If you know me and my whisky tastes, you’ll know that I’m a man who will try anything from any area or country. When I first started out with Drinks Enthusiast, I came across a brand that would stick with me for the last three years, and to me, it just keeps getting better and better. So it makes sense that although I have covered this brand before in my distillery visit, and of course the first time I tried, I thought it’s only right to give it a proper review, bringing together all my knowledge and tasting notes on one of my personal favourites – The Dalmore.
The Dalmore can date its history back to 1263 with ‘The Death of the Stag’. An iconic painting that illustrates a legend in which the first chieftain of the Clan Mackenzie saves the life of the Scottish King. Colin Fitzgerald is shown about to spear a fierce stag who had turned on the Scottish King, Alexander III, during a hunting expedition. West includes other huntsmen, horses and dogs whose dynamic poses and striking gestures enhance the dramatic moment. Francis Humberston Mackenzie became chieftain of the Mackenzie Clan in 1783 and commissioned the painting to commemorate his illustrious ancestor. The painting has recently been conserved in public in the Scottish National Gallery.
It is said that the King rewarded Colin Fitzgerald with the Royal emblem of a 12-point stag that he subsequently used in his coat of arms, and every bottle of The Dalmore since.
The Dalmore itself starts a little later in life as Sir Alexander Matheson created the brand in 1839 and lent it to the Sunderland family. With a location of Alness, on the shores of the Firth of Cromarty, in the Highland region of Scotland, the natural waters of Loch Morie and golden barley from the soils of the Black Isle are abundant. It’s here that Sir Alexander Matheson built the distillery, with the MacKenzie family taking over in 1891 after Alexander Matherson’s death and subsequent sale a few years later. They utilised their family history as mentioned above, and The Dalmore have even recently used the MacKenzie motto ‘Luceo non Uro’ or ‘I Shine, not burn’. Between 1917 and 1920, The Royal Navy utilised the distillery to manufacture American mines, meaning that production restarted in 1922, despite the distillery damage from an explosion. In 1960, Mackenzie Brothers (Dalmore) Ltd merged with Whyte & Mackay and formed the company Dalmore-Whyte & Mackay Ltd, with expansion of production evident as they increase the number of stills from four to eight in 1966.
Despite a couple of company name changes, The Dalmore has been under the Whyte and Mackay banner for over 50 years, and has been able to produce not only a varied portfolio, but also record-breaking expressions. Lets take a look at how it puts The Dalmore together.
The Dalmore use golden barley from the Black Isle, which is then ground into grist which maximizes the amount of starch that converts into sugars during the mashing process. After milling, it is then ready for combining with yeast and water from Loch Morie. The barley is fed into the lauter tun (a huge copper pot) and combined with the Lock Morie water. The resulting mixture is named the ‘wash’ where it is pumped through to one of the 6 metre deep washbacks made of Oregon Pine. After being steeped for several days, the wash is then pumped through to their unique flat top wash stills to start the distillation process. This huge room houses 4 of the flat top wash stills, where their being heated at 94°C. The vaporised alcohol slowly makes its way up the still and through the lyne arm that leads to one of the four ‘cold water jacket’ stills. Pipes in the still pump cold water around, condensing the alcohol vapour into liquid or ‘low wine’ and is then pumped through the ‘spirit safe’ where workers get the chance to control the condensed spirit.
Always a little confusing, but if you ever get the chance to visit the distillery, it puts the above in perspective and you can get your head around it a little better.
Once the spirit has been distilled, it is aged on site in The Dalmore warehouses and use only two types of barrels to mature – American white oak bourbon barrels from Jim Beam, and Matusalem sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass. The Dalmore is the only distillery permitted to source Matusalem sherry wood from Gonzalez Byass, giving it a unique blend of 30 years of oloroso sherry flavours. The warehouse and distillery have also been a part of history as it was the source of The Dalmore’s New Years Eve celebrations back in 1999. The staff and their families made history as they gathered at the distillery and the chimes echoed, they produced what was very probably the first scotch whisky anywhere in the Third Millennium. 12 years later, the first casks are set to be bottled.
After maturation, the spirit is then reduced and bottled. With many expressions, Master Blender Richard Patterson has his work cut out, but lets see how he does. Below, I give to you my tasting notes on my journey of The Dalmore so far –
The Dalmore 12yr – 40%
Aged for 10 years in a Jim Beam cask and then 2 years in a Matusalem sherry cask. A nose of vanilla and honey with an orange citrus and a more subtle hint of vanilla, cocoa and marmalade on the palate.
The Dalmore 15yr – 40%
12 years in a Jim Beam cask and then 2 years split into 3 thirds. One third in Apostoles cask, one-third in Amoroso and the last third in Oloroso. The final year is matured in a Matusalem sherry cask. On the nose it has an orange and marmalade blend, with hints of fruit cake. A well-balanced ginger and mandarin flavour on the palate, with chocolate hints coming through.
The Dalmore 18yr – 46%
Aged for 15 years in a Jim Beam cask and then 3 years in a Matusalem sherry cask. On the nose, fruit and spice blend well, with subtle almond and cinnamon aromas near the end. Vanilla, rosemary and hints of coffee present itself on the palate, with slight flavours of citrus and cocoa near the end.
The Dalmore King Alexander III – 40%
This is the only Single Malt with 6 different finishes – Matusalem, Sauvignon Blanc, Amoroso, Jim Beam, Oloroso and Apostoles. Fresh flowers and exotic fruits being released on the nose, with vanilla and zest of oranges coming through. Red berries and hazelnut, almond, rich citrus and vanilla produce a very smooth, sweet flavour on the palate.
The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve – 44%
Drawn from casks of three types: American white oak ex-bourbon casks, 30-year-old Matusalem oloroso sherry butts and premier cru Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques. A nose of ripe sherry with a slight chocolate finish combined with vanilla aromas. A fruity, smooth palate with orange zest that creates a slightly dry ending with hints of malt and spice.
The Dalmore Cromartie – 45%
Third in a series of limited edition releases crafted by Dalmore’s Master Distiller, Richard Patterson, in homage to the clan Mackenzie. Matured in American white oak casks before being transferred to Oloroso sherry casks. Dry fruit aromas on the nose, with raisins dominating. Figs, chocolate and citrus sweet marmalade flavour combine on the palate, with a hit of spice at the end.
I’m a sucker for the King Alexander III, but I’ve never come across a bad dram from the brand yet. Well worth a try if you ever come across it in your bar, or indeed one for your drinks cabinet at home. You might not want to share it though – just a word of warning! Oh, if you come across these, beg borrow and steel a sip of 62-year-old The Dalmore single malt that set a record at McTear’s auction house in Glasgow when it was purchased for £25,877.50 back in 2002. Although that’s nothing when the record was broken again in 2009 when £27,600 was reached for Dalmore Oculus, which contained whiskies from 1878, 1922, 1926, 1939 and 1951!
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