The Dalmore distillery, located north of Inverness, was founded in 1839.
Founder Alexander Matheson didn't actually distil the whisky himself there; he
immediately leased the distillery to the Sunderland family and they were involved in
the operations until 1867. In 1874 Dalmore's number of stills was increased from two
to four; quite an exception in those days.
In 1917 the focus shifted from malts to mines at Dalmore; the navy used
the location for the production of deep-sea mines. In 1920 they left the
distillery again - mostly in ruins after an explosion and a fire. Needless to
say, Andrew Mackensie undertook legal action against the Royal navy.
After Alexander Matheson died in 1886, Sir Kenneth Matheson sold the distillery
to its former operators; the brothers Alexander, Andrew & Charles Mackenzie.
Long before the legal battle about compensation for the damages
between Andrew Mackenzie and the Royal Navy was over (the debate
would reach the House of Lords) Dalmore resumed production again.
Apparently the distillery enjoyed a few decades of relative peace until
its floor maltings were replaced with a so-called Saladin box in 1956.
The Saladin maltings remained in use until 1982, after which Dalmore
started to purchased its malted barley centrally..
In 1966 the number of stills was expanded from 4 to 8, putting Dalmore
in the top 25 distilleries, capacity-wise. Drinks corporations mingle and
merge like swingers from the 1960's and Dalmore’s story is little different.
By 1960 Mackenzie Brothers Ltd. had merged with Whyte & Mackay to
form Dalmore-White & Mackay Ltd., which became Whyte & Mackay Ltd.
The Dalmore distillery on the Eastern coast of the Northern Highlands is
located in Ross-shire - not far from the city of Inverness. Other nearby malt
whisky distilleries include Glen Albyn, Glen Ord and Teaninich.
The water source for Dalmore is the Alness river, which also gave its name
to the town near the Northern coastline of the Cromarty Firth.
The distillery has a visitor centre since 2004, which was expanded in 2011. Nevertheless, Dalmore doesn’t offer
tours to visitors that simply drop by whenever they feel like it. If you want a tour, you’ll have to make an appointment.
1) In 1870 Dalmore became the first malt whisky ever
to be exported - to Australia, to be precise.
2) The selection of 'siplings' below includes mostly 'core
range' official bottlings; indpendent releases are hard to
find. Although Dalmore can hardly considered to be an
'obscure' distillery, I haven't actually tried that many
different expressions so far. The standard 12yo bottling
has kept me happy throughout many evenings in the
early 1990's, but after that the focus of my search for the
perfect malt whisky shifted to single malts that I hadn't
3) The Dalmore distillery has a semi-lauter mash tun
and eight Oregon pine washbacks.
4) The people at Dalmore used a Saladin box to
process their malted barley until 1982.
5) The Dalmore distillery uses so-called water jackets
on their spirit stills to help cool the spirit vapours.
2001 - Dalmore's mother company Fortune Brands is
sold by JBB Greater Europe to Kyndal Spirits.
2010 - Apart from various overpriced whisky releases
that are designed mostly to generate free publicity of
the "most expensive bottle of XXX ever" variety, the
regular line-up of Dalmore has been expanded as well.
2011 - The fancy new visitor centre that the previous owners of Dalmore built in 2004 wasn't quite fancy enough to
fit the new luxury brand image that United Spirits wanted to propagate after their take-over. So, in 2011 they invested
a whopping 1 million GBP in an overhaul of the distillery visitor centre that was built just a few years earlier.
2012 - Dalmore have managed to greatly increase their 'publicity footprint' since United Spirits took control in 2007.
But that also means that there's a widening gap between the rosy PR pictures and the cold realities of everyday life.
For example, like the other members of the Scotch Whisky Association, Dalmore talks a lot of talk about responsible drinking and responsible driving. But do they also 'walk the walk' - or rather 'drive the drive' in this case? According
to an article on BBC News, Dalmore's Global Head of Brand Christopher Watt was recorded driving at speeds of
114mph (that's well over 180 kilometres per hour in actual terms!!!) on his way home from the Dalmore distillery
on 27 August 2012. I really wonder how responsibly one can drive at those speeds... It seems that Mr. Watt was
driving his company car at the time; an Audi A4. Even the cheapest version of this car has a top speed of 209
kilometres per hour, while other versions can reach top speeds of up to 250 kilometres. (Knowing modern
corporate culture, I sincerely doubt that Mr. Watts was driving the cheapest version of that model at the time. ;-)
So, here's a suggestion for the bosses of Mr. Watt: once he gets back his driver's license, get him a car that
simply doesn't allow him to drive that irresponsibly again.
2004 - A brand new visitor centre is added to the
Dalmore malt whisky distillery in Ross-shire.
2007 - United Spirits (the company of Indian politician
and mogul Vijay Mallya) takes over Whyte & Mackay.
They decide to turn the Dalmore brand into the pearl
in their whisky crown.
Dalmore NAS '1263 King Alexander III' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Quite polished; a subtler version of a heavily sherried profile. More smoky notes after a minute. Nice.
