core range, and, as is blatantly apparent, this is a 12-year-old single malt. It is distilled in Speyside and then matured in three different casks: ex-sherry, ex-bourbon, and ex-port. The three aged whiskies are then blended [“married”] to produce the final result, which is then bottled at 46% ABV. It has a natural colour of mid-range amber and golden bronze glow, imparted by the sherry and port casks, but to be honest, I can’t tell the cask influence in flavour. It’s most likely chill-filtered because it does not dispute that process on the label. It has a full and round arrival, with a sweet toffee tinge and memories of fudge. There is vanilla with a tad of bitterness around the edges, but it’s not so overpowering and offputting [as was the case with some grain blends for me]. I add some water to have it open up, and now I start to warm up to the barely discernable flavour of port and maybe sherry, but just when I had thought I’d had it, all of that influence vanishes and gone again. I think it is an “okay” dram – it’s definitely not a great one nor inferior, and it just lies somewhere in between. Perhaps The Smoky Ten would have more character to share, or maybe it would be a richer pour with Twenty One. At £40 for a bottle, I’ve had better, specifically a more memorable dram. Next to Balvenie DoubleWood, the Benriach would crumble. But next to Johnie Walker, it would shine.

Cragganmore 2001

I move on to the Cragganmore. The truth is, I’ve been going back and forth on both. Mine is the Distiller’s Edition of this Speyside single malt, which was distilled in 2001 and bottled in 2014 [so yes, about 13 years old], but likely spent the first 12 years in ex-bourbon and then was finished in the port wine casks for one. This is a way Diageo showcases some of its staples with a bit of twist of double maturation. The bottle doesn’t mention colour, chilled filtration, nor the wood – it does proclaim that it’s a limited edition, as is the case with all malts in this series. So this one has been open for some years, and if I had to guess, most likely eight. I don’t remember where or when I got it. I don’t remember drinking or admiring it. But since I haven’t finished it completely, my guess is that I taste it and return it to the shelf. And now I remember why. There are strong cereal, black pepper, and banana flavours. The same is echoed on the nose but with port wine. It’s pretty light in alcohol at only 40% and feels like all the character is gone. There is a taste of cardboard in my mouth as if it has been scraped against the tongue. The flatness of the finish is pronounced, and overall I feel as if I’m drinking from a paper cup. Has this port-finished bottle oxidised in years? Has it somehow turned for being open for so long? You are invited for your feedback and suggestion on how I save this bottle if at all. Alas, I may give up on it completely. I can’t continue tasting this in vein.

So there you have it, folks. Another round of tastings. With two Speyside twelve-year-olds side by side. They’re pretty different in profile and in flavour, although not one exactly stands out on their own. I will admit, I’m not a fan of either, and hence my introduction for this post. I may attempt another try, but not these bottlings. Perhaps there is a newer bottle from the series – I see a more recent 2009 Edition going for about £62 (there is a 30ml sample of the ’98 I can get for £7). I’ll probably return, but not too quickly. And with that, I will say that Benriach wins this round.

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