This older bottling of Dalwhinnie 15 year old is hard to precisely date, but all signs indicate that it comes from the early to mid 1980’s – around the time that the bottling was induced into Diageo’s Classic Malt series. So, this distillate was originally created in the 1970’s during which the distillery operated worm tub condensers. The tubs were replaced with shell and tubes in 1986, however, within less than 10 years these too were replaced (due to the change they created in the new make character), and worm tubs were once again reinstalled. Sources suggest, that despite the switch back to tubs, the spirit character has never been same as it was in the 1970’s and earlier.
Nose: Malty and fruity – highly expressive in fact. Barley malt extract, milky coffee and toasted cereals conjoin with highly pronounced fruitiness – part stone fruit (apricot and peach), part tropical – mango, overripe banana and pineapples. There’s still some expected Dalwhinnie crisp grassiness here – it comes across akin to dried hay, pine needles and holly leaves. In the background a slightly metallic note – coppery, almost brass polish. Reduced, this is more delicate and sweeter – cut flowers and honey.
Taste: An oily arrival with quite a reasonable mouthfeel for 43%. Bold malts, coffee, milk drenched breakfast cereal – apples, peaches, pineapples and lots of honeyed sweetness. Polish is quite pronounced now – sharp and warming in the mid-palate, but growing increasingly sour and bitter towards the back – it’s on the edge of acceptable. Steeped black tea reinforces this sense of bitterness – it’s quite the juxtaposition to the saccharine arrival – in one sense a good development, in another - somewhat jarring. The addition of water softens everything up – juicy tinned fruits, barley water and a gentle pang of vanilla. Whilst this makes for a more balanced experience, it’s at the loss of some of the overall flavour definition. You can’t have it all it seems.
Finish: Quite long, starting with tropical fruits and toffee sweetness, but becoming increasing bitter and with plenty of wood.
This 1980’s Dalwhinnie 15 year old shares much of the same DNA as its modern counterpart, but many of the individual elements are assembled differently. It’s altogether bolder and more expressive – the malts are maltier, the fruits are fruiter. However, this comes at the expense of balance, particularly in the back palate and finish which are too bitter for my tastes. Nevertheless, overall, this is still very good whisky and well worth comparing to the current style created some 30+ years later. Retailers will charge you somewhere in the region of £200 for one of these older bottles – you’re better off keeping an eye on some auctions – I’ve seen this sell on occasion for less than the price of the current version.
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