Taste: Very woody start. It feels much flatter than the nose suggests. Smoky finish, doesn't last very long.
Score: 80 points - based on the nose alone I might have gone for one or two points more...
Dalmore 'Vintage 2000' Oloroso Sherry Finish (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Smooth and sherried with some smoke in the background. Heavy sweet fruits. Very faint organics too.
Taste: Very smoky. Buysman. Cloying fruity sweetness. Heavy tannins. Feels too "finished" for my tastes.
Score: 78 points - the nose is very expressive, but the composition of flavours needs some more work.
Dalmore NAS 'Gran Reserva' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Polished, but quite restrained, at least initially. The faintest whiff of smoke. Paint aroma's.
A pleasant enough whisky, but not expressive. However, it changes quite a bit within a few months.
If you allow the bottle to breathe for a few months after opening, it grows notably more complex.
Taste: Quite weak. Malty, undefined centre. Medium dry finish. Like the nose, it benefits from breathing.
About three months after I opened the bottle the palate had grown notably sweeter - and a tad nuttier.
Score: 76 points - but I should point out that it picks up a few points after some time in the bottle.
PLEASE NOTE: After three months in the bottle and half an hour in the glass the score approaches the 80's.
Dalmore 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Malty and sweetish. A faint hint of smoke in the background. Not terribly expressive, but I like the profile.
Faint spices after a few minutes. Not a lot of depth or complexity; the Gran Reserva has more staying power.
Taste: Starts a little thin, but grows more solid in the centre. Hardly any sweetness though.
Coffee, some wood and smoke. When I returned to the bottle three months later it felt much harsher.
Score: 80 points - but I should point out that this score only concerns a fresh bottle. Finish it quickly...
Dalmore 1951 'Sirius' (45%, OB, Bottled 2009)
Nose: Heavy wood with a good dash of smoke, like the colour suggests. A hint of menthol?
After some breathing more mocca / coffee character. Very dark chocolate. Tangerine.
Fresh strawberries in the background? Then more leathery notes emerge. Great balance, good development.
Hey, after maybe half an hour I got gummy bears! It keeps opening up. Some pleasant musty and fishy notes.
Taste: Solid, sweet start. The smoke marches forward in the centre. Powerful. Tia Maria?
'Haagse Hopjes' (a Dutch kind of caramel / coffee candy). Unfortunately, the smoke grows too dominant for me.
A solid mouth feel; smooth on the surface but brooding underneath. I also detected traces of light fruits.
The finish is quite dry and doesn't show as much tannins as I expected. Not quite a match for the nose.
Score: 90 points - which means that this is seriously good whisky that deserved a spot on my Hit List...
The nose was brilliant, but on the palate the smoke was a tad too dominant for my tastes.
Dalmore 26yo 1981 Amoroso Sherry finish (42%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007, 484 Bts.)
Nose: Very polished with sweet fruits and woody notes. Then lighter fruits and furniture polish emerge.
It grows incredibly complex with more flowery notes appearing over time. Growing complexity over time.
Taste: Passion fruits. Lovely sweetness. Woody finish, but not an overload of tannins.
There is some some smoky drought though. It approaches perfuminess, but I still enjoy it a lot.
Score: 89 points - it made the jump from 88 to 89 points after at least fifteen minutes.
Dalmore NAS 'Cigar Malt' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000)
I've seen it on several occasions but never got around to seriously sampling it. The nose was much more like the 'normal' 12yo than I expected; sweet and malty. Yeah, maybe a little smokier than usual, but nothing like the 'bonfire' I expected. A little tobacco, perhaps. One difference becomes more and more obvious over time, though: it seems more sherried than the normal 12yo. Hey, maybe that was the point? I guess you wouldn't try to make a very 'smoky' whisky to complement a 'smoky' cigar. In fact, you would be looking for something very sweet and smooth. Anyway, there was some more smoke on the palate, but once again much more subtle than I had expected.
Score: 80 points - recommendable.
Dalmore 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Needs a minute. Then lots of fruit and sherry emerge.
Malt and smoke? Salmiac? Big and round. Wonderful complexity.
Taste: Nice! Sherry at first. Big and sweet. Spicy. Toffee.
Great development - it just becomes richer and richer. Orange peel?
Woody later on. Some peat and salt in the finish. This malt has it all.
Score: 80 points - it seems to be a little bigger on the palate than previous bottlings.
Dalmore 21yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000)
I'm not completely sure, but I suspect this batch was bottled around 2000. I'm a big fan of the 12yo OB because it's good and affordable, but somehow I've never gotten around to sampling the more expensive varieties.The nose was polished, round and sweet - but not very powerful. If memory serves, it's fairly similar to the profile of the 12yo, but a tad more sherried and refined. The palate was malty and just a tad bitter. The finish didn't last very long. Reflecting on the experience, I'd go with 81 points - I don't think it's worth the price difference with the 12yo, IMHO.
Dalmore 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl, Bottled +/- 1995)
This has become a big favourite of mine since I discovered it in the early 1990's.
It's accessible and affordable. It has an overwhelming bouquet, very round & sweet.
