The Dalmore has been cranking out top notch Highland single malt scotch since 1839. It’s only recently crossed my palate, but it quickly became a favorite.
By attending events like Whiskeyfest, World of Whiskey, and whatever other tastings pop up, I’ve tried more than my fair share of the beautiful brown spirit. Sure, those aren’t the ideal places to really get a good understanding of a brand, but it can point you in the right direction of where to continue exploring. And there’s nothing better than exploring. I had the luxury of trying four different offerings from The Dalmore, and it immediately made me want to know more.
With the standard collection ranging from $60 to $165, there’s something for any serious drinker. If your budget is slightly larger, they have King Alexander III for $250, and it’s the only whisky matured in 6 different barrels. Talk about complexity. I’ve yet to get my hands on a bottle, but I’m dying to try it. If you’re really a high roller, The Dalmore set the record at $195,000 for most expensive bottle sold in retail last year with a The Dalmore 62 Year Old. I’m guessing that’s a bit out of your price range at the moment though, so we’ll stick to the basics.
While the size and shapes of their stills have a great affect on the end result, the most obvious difference maker is the barrels in which the whisky matures. The Dalmore uses two different barrels for aging then blends the two whiskys together. One one side are the hand selected first fill bourbon barrels for aging. As you could probably guess, the more times a barrel is reused, the less character remains to be transferred to the spirit. First-fill is crucial! They aren’t the only distillery to do this, but it’s still notable.
Where they really hold an edge is in their sherry barrels. The Dalmore is the only distillery allowed to use casks from renowned Spanish sherry house Gonzalez Byass. For an idea how important that is, Byass was awarded “Winemaker of the Year” in 2011 and is the producer of the world’s best selling Sherry, Tío Pepe. To get your hands on their barrels is like being spotted 299 points in a bowling bet. Even I couldn’t screw that up.
Luckily for them, I’m not in charge of blending. Master distiller Richard Paterson is the man responsible for taking a great start and turning it into a perfectly finished product. He’s been doing it with The Dalmore for 40 years, so I’d say he’s got it down by now. They describe their house style as “well rounded and rich with aromas of orange marmalade, coffee, chocolate, sweet vanilla and spice.” While each iteration will have it’s own characteristics, that theme seemed to hold true throughout the ones I tried.
12 Year Old
The 12-year spends 9 years in the bourbon barrel, at which point they break off half to be finished in sherry casks while half remains in oak. It’s then blended back together creating an easy to drink scotch that’s fairly complex for something a mere 12 years old. It’s smooth and mellow, maybe even a little sweet. Citrus and orange are the most readily available aromas/tastes. Is that redundant? Eh, who cares. It’s delicious. $48.
15 Year Old
The 15-year iteration spends 12 years in the oak then is split between three different types of sherry barrels. As you you might expect, the finished product has more remnants of sherry than the previous, which is perfect if you like to take a bit of the edge of without getting to sweet. Using three different types creates a big bold flavor that still well balanced. $84
18 Year Old
The 18-year puts in 14 years of oak time followed by another 4 in 30-year old sherry barrels. If the 15-year is bold, the 18-year is intense (like camping). It’s perfectly smooth yet still kicks out some spiciness that the others don’t quite have. Complexity reigns supreme to the point where I had to keep drinking just to taste more flavors. That’s certainly not a bad thing. The fruit and the vanilla are most noticeable in the beginning, then the sherry pops up to remind you that it put in 4 years hard labor to make this delicious. $165
Grand Reserva is apparently new to the game, replacing their Cigar Malt. Having not tried the previous iteration, I can’t compare it for you. I can tell you it’s aged 10-15 years and is a blend of 60% whisky aged in sherry casks and 40% whisky in first-fill bourbon barrels. It’s then combined and aged again for 6 months in sherry casks. That leads to a fairly aggressive spirit that’s sweet and fruity up front and quite woody, if you’re into that sort of thing. While not my favorite, it may be the most interesting. $70
You don’t have to write about booze to enjoy exploring the world of whisky. Go to a fest, tasting, or distillery and start asking questions. Pick a brand’s website and click until you’ve read every word. Hell, you can even just use Wikipedia. You’ll be amazed how much more fun education is when it alcohol bases instead of that nonsense the teach in school.
“Half the fun is learning, and I’m having a ball” – DubFX