Dalwhinnie claims to be the highest distillery in Scotland, although some would argue Braeval in Speyside is located on higher ground. I believe they actually share the title, but you won’t hear any mention of that in the marketing.
The core range consists of the 15 year old I am reviewing here, a Distiller’s Edition and the non-age statement Winter’s Gold, that they advise you put in the freezer, which is presumably to mask the poor quality? And yes, I have tried it!
The 15 year old is part of the original six classic malts, which was created in 1988 and consists of Dalwhinnie 15, Cragganmore 12, Glenkinchie 12, Talisker 10, Oban 14 and Lagavulin 16. All would be considered fairly solid, but let down to some extent by average presentation that is becoming less and less acceptable to modern whisky drinkers. Although to be fair, we actually get Talisker at a much better 45.8%.
Independent bottlings from Dalwhinnie are extremely rare, and the North Star single cask I am reviewing is the first for many years. Looking back, it may be more than 15 years since the last one. It could be argued that I review too much from North Star. I have reviewed three on here and one for Malt this year. I make no apologies for being a fan of the independent bottler, and in my experience I am pretty much guarenteed good whisky at very reasonable prices.
The distillery is easily accessible via a nearby train station, or by car from the A9. I believe it is well worth a visit, with an excellent tour and distillery exclusive bottling. I hope to get there myself one day soon.
Without further ado, let’s get to the important part.
Dalwhinnie 15 Years Old Official bottling 43% – Review
A solid standard that has been mainstay for many years. I believe this is matured entirely in refill ex-bourbon casks. It is chill filtered and probably has a little colour added.
Colour : Gold
Nose : Honey, lemon, orange and icing sugar, along with plenty of sweet vanilla. There’s some fresh almond croissant and yeasty bread, with a little salt and sawdust.
Palate : It’s a little thin and watery, but we do get some nice sweet lemon, tangerine and vanilla. The peat is very gentle and is more like lightly charred wood, which gives the whisky a little bitterness too. There’s a slightly metallic note and light peppery spice. The finish is light and not very long, which gives us apple peels, chopped nuts, salt and a hint of oak.
Conclusions : This isn’t bad at all. I’d happily drink this regularly, especially at the beginning of the night. It is clearly let down by chill filtration, but at least we get 43% and not too much colour by the looks of things. It is very light on both the nose and palate and the flavours aren’t jumping out of the glass. Solid, but not sparkling.
Dalwhinnie 13 Years Old Single Cask North Star 52% – Review
All we know is that this is from a single Hogshead. Whether refill or first fill we don’t know. It was distilled in March 2008 and bottled in July 2021. It is unchill filtered and natural colour. A total of 235 bottles were produced, and the UK allocation sold out quickly.
Colour : Rich Gold
Nose : There’s plenty of juicy sweet orange and lemon on the nose, together with tropical ripe banana, a little papaya and a decent amount of honey. The peat shows itself in the form of diesel fumes, but it is a fairly light influence. We also get butterscotch, almond, coconut macaroons and plain white candle wax.
Palate : Even more sweet tangerine orange, and it is slightly fizzy on the tongue too. The mouthfeel is excellently glossy and coating. Bitter lemon comes along before we start to get lightly toasted oak and salt. I’m also getting some grapefruit and pineapple. There is some rich vanilla toffee and a light kick of peppery spice. The fruits linger in the finish, before we start to get apple peels, malted milk and oak..
Conclusions : A beautiful cask from a distillery that clearly deserves better presentation than it gets currently. Unlike the 15, the aromas jump out of the glass here, and it is a similar story with the palate. Superb.
Final thoughts : The first thing we should mention is the differences in the way these have been bottled. One is a marriage of casks, watered down a fair amount and chill filtered, while the other is from a single cask and given to us at a much higher ABV and without any chill filtering at all.
There are still lots of similarities between the two whiskies. The orange, lemon and honey is present in both in abundance, but everything is amplified and much brighter and bolder in the North Star bottle. We also get the wood notes and apple peel finish with both drams.
I would love for some of the decision makers at Diageo to try these two side by side and see just what they are doing to Dalwhinnie with the current presentation. Don’t get me wrong, the 15 is not a bad whisky at all, and the price is fantastic, but when it sits beside the North Star version, it is clear which one is the better and clear that this distillery and others in their portfolio deserve to be showcased in a better way. I’m sure those in charge don’t care, but we will keep banging the drum anyway. They are certainly listening more than they used to, with more and more better presented bottlings coming out. Changes to core range products may take some more time unfortunately.