The taste disappoints just a bit after the "nostril symphony" but is still very satisfying.
A very quick taste-development, peppery bitterness followed by a long, burning warmth.
Score: 80 points - like all my other bottles of the Dalmore 12yo so far, at least half a dozen.
Dalmore 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1977, 75cl)
Nose: Wow! Loads of organics. An 'old school' malt. Extremely rich with a noble sweetness. Leather.
More spices. Tea. Now I get some funky fruity notes. Like gooseberries, but just a tad more 'herbal'.
From the empty glass the organics are even more obvious. Sellery - could that be an 'antique' marker?
Taste: Heavy sherry and some smoke at first. Magnificent sweet and smooth centre. Like a liqueur.
Coffee. The woody notes become more obvious over time and I also found a 'Buysman' bitterness.
After five more minutes I got more pine resin and maybe just the faintest hint of liquorice root.
Score: 92 points - what a knockout malt! Thanks for sharing this blast from the past, Luc!
I think Dalmore just may have earned itself an extra star on the 'still score' scale here.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Dalmore malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Dalmore I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Dalmore.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
In 1990 White & Mackay Distillers Ltd. was purchased by American Brands.
After that things become confusing; according to some sources 'American
Brands' was renamed to 'JBB (Greater Europe) plc.' in 1995, but others claim
that it was the new name for 'Whyte & Mackay Distillers', adopted in 1996.
Whatever the case, all sources seem to agree that JBB Greater Europe was
bought from Fortune Brands by Kyndal Spirits in 2001, who then decided to
change the name back to Whyte & Mackay Ltd.
Yes, I told you it was a bit confusing, didn't I?
Dalmore isn't the only distillery owned by Whyte & Mackay when I write this;
the distilleries Old Fettercairn and Isle of Jura are part of their 'stable' as well.
The same goes for the Tamnavulin distillery, which was silent for a few years
until the company United Spirits took over the business in 2007.
The force behind this all was Indian mogul Vijay Mallya.
During the 1990s Dalmore’s 12yo 'standard' bottling was an dependable favourite; a decent malt
whisky for a very decent price - and without too much batch variation. The 21yo and 30yo official
releases were slightly better, but in my mind that didn't justify the significant price difference.
(However, with the wisdom of hindsight, the price difference was actually relatively limited.)
Which brings us to whisky prices. It's difficult to produce, market and distribute a drinkable whisky
for less than 10 Euro's per bottle. Let's assume that's roughly the minimum price of a bottle of
(blended) whisky; you are paying mostly for the flavoured alcohol inside the bottle. The added
value of the more expensive whiskies consists partly of a higher 'intrinsic quality', for example
because the whisky was matured longer or contains a higher percentage of malt whisky.
However, as the 'street value' of a bottle of whisky grows, a larger portion of the price is invested
in stuff like PR, marketing and packaging. In my experience the Law of Diminishing Returns
applies here - a 250 Euro bottle of whisky is rarely five times ‘better’ than a 50 Euro bottle.
For a while, one of the most expensive bottles of whisky ever sold was a 62 years old
Dalmore single malt whisky, sold at an auction by McTears in the mid-noughties. This
particular bottle (depicted at the right) switched owners for a little over 25,000 GBP.
Even if I had this kind of money laying around, I would not put this bottle on my own
shopping list. These prices just don't make economical sense and there simply are
far more useful and responsible ways to spend those large amounts of money...
While the importance of 'quality' diminishes in the 'ultra premium' segment, the 'social'
component increases. Especially in America and Asia expensive whiskies are not merely
drunk for their taste and intoxicating qualities; the (perceived) effects on one's status
is even more important. In this respect, the 'image' of a brand is paramount.
People that are primarily focused on outwards appearances are not always interested
in the product. Therefore they often select their whiskies based on the price of the bottle
(more expensive = better) and the age of the whisky inside the bottle (older = better).
The whisky industry was delighted when they discovered that there was a large
audience out there that was more interested in expensive whisky than in good whisky...
At a certain point it becomes very difficult to make an even better whisky - even with the
investment of a lot of capital, time and energy. Making an even more expensive whisky is fairly easy
in comparison if you're the one making the price tags. Making those price tags seems to have become part of
the job description of Dalmore's 'Master Blender' since Richard Patterson assumed this position a few years ago.
In 2007 Richard was proudly promoting a bottle of Dalmore containing single malt whiskies from 1868, 1878, 1926, 1939 & 1961. The price? A mere 68,000 dollars.I can't tell you if this Dalmore was actually any good because I haven't tried it myself. Nevertheless, I dare to assume that my 'cumulative' pleasure would be higher if I invested my money in bottles of the more affordable expressions like the 12yo and the 'Cigar Malt' depicted at the right. The princely sum of 68,000 dollars would buy me circa 1500 bottles of the regular 12 years old malt whisky. Even if I emptied one bottle each week, that stock would last me for another thirty years. I'd have to learn to live without the 'gift wrapping' that comes with the expensive whisky, but I'd have plenty of time to learn to live with it...