These debut whiskies from the Dartmoor distillery have snuck up upon us all. Perhaps that’s a knock-on effect of COVID-19, keeping a low profile, or a reflection of all the young whiskies already on the market? Maybe even the T-word being everywhere and Haig coloured style whisky bottles?
With everything happening right now, it’s natural to lose sight of other things, regions and possibilities. Personally, I had totally forgotten about the existence of Dartmoor Whisky Distillery, even with a notable name such as Frank McHardy taking the reigns as Master Distiller. The presence of that name should warrant your attention.
It wasn’t until Mark and I was discussing the latest Malt budget, that our Waterford wordsmith suggested the new Dartmoor releases. Having written an article for the Whisky magazine several years ago, it remained within his consciousness at least. There was something promising about the prospect of Dartmoor and its approach. Dispensing with the first 2 spirit runs which are retailing for prices in excess of £150. We deployed our generous Patreon supporters’ budget across 2 more affordable releases to give you some sense of what Dartmoor is and if it warrants further investigation or observation.
The presence of an Alembic cognac still was another attraction to Dartmoor, as well as their local ethic – Frank might not be local, but attracting such a name to the project initially was a huge coup. The still itself dates from 1966, a poignant year in England for some reason that escapes me right now. Acquired from a cognac distilling family in France, it has lain dormant since 1994, when the family expanded production with larger stills. The Alembic design is, in essence, the original pot still and the inspiration for the variants we now associate with whisky distilleries across the world.
Currently, it seems that Dartmoor Whisky Distillery is exclusively selling its whisky via their own online shop. A bottle from any of the first 5 casks will cost you considerably more than what we purchased. Going for the value and mass appeal option, we purchased a bottle from cask #7, an ex-bourbon cask, bottled at 46% strength, after being cut using Dartmoor spring water. We also snapped up cask #8, which is a Bordeaux red wine cask. Also bottled at 46% and also 3 years of age. Both of these retail for £59.50, which seems reasonable in these heady days of youthful whiskies reaching almost £100.
Dartmoor Distillery American Bourbon Cask – Adam’s review
Colour: Super pale. New Zealand Sauvignon.
On the nose: Noses as it looks, if that makes sense. Green. Estery. There’s a certain vegetal funk that makes me wonder about cut width. A little custard cream and cabbage. Some underripe pear. Not an enormous amount happening.
In the mouth: More to see on the plumply-textured palate. Vanilla and malt and husk – very gristy. There’s a chalkiness towards the finish and a NICE biscuit – and perhaps Rich Tea – aspect. Some juicier pear and white melon fruit. A streak of grassiness. It’s still on the raw side – a work in progress. Some nice moments though.
Dartmoor Distillery Bordeaux Red Wine – Adam’s review
Colour: Light Gold with the tiniest pink tinge.
On the nose: A good bit of wine here, in a rather delicate, ethereal way. Red berries. Provence rose. There’s a metallic tang of copper, a flutter of sponge cake and some high-toned grassiness. A little lemon detergent. Again, it’s light, young and simple.
In the mouth: As with the bourbon cask the palate is better than the nose. Some lovely, sweetish flavours carried over by a very pleasant texture. Honey and syrup. A touch of dried raspberry. More of that bright, high-toned citrus and copper. The alcohol takes a turn for the pokey toward the finish. Again some nice moments. But this is still an overtly-youthful work in progress.
Rather hard to put a finger on the distillery’s character for the time being. Not all whisky can – or should – be ready to go just because it’s 3 years and a day old. To my mind this pair demonstrate the virtue of patience. But there’s enough going on for my interest to be piqued. I’m pleased they’ve not engineered it into a semblence of premature readiness by bashing it with excessive oak, and I’ll look forward to seeing what a little more time does to the distillate.
Dartmoor Distillery American Bourbon Cask – Jason’s review
Colour: a faint haze.
On the nose: soft apples, some peaches, Silver Needle tea, vanilla, sugar cubes and white grapes. A gentle arrival, clean and no alcohol. Time in the glass showcased button mushrooms and whisked egg whites. Adding water reduced this to wood notes, apples and a little cream.
In the mouth: an immediate revival of childhood memories of shandy. There’s a definite beer-ish influence here and yeasty. Tangerines, some oak, stale white bread and lemon. Adding water brings out some pleasant elements of fudge, leaf salad, more vanilla and a touch of smoke.
Dartmoor Distillery Bordeaux Red Wine – Jason’s review
Colour: Rose wine.
On the nose: red apple peelings, marzipan, candied orange peel and green strawberries. There’s also a bread-vibe and tobacco. Adding water unlocks more citrus and sunflower oil.
In the mouth: sweet fruit and a bowl of apples with cherries and pears. It is pleasant. Nutty in parts and a little drying with a fleeting rubber aspect on the finish. Cranberries, sugar puffs and apricot and black pepper. Adding water wasn’t hugely beneficial, but brought out cloves, beef tomato, tobacco and fudge.
Overall, a solid start. Nothing to rock your world, but for the age, pleasant enough with some unique aspects. The wine cask works well and I’d envisage doesn’t warrant much more maturation, whereas the ex-bourbon cask release would benefit from a longer period. The sherry cask release escaped us this time, but I’m sure we’ll return at a later date.
The beer-ish vibe, we’ll have to see how that develops over time, or if it is just a feature, or work in progress, of these early distillations. It’s been decades since I thought about shandy (lager and lemonade) and you could say that these Dartmoor offerings have an effervescent quality about them.
Dartmoor does utilise a beer wash as its initial distillation that starts life at 9% before being distilled multiple times, which you can read about on the Dartmoor website. I’m appreciative of the fact they are exclusively using locally grown barley and nearby floor malting. It’s good to support local businesses that stick to traditional means and in turn, create a whisky that is very much of the locality. In whisky, time is everything.
Dartmoor Distillery American Bourbon Cask – Phil’s review
Colour: pale straw.
On the nose: malt, orchard fruit, cream, vanilla, toffee and a hint of furniture polish.
In the mouth: a thin mouthfeel – sweet arrival – apples, peaches, dried apricots, barley sugar, caramel and a little build-up of spice at the back of the palate. The finish is short consisting of fruit salad sweets and toffypop biscuits.
Dartmoor Distillery Bordeaux Red Wine – Phil’s review
Colour: Rose wine.
On the nose: biscuit crumble, walnuts, stewed strawberries and blackberries, cracked black pepper, chocolate and pencil shavings.
In the mouth: medium mouthfeel this time….definitely feels denser. Ripe red berries upfront with some orange essence and a touch of rose water. Milk chocolate and almonds before a light spice again at the back of the palate. The finish gain is short but of Cadburys Turkish delight.
Both are okay. They are relatively soft, inoffensive and a bit one dimensional. Both suffer from a lack of flavour development and of body and frankly are way too expensive for what they deliver but I guess that is the price to be paid for a very small output. The base malt seems pretty good so hopefully, things will only get better from here on.
Thanks to our Patreon supporters for enabling this article.