The pursuit of happiness

Posted 09 October 2019 by Matt / In Dalmore
The Dramble reviews Dalmore Port Wood Reserve

Bottle Name: Dalmore Port Wood Reserve

ABV: 46.5%
Distillery: Dalmore
Region: Highlands

The Internet has had a profound impact on the whisky industry. Its speed and reach have introduced swathes of new enthusiasts. Its breadth has greatly increased consumer knowledge. And its pervasiveness has, at least to a certain degree, democratised the accessibility and availability of an ever growing number of bottlings. But, at its heart, it is a sea of bias, disparagement and sometimes outright meanness. Much of this stems from human nature – people are biased, judgmental and mean – the Internet merely provides a platform to vocalise these inner tendencies without penalty. Whisky appreciation is far from impervious to this – indeed, there are times when it feels like it’s becoming as polarised as our society.

Whisky enjoyment should be exactly that – enjoyment. Whether it be with family, friends or quietly and contemplatively alone. But, increasingly I’m seeing the nature of Internet impinge on this – criticism passed off as critical thinking (they are not the same), disapproval and scorn meted out as effortlessly as a passing compliment, and above all, a worryingly privileged air of superiority, more often than not based on little to no actual knowledge. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing something – isn’t whisky appreciation meant to be fun?

You don’t have too look far for recent examples – whilst the online furore over Glenlivet’s ‘whisky pods’ was masochistically fun to watch, it was also depressing. We talk a lot about the importance of whisky education, of making the spirit accessible and welcoming – and then, at the first opportunity we beat down any and all dissention that doesn’t fit in our conventional norms. And in true Internet fashion, this snowballs with new insulting comments being viewed as merely ‘sport’, and the slightest incline of genuine disagreement being seen as outright offense. A big signpost "trolls gather here". It’s par for the course with everything hosted online - and not just with whisky. But if you’re wondering why the category is still viewed as stuffy and elitist despite millions spent on brand education - well, this is partly your answer. We do it to ourselves.

But a picture of abject doom and gloom is similarly not a true representation either. Whisky passion, enjoyment and genuine excitement is not only alive, it’s thriving. For every troll, there’s an educated evangelist. It’s the quick and easy path to drive engagement via criticism, negativity and sometimes vitriol – but it’s much more rewarding to do so via genuine passion, and an honest and balanced debate. This doesn’t mean that there’s no place for critical thinking – far from it –  it just would be nice (and desirable) to see more passion and appreciation for those creating rather than those destroying.

Put on a happy face.

Released in 2018, Dalmore Port Wood Reserve is created from a base of American white oak casks. 50% of these are re-racked into tawny port pipes from W&J Graham for an unspecified finishing period, whilst the remainder see out their maturation in American oak. The two parcels of liquid are brought back together and married before being bottled as an NAS expression. It’s worth noting the 46.5% ABV of this bottling in the context of the wider Dalmore range. It is higher than anything currently included in the Principal Collection (core range) and the distillery’s travel exclusive line-up, both of which tend towards 42 or 40%.

The Port Wood Reserve can be purchase for a shy under £60 from Master of Malt. I’ve seen some folks complaining about this price being nearly 50% more expensive than the 12 year old. I feel they’re missing the context of the wider range here – not only is this cheaper than the 15 year old expression, it’s also delivered at a substantially higher ABV. You could potentially argue about the pricing when compared to other similarly composed expressions, from other distilleries – but within the Dalmore Principal Collection this sites as the most affordable bottling after the entry point 12 year old.

Nose: Quiet but not unassuming, and benefitting of a little breathing – blackberries and blackcurrants are joined by touches of apple peel, raisins and fig rolls. Golden syrup is drizzled over Black Forest gateaux whilst port wine spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and clove) push themselves. Running throughout, American oak-led aromas – creamy toffee, crème brule and vanilla pods alongside a background  ‘greenness’ – vines and berry leaves. Reduction adds milk chocolate filled brioche buns alongside a gentle pang of citrus peel.

Taste: A syrupy and full arrival that delivers rum-soaked raisins, prunes and brandy snaps before heading into black fruit preserves, dark chocolate and Happy Shopper cola. The mid-palate is creamier with vanilla custard, more brûlée and cream buns, before spiciness builds with cinnamon , white pepper and discernible cask char. Water softens things – milky, creamy, all rather silky. But, its seems to dilute the port wood flavours to the point where this now feels 100% ex-bourbon. Interesting.

Finish: Quite long with earthiness, mushrooms and soils alongside cinnamon, tingly pepper and charred oak.

Dalmore Port Wood Reserve is well-composed, moreish, and altogether more subtle than many of the wood experiments I’ve come to expect from the distillery. The higher ABV is extremely welcome, offering a weighty mouthfeel coupled with a punchy delivery of flavour. The port wood is discernible, and also layered – but does seem to (strangely) wash out with dilution. Not a complaint, ex-bourbon Dalmore should be more of a ‘thing’ than it is, but this is certainly an observation. Nevertheless, I find this to be surprisingly successful.

Score: 84/100


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