Taste Review #77 – Dalwhinnie 15
The very first review I published at the start of Scotty’s Drams was a Dalwhinnie. In fact it was two Dalwhinnie drams in one – the Winter’s Gold and Distillery Exclusive. By using the links at the bottom of this review you will be able to back track and see what I wrote. So much has changed since I wrote that review – I’ve smartened up the blog format a bit, attempted to take better photographs and have made many more friends in the whisky world, both in the industry and other enthusiasts. Things that haven’t changed are my lo-fi production values (necessary when attempting to upload a blog on the internet equivalent of a 56k dial up modem) and the fact my dog is still not any better behaved. I’ve come up with a term to describe him accurately. “Hyper-social” would adequately describe my friendly old Labrador who still acts like a puppy despite being 9 years old. I’m quite sure the local canines would more relevantly call him “dog nonce”. I guess there is always room for improvement, and we won’t quite give up on Maks for now.
Dalwhinnie is one of my local distilleries, certainly the closest owned by a global enterprise, the other being Tomatin. Tiny Speyside distillery which can be seen from my house if you know where to look when the leaves are off the trees doesn’t have a look in compared to the output of these two monsters.
Dalwhinnie has this thing about being the highest distillery, which having checked with a hand held GPS I can confirm is not true; Braeval (Braes Of Glenlivet) was a metre higher, but Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland with a visitors centre and a damned fine one at that. Standing just on the northern outskirts of the village of the same name, Dalwhinnie is a also few miles north of the Drumochter Pass, the place where the A9 trunk Road and Highland Mainline Railway squeeze between a narrow mountain pass which can be treacherous in winter time.
Funnily enough while Dalwhinnie proclaims itself to be a Highland Malt, it actually does belong in the Speyside Whisky Region, being the most southerly of all the Speysides. It is actually closer to the River Spey than its height rival with Dalwhinnie being as close as 8.1km from the Spey opposed to Braeval’s effort at 17.5km. Remember that every Speyside whisky is a Highlander, but not every Highlander is a Speyside. For the record, Macallan still show themselves as a Highland whisky too.
The location of the distillery gives a welcome sight when heading home, and looks picturesque whether you see it from the road, or while passing behind it when you travel by train. It’s hard to believe you are over 350m above sea level.
Dalwhinnie was founded in 1897 and was originally called the Strathspey distillery, and was owned by the same people who owned the original Speyside distillery in the village of Kingussie some 14 miles further north. The Strathspey Distillery Company went bust in 1898 with both distilleries sold. Eventually Dalwhinnie went on to be the first Scottish distillery to be sold to foreign company in 1905. By 1911 the Kingussie distillery fell silent and was demolished in 1920’s. Only one building still remains between the Duke Of Gordon Hotel and the Ardvonie Road car park. Rumour has it a lot of the local houses constructed soon after used stone from the demolished distillery, which was a similar size to Dalwhinnie. In 1926 after a couple of changes in ownership, the Dalwhinnie distillery eventually was bought by DCL, which went on to become Diageo.
Dalwhinnie distillery only has 2 stills, so is not a major producer compared to some. However it does still use worm tubs to condense the spirit coming out from the stills. Due to the average temperature of Dalwhinnie being quite low throughout the year (I’ve read somewhere it averages 6C, but as a local I think that’s a little too high!) the worm tubs ensure a rapid condensation of the spirit vapor from the stills. In 1986, whilst the distillery was getting an upgrade, the worm tubs were replaced by more modern shell and tube condensers but this changed the character of the spirit too much, and the more expensive to run worm tubs were reinstalled.
In 2018 the distillery experienced a shut down of production during an extended period of hot weather. Not due to the lack of water from the Allt an t-Sluic burn, but because the temperature of the water in the cooling system was too high and the worm tubs were not able to condense the spirit effectively changing the property of the spirit.
Diageo announced in 2018 that the Dalwhinnie visitors centre would be undergoing an upgrade. I haven’t been there since 2018, so I’m not sure if it has been carried out, but even if it hasn’t, the visitor centre is excellent as are the staff. But let’s see if the whisky is….
Region -Speyside Age – 15 years Strength – 43% Colour -Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Mostly Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Strong green apples, wallpaper paste, lemon peel, sawdust. Oily. Palate – Sweet on arrival with oak spices. Caramel, vanilla, chocolate, unripe pears, lemon zest. Finish – medium long, fruity, warming hint of sulphur.
Quite a decent dram, and certainly one worth having in your drinks cabinet. There is good reason why this formed the original Classic Malts selection in 1988 as I found it to be such an easy drinker. Nothing too complex but enough to keep it interesting. The sulphur was well controlled. Funny that, as the out of favour whisky writer (who one fellow blogger made an anagram of the writers name to be ‘Jura My Rim’)* is often banging on about sulphur, yet awarded it 95 out of 100.
I’ve seen online many people complain about this dram being too light, too delicate and possibly being a victim of poor quality casks but I disagree. Nobody knowingly makes a poor whisky, especially when it concerns a single malt that has had quite a long lifespan. Perhaps like my attitude with Maksimus, a bit of perseverance is needed if you think this is a poor malt.
All in all this is an inexpensive, good value easy drinker at a price of £43-£46 in shops. If you are looking for something a little more challenging to drink, this isn’t it. Definitely recommended, especially for those starting out on a whisky journey.
Yours In Spirits
* Jura My Rim = Jim Murray.
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.
All Sample Photos – Author’s own
Dalwhinnie Distillery – cisko66. Used under Creative Commons licence CC BY 3.0
Dalwhinnie 15 – The Whisky Exchange