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.