Today is a milestone for our little whiskey blog. Today, we here at 31W are publishing our 200th review — yes, the 200th bottle of whiskey we’ve had to drink and review for this site. And to celebrate, my wife demanded that — price be damned — I should buy a bottle of whiskey that I was extremely excited about. So, for review #200, we’re combining two of the things that I enjoy most with the Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve.
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 in 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, in 1960, 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 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.
As Tenacious D might say, this is not the Dalmore Cigar Malt — this is just a tribute. Unfortunately, the original Dalmore Cigar Malt was discontinued about a decade ago. The good news, though, is that this might actually be better than that original.
This whiskey starts its life as 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) prior to being placed in bourbon and sherry casks for maturation.
The original Dalmore Cigar Malt, introduced in 1999, took the distillery’s base single malt whisky and matured it first in previously used American bourbon barrels, before moving to 30 year old sherry casks. As mentioned, that whisky was discontinued in 2009, much to the chagrin of whisky consumers everywhere.
In response to that public outcry (or, as much of a public outcry as a niche and expensive single malt scotch whisky can attract), Dalmore decided to produce a new and improved version called the Cigar Malt Reserve. In this version, they use a slightly older base stock of Dalmore whisky and age it in previously used American bourbon casks, Matusalem sherry (which is an enriched 30-year-aged sherry) casks, and the new addition of cabernet sauvignon casks. The spirits are matured independently, and then blended in a 20% / 70% / 10% proportion respectively to make up the Cigar Malt Reserve we see here today.
Typically, scotch whisky (at least, somewhat “good” scotch) will come in a sleeve of some sort to protect the bottle and keep it from being harmed by any sunlight that may get to it. That’s the case here as well, but they seem to have gone a bit above and beyond with the box. It’s constructed from heavy cardboard with a smooth exterior, with the top being held in place magnetically.
Inside is a pretty standard Dalmore bottle. That’s not to say it’s bad, just that the bottle itself isn’t materially different from their other offerings. I like the bottle design overall, as it perfectly addresses my usual pet peeves.
The bottle is generally oval shaped, with a flared base, gently sloping shoulder, and a medium length neck. The package 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. Similarly, the label on the front of the bottle is small and unobtrusive, having only the minimum information and thematic attributes (like the red colored box on the label, which ties in with the red label around the neck and the red box) necessary. Otherwise, this packaging lets the whiskey do all the talking.
Oh, man. This is every bit as rich and deep as I was hoping.
There’s a lot going on in the aroma of this whiskey, and I think I’m getting notes from just about every facet of the process. There’s a bit of caramel and vanilla that seems to be from the bourbon barrels, some sweet honey and melon presumably from the sherry casks, a bit of darker fruit like a splash of cabernet sauvignon from the obvious cabernet sauvignon cask source, and a hint of peat smoke pulling the whole thing together. The great thing is that none of that is in conflict or clashing, the aromas all mix together excellently well.
Taking a sip, the first thing that hits me is a dark toffee flavor for a deep and rich baseline. From there, a little bit of caramel combined with some charred oak and dark chocolate adds a touch of variety and depth. So far, all of these are excellent complimentary flavors for a cigar — and often flavors you get from the cigar itself.
Where things change is a couple seconds later when some dried sugary fruit from the sherry starts to appear (probably closest to dried apricots in my estimation), finishing off with that darker cabernet sauvignon red wine note.
The finish on this whiskey is surprisingly short, lasting less than a minute and without any real lingering flavors. But I guess that’s expected — you don’t want the flavor of your whiskey to ruin the flavor of your next puff on a cigar.
Usually with a bit of ice, the more delicate flavors tend to drop out of the running and the richer flavors get toned down a bit. Especially in finished whiskies, that usually means the flavors from the finishing process are the first to go. And, in general, I think that’s what happened here.
With a chunk of ice added, all I’m really left with is a bit of honey from the malted barley, some of the caramel and vanilla from the bourbon barrels, and a bit of peat smoke rising through the flavor profile. Interesting to note is that the peat smoke wasn’t a major component in the neat flavor profile, but the added ice gives it a bit of room to make an appearance.
That’s not to say it’s a bad whiskey — this is still a phenomenal flavor — but a lot of the nuance and complexity is lost. It’s back to being on par with a bottle 1/3 the price this commands.
This whiskey was born to do one thing and do it well: pair with a good cigar. And, in this aspect I think they hit the nail on the head.
There’s a delicate balancing act going on here, where the whiskey needs to be rich enough to make itself known through the heavy flavor of the cigar — yet also sweet and light enough to provide some contrasting and balancing flavors. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what you get here.
Something I will note is that this seems to go better with a darker and richer maduro cigar rather than something like a Connecticut shade. The richer flavors in the maduro cigar seem to blend better with what’s in the glass and provide a generally more flavorful experience.
I took a bit of a leap of faith with this bottle, and I think the gamble paid off. The flavors in here are great, and not only do they pair well with a good dark cigar, they actually combine to make a new and even better experience. This might be one of those instances where the combination is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Dalmore did a great job in this whiskey, and I can’t wait to try the rest of their line.
|Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky|
Produced By: DalmoreOwned By: Emperador Inc
Production Location: Highlands, Scotland
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 44% ABV
Price: $149.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
I’ll be reserving the rest of this bottle for more special occasions.