The war at distilleries, between the need to create cash flow and the desire to produce longer-aged products, continues. It’s one reason there are so few new distilleries and why those who do brave the startup process almost always release younger whiskies first. The longer whiskey ages, the less there is to sell, and the higher the associated costs. For good or ill, though, these rarified Scotch whiskies are often well worth the price and the wait.
One such Scotch is Dalwhinnie 15, one of Diageo’s “Classic Malts of Scotland,” a clever marketing strategy started in 1988 that built instant product authority and recognition. Fortunately, Dalwhinnie lives up to the hype. Marketed as “The Gentle Spirit,” fifteen years of aging yields a spectacularly soft and smooth dram with complex flavors derived from the barley itself and the aging process.
Located near the geographic center of Scotland, Dalwhinnie (originally named Strathspey) is also Scotland’s highest distillery, fed by the snowmelt waters of Allt an T’Sluic spring. Although some argue that Dalwhinnie sits in Speyside, Dalwhinnie chooses to use the “Highland” designation instead (Speyside is wholly encapsulated by “The Highlands”).
Dalwhinnie uses uniquely old-school methods and equipment, including wood washbacks and only two copper stills. Their rare slow-condensing worm tubs, visible from outside the distillery, are as much a landmark as their rooftop ventilator cupolas.
Dalwhinnie 15 is the distillery’s flagship whisky and with good reason. Pale amber in the glass, its subtle aromas of honey, treacle, and sweet lemon juice lead to hints of dried potpourri, oak, and mild peat. It has a light and clean mouthfeel with minimal burn, despite its 43% ABV. Flavors begin with honeyed sweetness, but not cloyingly so, followed by notes of dried stone fruits, savory spices, vanilla, and toffee. Swallowing reveals more honey with hints of apples, hazelnuts, and (very distant) smoke. The finish is reasonably long, with more prevalent but still not significantly strong smokiness.
Dalwhinnie 15, most commonly bottled as a single malt, is also a core malt in Buchanan’s and Black and White blends. Either way, Dalwhinnie 15 and its blends are superb whiskies worthy of any well-stocked bar. The overall impression of this whisky is “marriage” with exceedingly balanced softness. It’s ideal for someone just starting with single malt Scotch, although more experienced Scotch drinkers will appreciate the overall quality.