Scotland is bursting at the seams with new distilleries. At times, it is difficult to keep up with the onslaught of new producers and names that are only just registering on the whisky radar. Dalmunach is such a name that might be new to you, but it is a unique proposition on several levels.
It’s arrival in 2014, put an end to the will they or won’t they legacy, that had befallen the Imperial distillery on Speyside, which was finally demolished the previous year. A few words and a toast to the sad loss of Imperial.
A unique distillery itself, which we’ve discussed previously and one that arguably was never given a chance to showcase its full potential. I’ve had several whiskies from this lost distillery and I can honestly say, I’ve never had a bad example. Receiving staunch support for many years thanks to Gordon & MacPhail, we’re starting to see its value rise with new casks reaching the market.
What’s not to like about Imperial? It was a cutting-edge distillery in terms of design when it was completed in 1898. And if that wasn’t enough, it featured a giant cast-iron crown (see the photograph later in this article) perched on its tallest building. Sadly, this was removed in 1955 due to corrosion and Scotland’s distilling scene lost a unique piece of memorabilia. However, we shouldn’t be surprised as Scotland’s whisky history is full of incidents of commerical decisions and history being bulldozed into textbooks.
Once Imperial was literally rubble, Pernod Ricard (Chivas Brothers) announced plans to create a new, modern and efficient distillery on the same site. This is the Dalmunach we have today. The plans themselves make for interesting reading, confirming the scale of the project and a distillery capable of producing 10 million litres of spirit annually. This isn’t a craft or bespoke distillery. This is a big deal. The silver medal holder in the Chivas production charts; behind the behemoth that is the Glenlivet death star at 10.5 million and counting.
I’ve failed on 2 occasions to visit the distillery, with the latest being on behalf of Distilled Magazine recently in March. A clustered timetable and family commitments put an end to the prospect of a visit. Although, I have passed it several times and I can confirm that it is a stimulating piece of external design. But I have at least tasted the whisky once, as 2019 saw its debut as a single malt. A single cask release exclusive to the Chivas distillery shops, which was snapped up quicker than a bag of self-raising flour during lockdown in Scotland.
My favourite Dutch person is handling the review duties for that article and I’ve beaten her to the Dalmunach debut here on Malt (sorry Noortje) with this release. Thinking back to the official release, I was left questioning the purpose of it. The whisky was fairly average, young and hot. It didn’t talk to me or showcase what is the distillery DNA of Dalmunach. The jury was out and as a fan of Imperial. I began to question if Chivas was too hasty knocking down the old and then over eagerly releasing a whisky that wasn’t ready.
I’ll admit to some trepidation about facing a 3-year-old Dalmunach once again, albeit with an octave finish. As a society we’ve become very used to things being disposable. There’s no appetite to build things that last, objects that can be maintained and enhanced. The easiest decision is to replace, or destroy. I find that sad in many ways, and you can apply the same logic to Imperial. But the optimistic 2% of me, suggests that we’ll be talking a great deal about both distilleries for many years to come. That’s if Dalmunach can survive the consistently underwhelming portfolio deployment that Chivas shackles many of its distilleries with.
We purchased this Dalmunach, with the support of our Patreons from the Tyndrum Whisky Shop for a reasonable £46.50. An exclusive bottling for the shop from Duncan Taylor, just 102 bottles were released and promptly sold out. Heralding from cask number #10825885, it was finished for 3 months in a reconstructed sherry wood Octave. Bottled at just 3 years of age (how refreshing!), the strength is a palatable 54%. While this has sold out, it is worth highlighting that the Aberdeen Whisky Shop has a similar exclusive, albeit with a slightly longer 5 month finish, currently available for £49.99.
The Octave Dalmunach 2016 – Jason’s review
Color: light sand.
On the nose: freshly laid varnish, cherrywood, fresh green apples, pear drops, chalky and orange pips. Strawberries towards the end with some malt flourishes. Adding water delivers cream, walnuts, lime and honey.
In the mouth: light and clean with a touch of smoke to underpin it all. A pleasing texture and oiliness. More apples alongside black pepper, tobacco, smoke and wood influence but a sense of balance. Water brings out more oils, that chalky twist, smoked caramel, more fruit and underlines the enjoyable texture.
A welcome surprise and I suspect a wise decision from Duncan Taylor to utilise the octave to provide a quick flourish. This is way better than the official debut release and I suspect many would be very surprised that this is just 3 years old. A well-made spirit that is already of interest and a distillery to keep an eye on.
The Octave Dalmunach 2016 – Mark’s review
Color: pale straw.
On the nose: Very creamy, an apple-flavoured Muller rice. Custard creme biscuits. Much of that freshness fades with a bit of time in the glass, and it drifts into quite a pleasing maltiness (though not intense), lime marmalade, floral honey, straw and cut grass. Hints of sage leaf.
In the mouth: lovely oily spirit, good texture. Chalky, lemony, custardy, green apples, with malted milk biscuits. Lemon curd and oat cakes. With a dash of water the fruitiness tends to drift away living a slightly sour, mineral note that still has plenty going for it. Again the texture holds up, a pleasing silkiness lingers, there’s life here, it’s an interesting spirit. Let’s be clear, though not all young whisky (Smogen, Chichibu) is a barrier to flavour, sometimes we need to wait a little longer for the rewards to come in.
The score might seem a bit “meh” but I suspect that’s mainly attributable to cask, because there is a very promising spirit here – and I actually mean that, even though it probably sounds as patronising as, uh, well I normally am.
Imperial distillery image kindly provided by Scotchwhisky.com