I’ve not written for a while because of a combination of procrastination, apathy, life, holidays, and work. Multiple excuses, pick yer winner(s).
Anyway, back with Review No. 8 and it’s Dalmore’s 18 Year Old expression from their core range (or, as Dalmore have named it, their Principal Collection – fair enough). In all honesty – and this gives off the unmistakeable whiff of being a whisky wank – I’d never be able to justify spending £110.00 on a bottle which has colourant added, and is chill-filtered. I accept that many distilleries desire uniformity and consistency, particularly within their core ranges, and these practices achieve the desired results, yet it’s fair to say that there are countless more varied and better-valued whiskies out there that are cheaper, and that shy away from the somewhat-controversial practices mentioned. That’s not to say that there are no decent whiskies who entertain these methods, but part of me feels like they cheat on the tradition and history of whisky-making. Fairly sure I am not alone in this, yet unsure how much of a whisky wank it makes me? As far as I am aware, in the UK there is no legal requirement to list E150 (caramel colouring) on whisky labels, unlike in Germany for example, where there is. I was told though, that as a rule of thumb, if a whisky is non-chill filtered with no E150 added, then they will proclaim this on their packaging (bottle and box), whereas if the opposite applies and there is no proud proclamation, then you can generally be assured that the distillery carries out these practices. Anyhow, one of my sisters has a friend who works for Whyte and MacKay, and I was able to get a bottle of the 18 for cost price, therefore it suddenly became a justified purchase, and likely the only time I will ever have any kind of anecdote about a whisky industry contact. So there.
So, a popular player on the whisky scene, Dalmore’s bottlings have a distinctive bell shape to them and their appearance certainly points to luxury – some of the most expensive whiskies released have come from the distillery, including the Dalmore 62, and the Paterson Collection, named after Richard ‘The Nose’ Paterson, the clichéd and kilted Master Distiller at Dalmore. The archetypal Scotsman is well-known in the industry for his expertise, knowledge, and inimitable style, and the collection was released to celebrate his achievement of 5 decades in the industry.
Dalmore Distillery is set on the banks of the Cromarty Firth, near Alness, and 20 miles north of Inverness. Like many distilleries in Scotland, it usually goes without saying that the scenery and setting of rolling hills and flowing rivers are stunning, so I won’t batter on about it too much. Basically, Scotland is braw. Here’s some photos of Scotland in all her glory, and then we can all move on.
The distillery was established by Alexander Matheson and has been in existence since 1839, before it was then sold to Andrew and Charles of the Clan MacKenzie. With their name they also brought the now-famed 12-pointed stag head that adorns Dalmore’s brand and bottles – as history tells us, in 1263, Colin of Kintail (who was the head of Clan MacKenzie), saved King Alexander III from a charging stag, and from there Clan MacKenzie was allowed to use the 12-pointed Royal Stag as their emblem. Interestingly, the points on antlers are known as ‘tines’, and can only be counted as such if they are large enough to fit a wedding ring. 14-points are known as Imperial Stags, and 16-points are known as Monarch Stags. Remember this review when the above appears as a question in a pub quiz.
Prior to the sale of the brand and distillery in 1960 to Scottish beverage giants, Whyte and MacKay (they also own Jura, Fettercairn, and Tamnavulin), it was plain sailing for many-a-year, except for when the Royal Navy managed to accidentally blow it up, and then set it on fire in 192o, almost destroying the entire site. The cause was a sea-mine mishap due to munitions production nearby.
So, the whisky. Search for reviews of the Dalmore 18 Year Old and you will be hit by a wall of glowing reviews and warm words. Like many enthusiasts, I’ll often look at reviews, blogs, and articles prior to purchasing a bottle and, regardless of suspect industry practices, I was won over reading about the rich orange zest, the dark chocolate, and the Christmas spices.
I actually first opened it for a small Whisky Club gathering that myself and some friends host between ourselves (where it was overshadowed by the Bowmore 15 Year Old Darkest), and there were mixed feelings. Which, on the face of it, is fine because I was then able to leave it for a bit, and then return, on my own, to see if we were mistaken and that I was suddenly going to be able to sit back and drink Christmas eve in liquid form.
Alas, it is nae. I still can’t see where the almost-universal love comes from for the Dalmore 18 Year Old. I’m almost certainly wrong here, as whiskies are not universally loved because they’re coloured pish or because of big brand promotion, but I just don’t get it. Now, it isn’t pish and there are certainly far worse whiskies out there, but for me, and based on a Price to Performance ratio, it falls far short of expectations, even when bought at cost price. I have even left it for a few months, and returned to give it the benefit of the doubt. I have let it rest and breathe. I have added water. I really want to love it as an avowed Highland Sherry fan. Is there something wrong with me? Probably. I think I went in with such high expectations that it was always unlikely to match them.
The 18 is matured for 14 years in American White Oak, before it spends the remaining 3 years in Matusalem sherry butts, and a final year in Oloroso sherry casks. Like many Highland malts, it’s described as a punchy, rich dram, with notes of spice and fruit, which radiates warmth and smoothness.
Time tae dive in…
Nose: There’s vanilla here, and it gives of whiffs of sweetness, but it’s quite one-dimensional and I’m struggling/failing to identify anything complex or inspiring. Bizarrely, I pick up fortified wine from it, and any scent of rich winter fruits are rather dull. 5/10
Palate: The Dalmore 18 begins to assert itself on the palate, and there’s a bit of dark chocolate, and I can find hints of cinnamon, but the spice I was expecting ends there, and manifests itself as more of a soft burning sensation on the tongue and roof of my mouth. This isn’t enjoyable, or luxurious. 4/10
Finish: The Dalmore 18 really comes to the fore on the finish, however that’s because it’s finished. A bit sweet and spicy, with leftover tobacco taste – that’s actually the most vibrant thing about the finish. I feel like I am missing something with this whisky. 4/10
Total: 13/30 – I could have bought a Glendronach 18 Allardice, or an Aberlour A’bunadh, or a Kavalan Sherry Oak, or 15 bottles of Buckfast.
I’m disappointed, but clearly not every whisky will be good, and not everyone will enjoy popular drams. This just wasn’t meant to be.