Here’s the thing. I was minding my own business doing these two tasting notes for this article. Then the grumpy persona of Phil materialised online to query what whiskies were under my microscope. I replied along the lines of “Speyside’s other great distillery.”
This nugget of information wasn’t enough. Failing on his second, third and fourth guesses, he continued to rattle off Speyside distilleries until throwing in the towel. I guess the reputation of Dailuaine hasn’t crossed the Irish sea yet. In stark reality, it’s likely not really reached anyone, bar a handful of enthusiasts.
We all have our personal favourites in whisky, our secret pleasures. Dailuaine continues to grow in my mind because it is a quality distillate that doesn’t require fancy casks or finishing when left to mature on its own terms. Due to Diageo’s failure to appreciate its wares, it doesn’t showcase much visibility at retail except for the heavily coloured Flora and Fauna edition. This means when a release is bottled—by the independents—you don’t need to sell your soul at a crossroads for a bottle, or need to engage in all manner of covert operations to secure a release.
I should actually stop here because I enjoy this distillery, and chances are you haven’t checked it out as you’re on a Bruichladdich-or-another-brand trip, because you don’t get to go out there and explore. Personally, I don’t swallow marketing, packages or hype. The contents are the only things destined for my gut, and at that point, I’ll decide whether they show promise and seem worthwhile. Consequently, this distillery has my attention.
When Clynelish was having its guts literally ripped out as part of an overdue refurbishment, Diageo needed to make up the shortfall in distillate for its blends. Clynelish is adored pretty much universally by the masses and blenders. It has slipped in recent times, yet there is an acceptance that quality is always within its grasp. Facing this challenge, Diageo turned to Dailuaine, a distillery that already had a similar waxiness, but in this aspect, was upped. I believe that in a decade or so, when these casks start hitting the market, we’ll look back on this era as a classic period for the distillery.
We’ll have Dailuaine fanboys wearing branded clothing and chasing the latest 50cl single cask offering from the distillery, their tees adorned with a picture of a staff member. Phil will probably be at the front of the pack as well; it’s funny how things eventually work out in whisky.
For a little fun, I picked up two recent releases by our favourite whisky finishers (SMWS) to explore the distillery a little further. These stand side-by-side in terms of release numbers and schedule, but that’s where the similarities end. We have a ‘purer’ version of Dailuaine first, for want of a better word—a whisky that’s stayed in its host cask for the duration. Then, we have the example where the blender has decided to experiment and moved the contents into a toasted cask for the last two years of maturation.
I’m all for experimentation and my recent chat with Gregor from Lady of the Glen highlighted the fun a bottler can have by changing vessels. It can become, in theory, more rewarding and enjoyable. It opens up the possibility of a new taste sensation, but it also unchains the prospect of taking the whisky in a direction that doesn’t suit the distillery profile whatsoever. We know from experience that the Dailuaines you see at market are either ex-bourbon or sherry, because these have proven time and time again to work. Does a whisky from this distillery work with a nuttier, spicy, chocolate-like profile? By toasting the cask or heads, this will unlock new flavour compounds that weren’t previously available. Whether they’re good flavor compounds remains to be seen.
First up is 41.116, distilled 9th April 2008 and bottled at 10 years of age. It’ll cost you £51.40 on a commission-free link. The refill ex-bourbon barrel delivered 218 bottles at a robust 61.3% strength.
Next, its sibling, 41.117, sprang into life on 25th August 2004; it will set you back £57.20, which is another commission-free link. Bottled at 14 years old, the initial 12 years were spent in an ex-bourbon barrel before it was punted into a second-fill, heavily-toasted heads barrel. At the end of its journey, 271 bottles were unleashed at 58% strength.
SMWS 41.116 Autolytic for the People – review
Color: a light caramel.
On the nose: Dusty curtains (shaken) and Chinese five-spice alongside wood glue and limescale. Candlewax, citrus and pomegranate seeds. Some wine gums, fern, sliced apples and toasted pine nuts. There’s some fun and depth to be had on this nose. Time reveals glazed cherries and dirty vanilla.
In the mouth: Oh my, it’s like a crazed cocktail of waxed apples, liquorice root and mint leaf. Yeasty, woody in parts, and a well-fired shortcrust pastry. A slight dryness midway, stewed black breakfast tea and an ashy finish.
SMWS 41.117 Bananas Brazils and Spicy Thrills – review
Color: wood varnish.
On the nose: the brown wrapping paper you get in Amazon deliveries, a little wax, black spices, peanut and sourdough toast. Toffee, vanilla marshmallows and a wine-like dynamic. Unused Tetley teabags of all things, milk chocolate and a subdued vanilla.
In the mouth: peppery, more tea aspects, balsa wood, fudge and toffee. Some marzipan, cardamon, black olives and lots of bloody wood and toasted notes—so much so that a mark is deducted for stupidity.
There’s a clear winner here. While the toasted variant is only slightly below par, it cannot match its untampered sibling.
I’m again left questioning the value of a monthly out-turn format, the need to plug gaps and the need to gloss over a predominantly-bourbon-cask inventory with a raft of finishes. Whom do these serve? The creator? The consumer? The bottom line? It’s certainly not the whisky, and that should always be the guiding light. Less is quite often more.