John Smith, who had previously been involved with Macallan, Glenlivet and Glenfarclas distilleries, founded Cragganmore in 1869. Smith was said to be one of the finest and most experienced distillers of his day. Cragganmore was the first distillery in Scotland to have its site selected and be built specifically to take advantage of its proximity to the Strathspey Railway. Famously, after the private station was built at Cragganmore to accommodate the distillery traffic, Smith wanted to ride on the train, but as he was a larger gentleman, he couldn’t quite fit, and had to ride in the Guard’s van instead. In 1887, the first ‘Whisky special’ left Ballindalloch for Aberdeen, with 300 casks of Cragganmore on board. In 1886, Smith passed away, leaving the business to his son, Gordon, who was only 21 at the time. In 1901, Charles Doig, the famous distillery architect, renovated and refurbished Cragganmore, bringing the site into the twentieth century with style.
Tragically, Gordon only managed to run the distillery for a couple of decades, dying young in 1912. Today it is owned by Diageo and was one of the original ‘Classic Malts’ although its importance as a contributor to blends means that a significant percentage is still used for fillings. Strangely for such a complex malt it has never achieved the same status as some of its Speyside neighbours. Some put this down to the lack of volume available for single malt bottlings (even now it only has two regular expressions, a 12-year-old and a Distiller’s Edition finish), others feel that the label design is hard to read. Whatever the truth, it remains a somewhat hidden dram.