Today we celebrate a remarkable milestone here at Thirty-One Whiskey: our fifth anniversary! Exactly five years ago today we published our first review (specifically, a Cuban cigar review that I had picked up for my wedding). Since then, we’ve published 673 articles — including 541 spirits reviews — and I figured that there would be no better way to celebrate than to grab a bottle of Dalmore that I’ve been wanting to try for quite some time now.
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, Matheson 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 twelve-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 and the resulting explosion and fire destroyed much of it.
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 prior 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 (just like the other versions, including the 15 year and Cigar Malt that we’ve reviewed before). After it has picked up a bit of flavor and color, the whiskey is then placed into hand-selected 30 year old Matusalem Oloroso Sherry casks from the González Byass bodega in Spain.
Something interesting that the distillery calls out is that these barrels are specifically matured on the bottom of their racks near the cold, damp floor of the whiskey warehouse. Differences in temperature and humidity can make a huge difference in the maturation of a whiskey, with warmer and drier climates tending to accelerate the process while cooler and damper environments lend themselves to longer maturation periods. This longer maturation period gives the components in the whiskey time to interact, all those delicious amino acids and lipids have time to oxidize and create esters that result in amazingly complex and deep flavors.
The spirit sits in those barrels collectively for a minimum of eighteen years, after which the results are blended together to create the flavor in this bottle.
Just like the other offerings in their product line, 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. That metallic wrapper is how the distillery differentiates its lines, with a different color for each one (this version is a deep royal blue).
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 studies have shown that touching a bottle makes shoppers more likely to purchase, so there’s a real reason behind this).
As is traditional with good Scottish whisky, this bottle comes in a box. Sometimes that’s just a cardboard sleeve, but with Dalmore it tends to be a bit more ornate. Other versions like the Cigar Malt come with a sturdy top-loading box, but this version has a “display box” with a magnetically closed front flap. Inside the box, the bottle is secured in place with a couple specially designed ridges that keep the bottle from shifting during transit.
This truly feels special.
Dalmore typically has this wonderful dark amber color to the liquid, and it doesn’t disappoint here. The predominant color here is definitely brown, but there’s enough orange and gold mixed in to keep things interesting.
I almost did a double take when I took my first whiff of this spirit — this smells much more like a rich and complex well-aged cognac than a scotch whisky. There’s an almost syrupy jam-like sweetness that lays the groundwork, and then some delicious dried fruits are added on top. I’m getting some raisins, dried figs, dried apricot, and a bit of dark chocolate all mixed together in a well balanced and delicious combination alongside some brown sugar and a hint of baking spices.
Taking a sip, there’s much more here than just a sweet and smooth spirit. Right up front, there’s that brown sugar sweetness we saw from the aroma mixed with some baking spices, but there’s also a black pepper kick that comes along and provides some extra texture to the spirit, which I honestly wasn’t expecting. About that time is when the dried fruits kick in — specifically, the dried raisins and figs with a hint of apricot in the background. Throughout the experience, there’s a dark chocolate flavor in the background that continues to build and adds some depth to the combination, and on the finish it almost becomes the star of the show with a tiny hint of cacao bitterness before mixing nicely with the dried fruits.
This reminds me of an oatmeal raisin cookie with chocolate chips… but somehow more saturated and more delicious.
Some people think that drinking expensive scotch on the rocks is a capital offense. And I don’t completely disagree — I do prefer it neat. But there are a large number of people who enjoy it this way, so in an effort to provide a fair review for how spirits are actually used in the real world, I reluctantly added a couple cubes of ice to the glass.
The good news here is that this is still a delicious drink that I would gladly enjoy any day of the week. The dried fruit and baking spices are still present, if a little bit attenuated by the added dilution and lower temperature. The aroma is all still there, though, and still just as intoxicating as ever.
What changes here is that the saturation of those flavors is significantly reduced. That dark chocolate flavor is almost completely gone, leaving behind a more traditional flavor profile for a scotch. It isn’t as deep and complex as before, but it does still taste miles better than most of the Scottish whiskies I’ve had in my life.
The one-word description that most expects use to describe a cognac — especially a well aged one — is “fruitcake”. The long maturation period provides enough time for the components of the spirit to interact and form fascinatingly complex molecules that read to us humans like dried fruits and nuts. And in this case, it seems like the whiskey has been treated much the same way, taking a “low and slow” approach to the maturation process and as a result we’re getting a lot of those same amazingly delicious flavors coming through here as well.
It is, in a word, delicious. Rich, smooth, fruity, and complex… and expensive.
The biggest problem with this whiskey is the price tag. It is, by far, the most expensive single thing that I have ever purchased for review. (And that includes the amazing bottles we selected for our 300th, 400th, and 500th reviews.) I can find no other fault with this bottle other than the sticker shock. If you can get it for under $300, I’d say grab that bottle and run. That said, if you’ve got the cash to burn or want to splurge for a special occasion, this is still a fantastic bottle — even at MSRP.
|Dalmore 18 Year (2023 Edition)|
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 18 Years
Proof: 41.5% ABV
Price: $399.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Like a deliciously rich oatmeal raisin cookie with some chocolate chips blended in. Your taste buds will thank you, although your wallet may not.