1986 Adelphi  Cragganmore 26 Year Old Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (700ml)

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1986 Adelphi Cragganmore 26 Year Old Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (700ml)

Speyside, Highlands, SCOTLAND
$210.00 Bottle
  • ABV 58.2%

Pure Adventure: The Vital Role of an Independent bottler.

During one's whisky drinking career, a right of passage will be presented in the form of a dilemma. Having exhausted all the usual suspects that the whisky industry's marketing engine has driven your way, you feel that the consistency you once sought from your favourite brand now leaves a little to be desired. With this dilemma firmly embedded in your mind, you walk into your local whisky specialist who offers you a sample of a single cask whisky at cask strength. The bottle has an unfamiliar label, yet, you know this distillery. It's fantastic! Immediately basic descriptors such as 'smooth' - once your measure of quality, become redundant. You question the provenance of this unknown bottling: It's not a distillery, but an independent company that sources whisky from Single Malt distilleries and bottles under its own brand. They come in many forms, all as unique and rare as the next! BANG! Just like a cowboy at the crack of noon, you flick all preconceived notions of what you once thought defined a 'quality dram' and the long, yet rewarding search for Individual expression is now your main ambition.

This introduction serves as an appetiser to the stunning release that is set to follow, however, a word of caution; buying an Independent bottling is not a sure-fire ticket to a quality whisky. The lure of the unknown can lead to disappointment - a given with most passionate affairs. But is also adds to the adventure, should you have the means to afford it.

To fully understand the inner workings of the current system behind Independent bottlings, one has to consider the history that gave rise to it. Prior to the present-day revival of single malt Scotch whiskies, most Single Malt distilleries chose not to bottle their own product. Instead, the vast majority of single malt would be sold to blenders in order to meet growing demand for blended whisky. No doubt the pain of the last bust cycle of the late 1970s and early 80s (referred to as the 'Whisky Loch' ) was still in mind. There was one exception to this practice. Distilleries also sold casks of single malt to independent bottlers and retail merchants. Independent bottlers would purchase a cask for maturation in their warehouses, to be bottled at an age of their own choosing, and in some circumstances, they'd even finish the whisky in an alternate cask type.

Independent bottlers today offer a vital service. They are the whisky connoisseur's prime source for obtaining otherwise 'unobtainable' bottlings. These may include malts or blends rarely seen outside of commercial blending houses (think Strathmill, Miltonduff, Linkwood), downright rare bottlings from mothballed or demolished distilleries (Dallas Dhu, Kinclaith, Port Ellen) and vintage casks from famed distilling era's in the 1980s, as well as Glen Grant and Mortlach bottlings dating as far as the 1950s! These decades are widely considered to have yielded some of the greatest malts ever-produced - some tasty blends indeed!

Secondly, where proprietary bottlings aim for a consistent reflection of the distillery's typical style by blending different casks (in this sense Single Malts are blends too), the independent instead prizes the uniqueness of a single cask, and revels in the fact that barrels are inherently different; some are highly active, whilst some will fail to deliver much at all. The majority of independents today, such as Gordon & Macphail and Douglas Laing, offer a comprehensive selection ranging from blended malts to rare single malts and grain whisky bottlings varying in strength, whilst others, such as 'Adelphi' adhere to strict standards focusing purely on single casks (with the exception of their 'Private Blend'). All their whiskies are bottled at natural strength; non-chill flittered, and matured exclusively in traditional ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks. They also claim to never finish a whisky in other wood types. Such is their passion for purity.

The surprising corollary to all this is that Independent bottlings are often relative bargains, and can sell for a fraction of the price of their proprietary equivalents.

In recent times, questions surrounding current supply of Single Malt Scotch whisky have become more pertinent than ever. 'Gone are the days when casks of whisky were a cash commodity' as Alex Bruce of Adelphi will tell you. He adds; 'Nowadays, you literally couldn't walk into a distillery and buy a barrel with good money in your pocket'. A cask for a cask has become the only means of acquiring aged malt whisky. Whisky itself is now the most valued currency of trade. In this economy of scarcity, it's independent bottlers with a long and strong history of fair dealing, quality representation of a distillery's brand, and with good stocks of whisky to trade who are in the box seat. This is a very short list and Adelphi deserve their place on it. It's this kind of kudos that grants the Independents access to Scotland's greatest malts, and for drinkers, guarantees whiskies of consistent profile and usually superior quality. In this way the industry has self-regulated. Turn out mediocre product from any old barrel and you'll quickly gain a reputation that severs you from your source of supply.

The Adelphi name was initially established as a distillery in 1892 (closed in 1907) and later revived as an Independent bottling company in 1993. Today the company is headed by Alex Bruce, a direct descendant of Andrew Usher who is credited with pioneering blended whisky, and father, Lord Elgin, a patron and former Grand Master of the Keepers of the Quaich. Consulting beside him is arguably Scotland's most iconic whisky expert, and current Grand Master of the Keepers of the Quaich; Charles Maclean. Adelphi are currently in the process of developing a distillery to be named the 'Ardnamurchan Distillery', which is due for completion by December this year.

These are whiskies for purists. They take you back to a time when proofs were proper, caramel colouring was a sin, and texture, richness and flavour were a pursuit on a higher plane than 'smooth.' The balance that they achieve at cask strength frequently defies belief and is further testimony to the prudence of the selection. Alex Bruce samples around 3000 casks per year. Typically less than 100 make the grade. Highly regarded by blenders, Cragganmore has traditionally been a large component of the McCallum blend. Only 201 bottles were released from this cask selected by Adephi.

Tasting note: The pale straw-gold hue belies the whisky's age which could be mistaken for young teen. A brief waft of sulphur opens a somewhat restrained bouquet - vanilla and cocoa combined with a refreshing note of orange zest which accentuates after further time in the glass. It deserves a good 5-10 minutes to fully show itself. The richly textured, creamy delivery bares almost no indication of extreme alcohol through the malt, honey and vanilla flavours. At nearly 60% ABV the balance here almost defies belief - the warm spirit only really asserts itself towards the finish before the aftertaste tails off. A primer on poise and texture. Rarely encountered in the world of Whisky. 58.2 Alc./Vol.