The Craigellachie 33 Year Old is the sort of dram that takes time to warm up and get to know you. Shy out of the bottle into the glass, patience is rewarded. It’s tempting to take the Doors’ classic, “Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name,” instead to a full-on Martin Scorsese, David Mamet, or Quentin Tarantino dialogue: “Hey! How are ya? You’re looking pretty good in a bottle, even better in a glass. Don’t mean to impose my will on ya, but let the record show I poured you out of the bottle, not the reverse, capisce? Not to overstate my intentions, but you’re a bird in my hand now, and while it’d be better to have two of you, I’m settlin’ for one.” Etc. The extra time allows, we guess, for more air to interact and thus for the whisky to open up and reveal a multitude of subtle charms.
The nose starts with someone in the apartment next door burning pussy willow incense. You smell it, but you spend some time wondering if they ordered it online, or bought it in the trendy, Southwestern-oriented culturally-appropriated-by-well-intentioned-hipsters bodega down the street. It’s high and light, a Mozart flute solo sprinkled with tarragon and the aforementioned pussy willow incense. There are also figs, fig leaves, laurel leaves woven into a garland, and perfume designed for figs to attract wasps. There are lemon bars, just dusted with confectioner’s sugar, pulled off the hickory-wood smoker a minute or two ago. It’s creamy, too, like your beloved otter Ottolenghi, who’d just lapped up her cream and then decided, endearingly enough, to lick your nose before going to float on her back in your bathtub.
The mouth is spicy and, again, creamy. There’s a fine web of mace, arrow root, and celeriac, along with spearmint that’s had the mint surgically removed by a laser-procedure, leaving only the spear. It’s a Very Good Looking person, quite striking in appearance, actually, quietly comporting themselves at the fringe of the room. Certainly not icy, neither introverted nor reserved; calm, rather. Centered, as if having just rolled in from successfully solving a Zen koan—and smacking their master with a sandal in the moment of satori. You realize that the person is an astonishing conversationalist, with listening skills equal to the finest interviewer, with locutionary finesse rivaling a hostage negotiator, a poetic sensibility challenging Robert Burns, and wit, somehow without acid, reminiscent of Dorothy Parker. It’s easy to be here and feel your best self.
The creaminess continues, unfolding as elegantly as a lost story by Jorge Luis Borges about a Japanese origami master, temporarily adrift in Buenos Aires. There’s a fine green note (still the flute?) heading to the finish, like an unexpected tendril growing from a branch on the 800 year-old bonsai tree at Shunka-En, the garden of Mr. Kobayashi. I got Jelly Babies smoking fruity tobacco in miniature Meerschaum pipes, à la Sherlock Holmes, but I was the only one of the three of us gifted with the clarity of taste to sense that. It’s differently smooth, as it wends its way to the finish, like the polished toenails of a ballerina, who had caramel painted on by a besotted pedicurist.
The finish brings a wee bit of flint, or perhaps pecan pith. We found also an ambergris bead necklace—very rare!—on a Dresden bone china tray. Sweetness emerges, and like a fog materializing, threatens to cloy, but instead coalesces into a Matryoshka doll of prime ministers carved from a variety of root. The outermost is Winston Churchill carved from a Mandrake, next is Disraeli, carved from a turnip, and in the very center is Theresa May, carved from a lump of coal.
On the scale of trees that bloom infrequently, then self-destruct–
The Craigellachie 33 Year Old is the Madagascar palm (Tahina spectabilis)–It flowers once, after 100 years, sending a shoot from the top of the palm that looks like an asparagus crossed with a Christmas tree. The branches get covered in hundreds of tiny white flowers, oozing with nectar, that attract insects and birds. Having expended all that energy, within a few months, the palm collapses and dies. That was akin to my experience; a long life, well-lived, without drinking any Craigellachie 33. Then, as I drank it, I metaphorically shot an asparagus-shaped Christmas tree from the top of my head, blossomed for the first and only time, and then, inevitably, when my glass was empty, I collapsed.
–Our thanks to Craigellachie for the sample!