Whisky from closed distilleries has always been desirable to enthusiasts – it’s a rare, sometimes hard to find and finite resource that captures a liquid moment in time. This is even more so the case today – lost distillery bottlings which cost several hundred pounds five years ago now trade for several thousand. Little has changed over that period of time except the increasing appeal of Scotch whisky and the cultish mind-set of collections (and growth of unscrupulous investors). But, whilst all distilleries, including closed ones have their own sense of uniqueness, and some of the lost distilleries have gained something of legendary status (Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank etc) there are good reasons why many sites closed over the years – and in some cases its simply because the whisky they were producing was not very good.
It’s an interesting irony that some of today’s most desirable single malts comes from a period where the majority of production was destined for blending. The market for single malt whisky only became properly developed in the mid to late 1980’s – so much of the liquid produced in the 60s and 70s was created with a different mind-set. With the closures of the early 80s, large volumes of stock was left, warehoused and underappreciated – no longer needed for blending and, at the time, without a market of its own as single malt. It was not until a decade later, that companies such as Diageo opened up these liquid archives and started to bottle this surplus of languishing casks – and in doing so, created a new category of whisky that’s as much about buying a piece of history as it is about the quality of the liquid.
Some of the distillate from the lost distilleries is superlative – once the purview of blenders, now highly regarded as a single malt in its own right. But, there’s the rub – the quality of liquid from these departed distilleries is inherently variable – what was created for blending isn’t always going to succeed as a single malt in its own right. For every Port Ellen and Brora, there’s a Kinclaith.
Today’s review comes from Dallas Dhu – located near Forres, Speyside (about 2 miles south of Benromach), the distillery closed in 1983 and is now a museum (with much of the old equipment still in-situ). You won’t see much Dallas Dhu around except for on auction sites. Indeed, looking closer, it seems that independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail bought much of the stock of the distillery – most of the bottlings over the last 10 years (and there has not been any for the past four) have been produced by this bottler.
Our Dallas Dhu is also from Gordon & MacPhail, it’s a younger example, but perhaps a more historic one – a 10 year old, bottled in the early to mid-1980’s (around the time the distillery closed) from spirit produced in the 1970s. I have to say that whilst I’ve only sampled a handful of whiskies from this distillery to date, none of them have yet to blow me away in the same way that bottlings from the legendary closed distilleries have. Perhaps that’ll change – or perhaps, again, there’s a good reason why some of these sites were closed.
Nose: This opens with an incredible amount of OBE – bright, overripe pineapple, mango and sugared coated gummy chews – all with a slightly polished edge to them. This subsides within a few minutes and the resultant nose takes on an entirely different profile – soured apples, bee honey, some sherry influenced walnut nuttiness and slightly bitter balsamic. In the background there’s a mixture of crisp florals and murkiness – stale bread, wallpaper paste – these are brightened slightly by orange peels and a scattering of red berries.
Taste: An impressive mouthfeel for 40% - slightly creamy in texture. The arrival has some bite to it - sour apples, sour pineapple and tart cloudy cider. It’s all a bit too acerbic for my liking. There is sweetness here from both honey and caramel, but these are fighting against both bitter fruit and some pretty astringent pepperiness from the cask (that said, resting does allow the sweeter flavours more breathing space). Walnuts come across very strongly, with touches of old wood (which belie the 10 year old age statement on the bottle). In the back palate, some menthol and eucalyptus oil, but, alongside a touch of rawness in the form of paint thinners.
Finish: Short to medium with steeped black tea and oak making for a particularly dry experience.
There’s a great whisky in this Dallas Dhu 10 year old. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. Whilst there’s a lot going on, and it’s all interesting enough – little of it really feels balanced and in-step as a whole. Sourness and bitterness rule the roost and whilst there’s plenty of old style 1970s distillate on display here, the whole experience ends up being more of a chore than a true pleasure. I honestly think the OBE here has actually improved this whisky - adding some brighter tropical notes to an otherwise exceedingly sour affair. But, regardless, this one is now sadly only really of interest for historical analysis only.