Located in Alness, a few miles north of Inverness is Dalmore distillery. In the early part of the 20th Century the site was repurposed by the Royal Navy to produce munitions and sea mines – one of which detonated and destroyed much of the site in an accidental explosion in 1920. Nowadays, the distillery and much of its whisky is positioned by owners Whyte and Mackay as a ultra-premium and luxuriant – and bottles with 4 and 5 figure price tags are far from uncommon. But, things were quite different in the decades before, and in the 1970’s, not long after control of the distillery had been wrested back from the Royal Navy, most of the production was destined for blends, with only the 12 year old available in single malt form.
Our 12 year old comes from the late 1970s as best as we can tell. It is delivered in a bottle looking nothing like the Dalmore of today – no sleek lines, nor silver stags head adorning the glass. It does however have a rather interesting closure – a screw cap lid that doubles up as a jigger. It’s bottled at 43% ABV and as best as I can tell, is the product of ex-bourbon maturation. This whisky was produced long before the concept of ‘finishing’ had even been considered, so unlike the Dalmore’s of today, this won’t have been re-racked into a secondary cask.
Nose: An exceedingly enticing blend of furniture wax, teak polish and pronounced tropical fruitiness – mangoes, guavas and unripe pineapple. A supporting act of honey, lime zest and sappy wood keeps things surprisingly bright and lively. Deeper, there are florals (lavender and lilies) as well as a particularly interesting, slightly chalky minerality.
Taste: Boom! Rich, viscous and totally mouth-coating. Massive orange marmalade, peels and zest alongside exceedingly pronounced rich honey. Sugar dusted lemon peels provide a zingy lift and are supported by polish and burnt/caramelised sugars. There’s a hint of smoke here….not peat, but certainly burnt wood – char. In the back palate, a light earthiness.
Finish: Medium in length and packed full of orange preserves, lemon curd and gummy bears.
This 1970’s bottling of Dalmore 12 year old is a far cry from the modern version. There is incredible depth, balance and nuance here, which when combined with distinct fruitiness makes for one delicious whisky indeed. Whilst this doesn’t need resting, it certainly benefits from it - over the past hour, this has just got better and better. This is Dalmore from a different age – an age when the underlying spirit (not the wood) was encouraged to shine - an age long before the trend for finishing had even begun – an age when cask quality was oft-times superior. Every dedicated whisky enthusiast owes it to themselves to try Dalmore from this period in history. If, like me, you get to compare a modern iteration with the same age statement bottled some 40 years ago, I can promise that the difference is revelatory.
But don't take our word for it..
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