Height isn’t Everything.

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 Distillery (cisko66)

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 15

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….

Details

Dalwhinnie 15

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.


The Dram

Conclusions

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

Scotty

* Jura My Rim = Jim Murray.

Index of tastings here

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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.

Photo Credits

All Sample Photos – Author’s own

Dalwhinnie Distillery – cisko66. Used under Creative Commons licence CC BY 3.0

Dalwhinnie 15The Whisky Exchange

Dalwhinnie Dram Head To Head

I finally got around to doing my first tasting on behalf of Scotty’s Drams. Two samples of Dalwhinnie to taste compare and share the results with you. It’s tough work but somebody has to do it! Actually I don’t have to do it, but might as well……

Both samples were as a result of visiting the distillery but being the responsible driver, I didn’t get to taste at the time, so my samples were bottled to go.

If you don’t know, Dalwhinnie is supposed to be the highest distillery in Scotland, but that can be disputed with Braeval in Glenlivet. Dalwhinnie is at 1145 feet above sea level whereas Braeval is at 1163 ft. Difference is that the Pernod Ricard owned Braeval is fully automated and only needs one person to run it. And it’s a malt few have heard of, as official releases are extremely rare, but you can more easily pick up independent bottlings, but are still not common.

Dalwhinnie is a distillery that sits just outside the village of the same name, and is a prominent landmark by the side of the A9 north of Drumochter Pass. The distillery was founded in 1897, but was originally named the Strathspey Distillery, being owned by the Strathspey Distillery company, who also owned the distillery in Kingussie. In 1898, the Strathspey Distillery Company went bankrupt, possibly as an aftermath of the 1896 Pattinson Crash, and the distillery was sold. At this time, the new owners renamed the distillery Dalwhinnie and the rest is history. The Kingussie Distillery went silent in 1911, and was demolished in the 1920’s. Only one row of cottages remains, and it is rumoured a lot of the local houses are built of the stone from the former distillery.

Anyway, onto the whiskies sampled. The two supplied samples were the Winters Gold and 2017 Distillers Edition. Both are non age statements, but the Distillers Edition does give a distilled date and bottled date so can be worked out as 15 years old. Both are at 43% abv and come normally in 70cl bottlings.

As you can see from the photograph, the colours are broadly similar, a nice medium gold colour. Being the same strength, the legs were broadly similar. It was only at the nosing that the first differences became apparent. The Winters Gold has a lovely smoke about it, with a peaty sort of smell, but certainly not overpowering. I got a smell of dried fruit, oak, smoke and digestive biscuits, but my sense of smell is not to be trusted, as my sinuses are knackered. However, the oak is a smell that is registered on most appraisals I’ve seen of the whisky.

The Distillers Edition was totally different. Although a peated whisky, the level is so low, so could hardly detect it. It is a much lighter and sweeter spirit, and while I thought I could smell strawberries and hay, the official taste guide tells me it should be raspberries. Ah well, close enough. This expression of Dalwhinnie is finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks, that gives a sweeter taste to the matured spirit.

On the taste comparison, the Winters Gold to me had a much better mouth feel, and the smoke gave a nice warm feeling. For me the taste of biscuits continued, along with dried fruit. The finish was medium long and pleasant.

The Distillers Edition to me was not so pleasant. The spirit felt a lot lighter in the mouth, and the alcohol burn was much more prominent. The fruit and hay taste continued with slight malt notes as well. There was a definite pleasant spice to it once the tingling of the alcohol had died off. The finish was a bit shorter than the Winters Gold, and despite not being a bad whisky, to me it wasn’t my favourite of the two.

I don’t know if the plastic sample bottle played any part in the taste, as they sat in my kitchen display cabinet for long enough, but I don’t think there was much difference to what one straight out of the bottle may be like.

Other factors that I didn’t contemplate at the time was that Winters Gold is made from whisky distilled in the winter, which apparently gives a different thicker spirit. As Dalwhinnie is one of the few distilleries left to use worm tubs for condensing the spirit vapour into liquid again, the cold water in the tub will definitely be a lot colder during the winter months, allowing for quicker condensation. This can give a thicker feeling spirit. This whisky is quite innovative as this edition is meant to be put into the freezer prior to drinking, but as I didn’t I can’t tell how it affects taste.

As both whiskies are chill filtered, neither of them will display the cloudiness that one occasionally sees when ice is added. Both are have colour added, so there will be a little bitterness as one possibly tastes the E150 caramel colouring.

Final result?

For me, both were pleasant enough to drink, albeit a bit underwhelming. Given the small size of the sample, I never got a chance to dilute with water, which does open some Dalwhinnie whiskies up. But on balance, I’m not in a hurry to buy a full bottle of either, but if I was to try another dram, a miniature of Winters Gold would be my choice.

Being diluted to 43% I feel has affected the experience that can be had from these drams, and I wonder what it would be like at cask strength.

Other Dalwhinnie Trivia

  • This was the first Scottish Distillery to be owned by a foreign company. In 1905 it was sold to an American company called Cook and Bernheimer at an auction for the price of £1250
  • Dalwhinnie has a good visitors centre, which is due to be upgraded. Indeed, more people are employed at the visitors centre than work in the distillery!
  • Dalwhinnie is marketed as a Highland Malt but also falls within the Speyside Region. Under Scottish Whisky Regulations 2009, either term can be applied. Indeed it is closer to the River Spey (8.1km) than it’s Speyside height rival at Braeval (17.5km)
  • Tours are usually free in the winter months,. This may coincide with the silent season, where the distilling process pauses for maintenance.
  • In the very hot summer of 2018, distilling had to be paused due to a cooling water shortage. The supply for the whisky was fine!
  • Website wwww.malts.com

Feel free to add any comments, either here or on the Facebook page. Will be glad to hear your thoughts.