One of my personal favorite bottles is the Dalmore Cigar Malt, which we covered for our 200th review a while back. I haven’t really strayed very far into the world of the more expensive scotch whisky since then, but thanks to a local liquor store’s annual sale, I was finally able to justify bringing home this beautiful looking bottle of Dalmore’s 15 year whiskey to see if the rest of their line is as delicious as that Cigar Malt.
The Dalmore Distillery was established in 1893 by a Scottish entrepreneur named Alexander Matheson. Located in a large meadowland (the Scottish word for big meadowland being “dalmore” — hence, where the distillery derives its name) north of Inverness and adjacent to the Cromarty Firth, the location was ideal for whiskey production.
After 28 years of production, Alexander decided that it was time to move on and started looking for new owners. The two individuals who eventually purchased the distillery were Andrew and Charles Mackenzie, members of the Mackenzie clan. Legend has it that in 1262 this clan had saved King Alexander III of Scotland from a charging stag and, as a reward, the clan had been given lands and the right to use the 12 pointed Royal Stag as their emblem. Since the purchase of the distillery by the Mackenzies, that same stag emblem has adorned every bottle of whiskey that the Dalmore distillery produced.
Things ran fairly smoothly for the family run distillery until 1917. With the First World War raging in Europe, the Royal Navy decided to use the remote firth to start producing deep sea naval mines for the war effort. This would have a disastrous effect in 1920 when the Royal Navy accidentally scored a direct hit on the distillery with one of those mines, with the resulting explosion destroying much of it and lighting what was left on fire.
Following a lengthy legal battle, the family rebuilt the distillery and continued producing whiskey, which was primarily used in blends for other brands. However, they did produce a single 12 year aged version of a single malt whisky under their own label during this time.
The distillery would remain family owned and operated until 1960, when the distillery’s biggest customer Whyte & Mackay made the family an offer and bought the operation. Over the next few decades, W&M went through a number of acquisitions (which are too numerous to list here, but are available on their Wikipedia article), at one point being owned by an India-based spirits company before being sold to the Philippines-based Emperador Inc, which is currently owned by the billionaire Andrew Lim Tan.
Following the 1960 sale of the distillery, W&M changed things up a bit and shifted from the heavy emphasis on bulk spirits production to include more single malt expressions and bespoke runs of spirits.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
This whiskey starts its life as you would expect for a good traditional highland single malt whisky: the distillery uses water from the nearby river Alness (which is fed from the nearby Loch Morie), malted barley, and yeast which is cooked and fermented to create the distiller’s beer. From there, the proto-whisky is distilled in a quartet of pot stills (of different sizes, which makes the process a bit trickier for the distillers) to create their raw spirit.
Once distilled, the spirit is placed first into previously used American bourbon barrels for an initial maturation period. After it has picked up a bit of flavor and color, the whiskey is then placed into an array of previously used sherry casks supplied by the González Byass sherry house which had been used to produce Apostoles, Amoroso, and 30 year old Matusalem oloroso sherry.
The spirit sits in those barrels collectively for a minimum of fifteen years, after which the results are blended together to create the flavor in this bottle.
The bottle is oval shaped, with a flared base, gently sloping shoulder, and a medium length neck. The packaging is capped off with a cork stopper, and protected with a metallic wrapper.
As for the labeling, I think it’s brilliant. The most prominent item of the branding is the 12 pointed Royal Stag, a metallic embellishment that is attached to the bottle itself. I love that it is just the right level of “bling” to draw your eye, but it doesn’t impede your ability to see the amazing whiskey inside the bottle. It also adds a tactile element to the bottle — and it’s been shown that touching a bottle makes shoppers more likely to purchase, so there’s a real reason behind this.
Finally, the label on the front of the bottle is small and unobtrusive, having only the minimum information and thematic attributes necessary. In short: this packaging lets the whiskey do all the talking.
This whiskey has a beautiful deep amber color, and the aroma to match. I’m getting two specific dried fruits on the aroma above all else: specifically, apricots and figs with a little bit of earthy fruitiness you get from the dried figs being particularly noticeable. The aroma is almost like a jam considering how well saturated those dried fruit tones are coming through, definitely hitting the mark for that “rancio” character you often get from barrel aging a spirit for a long time. Mixed in, there’s just a hint of malted barley with that dinner roll or sourdough bread tone, a touch of honey, and a little bit of flower blossoms.
And it’s not just the aroma that’s full of fruit — the flavor is dripping with it. I’m getting a lot of good, well saturated dried fruit flavors starting with that apricot and fig, and there’s also a raisin note that I’m picking up which I think is a direct result of the sherry casks.
As the flavor builds, there are more traditional oak aging flavors that kick in too — specifically, some toffee caramel, brown sugar, and vanilla — but the fruit still stays front and center and mixes well with those other components. There are some baking spices that start to build near the middle of the experience and bring with them a slight astringency. From there, more of the typical Highland scotch notes appear (for example, what I call out as a ‘honey drizzled slice of sourdough bread’ and some floral components, which linger on for a fairly short but pleasant finish).
There are some interesting things going on with the addition of a bit of ice. Usually, we just see the ice diminish a few (or all) of the flavors, but in this case I feel like there’s something completely new going on.
The slight bitterness we saw when taken neat, combined with some of the darker and richer components, are adding an intriguing black coffee and tobacco flavor to the mix. The fruit has been toned down a bit — still there, but not quite as well saturated as before — and the resulting mixture is this deliciously fruity but rich and dark flavor profile that I really just want to throw into a glass and turn into an old fashioned (but probably I won’t, because this is an expensive scotch and that would be blasphemy).
There are a lot of great components here, and I think it would make a phenomenal spirit for doing some cocktail experimentation… if you and your wallet are willing to do that with a pricy scotch.
I love it when a distillery does some interesting barrel aging processes, and I think this is a great example of the rich and flavorful results they can sometimes achieve. The whiskey has an absolutely delicious flavor profile that has some complexity to it, and it makes for a great sipping spirit.
But one of the questions we are asking here is whether this specific bottle is worth the price tag, compared to other similar spirits in the same price range. And, while I think this absolutely holds its own in that field, that slight bitterness is keeping me from giving it a perfect score. I feel like this was a stylistic choice from the distiller and, especially considering the way that these spirits are typically consumed (neat or on the rocks), it just doesn’t quite result in the experience that I would want.
That minor detail won’t keep me from enjoying the dark fruity flavors of the rest of this bottle, though.
|Dalmore 15 Year|
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 15 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $119.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Deep, rich dried fruit with some Highland scotch hallmarks makes for a delicious whiskey.