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Dalwhinnie (pronounced: dal-WHIN-ee) was for many years in good favor with the blenders. Its oily and gently smoky character backed up by good fruitiness provided lots of flesh to blends and went a long way to softening the harsher angles of the grain components. It may well have worked away in quietly consistent obscurity were it not for the marketing notion of the classic malts. Dalwhinnie was chosen as the highland component for this series in 1988 and since then it has enjoyed a lot more popularity than it might otherwise have done. A fulsome and nicely balanced malt from one of the highest distilleries in Scotland, it is a fine dram but unfortunately with few expressions available.
Stills: 1 Wash 1 Spirit
Water Source: Allt an t-Sluie Burn
Capacity: 1.3 Million Litres
1961-1986: Blending Years.
In 1961 the single pair of stills at Dalwhinnie were converted to direct steam heating. A few years later in 1968 the floor maltings were decommissioned as well. Unlike most distilleries Dalwhinnie kept its worm tubs in place and they remain there to this day, cooling the spirit in a very pleasingly old school fashion. Bottlings of Dalwhinnie hailing from these years in the early sixties are few and far between. There was a 27yo 1966 by Cadenheads and a 1963 20yo by G&M under the CC label. Both of these bottlings show a distinctly different distillate from todays Dalwhinnie. Much more focused on wax, smoke, resin and fruits with a distinctive peat quality as well. This peat aspect disappeared from the distillate after the maltings were closed in 1968.
There are two aged official bottlings from around these years including an excellent 1973 29yo launched in 2003. This bottling was much more on fruits, spices, hints of wax, honey and delicate smoke. A 36yo launched in 2002 preceded it and showed much more in your face aged characters, big notes of rancio, oak, menthol, wax, polish, crystallized fruits and delicate phenols. After this there is not much in the way of old style Dalwhinnie to taste. There are some official versions of the standard 15yo that were bottled in late seventies. These are waxier and more aromatic than todays bottlings and clearly belong to his older era but the line between old and modern Dalwhinnie is not as wide as it is at many other distilleries.
1986-Present: A Gentle Highlander.
Dalwhinnie was perhaps an odd choice for the Highland category in the classic malts range as it is a smaller distillery that has only two stills and is not a particularly gutsy whisky. Which is usually a characteristic that people associate with Highland whiskies. Modern Dalwhinnie is focused on clean malty notes with lots of honey, orangey tones, a little spice, some fragrant fruits, herbs and a lovely, elegant oiliness. The fact that it is a smaller distillery and still uses worm tubs is probably responsible for its slightly oily edge and more robust aspects but it remains a very easy drinking malt. Cask strength examples are rare but they show a sterner side to the distillate. An official 20yo from refill sherry launched in 2006 is a good example of Dalwhinnies ballsier side with more emphasis on spice, oils, oak, nutty notes and sweet fruitiness.
Maybe Diageo will see fit to offer more cask strength alternatives in future but it seems unlikely. So long as Dalwhinnie continues to produce its charming make things shouldnt feel too out of balance in the whisky world.