I believe that TV shows and movies can be like spirits in the way that we are obligated to revisit them once in a while. Change is the only constant thing in life; what we don’t like now, we may like in the future. The reverse is true as well.
For example, my older relatives were all raving about The Sopranos in the early 2000s. I was told that the show was about the Mafia, so dumb-as-rocks tweenager me expected a lot of action scenes. To my disappointment, it was mostly genius dialogue and acting. Of course, I wasn’t able to appreciate it then. After having the fortune of a decade to wise up, I watched the show again and loved it. I think I’ve seen the whole series four times now.
My experience with Dalwhinnie 15 is pretty similar, except that it’s polishing off four full bottles of it, which would be the equivalent of seeing the whole series four times. It’s a single malt I first had in my early days of learning about Scotch. I didn’t like it. I only recently had it again along with Talisker 10, Lagavulin 16 and Cragganmore12 in a virtual tasting with Ewan Gunn.
Arrogant me from, maybe, seven years ago only knew about the importance of casks and aging. I was ignorant of types of yeast, fermentation, stills, washbacks and condensers and their effects on a spirit. Like most drinkers who haven’t gotten geeky, I just assumed that the older the whisky was, the smoother and the better it would be.
Dalwhinnie 15, being distilled from a pot still with worm tub condensers, gives off a meatier and sulphuric character, so my lack of knowledge plus my unrefined palate thought the worm tub flavors I sensed were flaws. An unpleasant sandpaper taste and texture was my description, then, when I looked at my old notes.
Drinking it also made me assume one thing and realize something else. What I assumed was Dalwhinnie being a “bad” whisky is why the 15 year is the only regularly available SKU (unless the Distiller’s Editions are considered regular too). What I realized at that time was that age is no guarantee of quality. I was very into Caol Ila 12, Talisker 10 and Glendronach 12 then. Younger usually means cheaper, so I had no qualms about spending less for what I liked.
I mentioned in my Mortlach article, which also uses worm tub condensers, that the Flora & Fauna 16 and Gordon & Macphail 15 were single malts I enjoyed around six years ago—so some might be wondering if I’m being inconsistent. Still, the Dalwhinnie 15 and the two Mortlachs are aged in different types of cask: ex-bourbon for Dalwhinnie and ex-sherry casks for the Mortlachs. I tasted less of the worm-tub flavors due to the ex-sherry casks.
Some notes I got from Ewan are: Fermentation time in two wooden washbacks is around 60+ hours. Dalwhinnie switched to shell-and-tube condensers from the 1980s, but switched back to worm tubs in the mid-1990s since the resulting products weren’t preferred. (Before someone gives Diageo shit for this, they weren’t formed until 1997.) If I recall correctly, Dalwhinnie is a single malt that ends up in blends more often than not. Maybe the blenders and indie bottlers also complained about the change of character in the whisky? The 30-year-old Rare By Nature 2019 release is said to be distillate from its shell-and-tube days, so if you want to try a Dalwhinnie that’s different from today’s releases, get that.
Dalwhinnie 15 Years Old – Review
Color: Apple juice.
On the nose: Pleasant and medium aromas of apple juice, honey, honeysuckle, elderberry and pears. At the same time, there are light aromas of cinnamon, muscovado sugar, dehydrated lemon peel, key lime pie, orange and grapefruit peels.
In the mouth: There’s a muddled and medium-intense taste of honey with some vegetal bitterness, cloves, lime leaves and sulfur in the form of a coarse texture with a bitter taste. There’s a slight taste of peat and smoke. The smoke is the kind you get in a barbecue. The peat is more of an earthy note, without the medicinal iodine most think of. At the end are the fruity bits. I get light and lasting tastes of apple juice, honeysuckle, elderflower, nectarine, plums and diluted Warheads Extreme Sour.
This is good whisky. Using recency bias, this is also the first whisky I’ve had in a while that is better in the mouth than it is on the nose. Better in that there are more layers, more complexity, and the flavors last longer. A lot of the regular releases whisky I’ve had are usually very promising on the nose but fall apart in the mouth. Of the top of my head, I can think of Royal Brackla 12.
The coarse texture is still there, but it doesn’t bother me now. I think it adds a bit of depth to the whisky, so of course, I can see why people just getting into whisky won’t like this. They already find 40% ABV a bit too much. What will an extra 3% do to them? Plus, they expect their drink to be smooth. Dalwhinnie 15 isn’t smooth at all; it’s challenging and engaging.
What doesn’t sit well with me is the price. If I bought this with the TWE price, I’d say it’s a good deal. But I don’t understand how the price just jumps in the US ($89.99 at Binny’s and $71.99 at Astor Wines), and locally. Is this due to the recent taxes that were put on Scotch? I doubt it’s due to the extra 50ml. Because Malt factors in the price, this whisky gets a deduction in scoring.
(6/10 if price isn’t factored in, or if The Whisky Exchange price is applied)
Image courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.