Whilst ‘the grass is always greener’, and ‘things were always better then’, here at The Dramble, we like to put those suppositions to the test by comparing entry-level whiskies with previous iterations of those bottlings from decades gone by. The quest remains the same – to find a whisky where the modern incarnation is an improvement over the long discontinued edition. For today’s ‘Now and then’ comparison tasting we’re taking a look at the Dalmore 12 year old – our contemporary bottling is recognised the world over – our comparison is from the 1970s could not look more contradictory.
Bottle Name: Dalmore 12 year old
ABV: 40% Distillery: Dalmore Region: Highlands
Dalmore 12 year old is matured for 9 years in ex-bourbon casks. Then half of the liquid is re-racked into ex-oloroso (Matusalem style – an aged solera, where PX has been added to sweeten) sherry casks for a further 3 years of finishing, whilst the remainder continues to slumber in ex-bourbon. This latest edition was first released in 2008 replacing the previous 12 year old Dalmore and is quite dark in colour – certainly much darker than one might expect for a single malt where only 50% of the liquid has been matured in sherry casks for just three years. So, it is highly likely that E150a caramel colourant is in play here. The bottling is delivered at 40% and costs around £40 here in the UK.
Nose: Initially a touch shy out of the bottle, but opening with a bit a patience. Red berries – fresh and dried (particularly strawberry) are joined by some walnut nuttiness, white chocolate, honey and vanilla. There are some rich cakey (fruitcake) aromas here, and some very pleasant brown sugars, which are heightened by some fresh oaky spices – ginger in particular.
Taste: Sadly thin and underpowered from the get-go (though again, and somewhat strangely, I found that resting improved things). An initial wave of reduced fruits – marmalades and preserves, favouring berries, but with some orange in the mix also. Initially quite sweet and creamy, this aspect subsides quickly, with the whisky becoming increasingly dry and emphasising bitter spicing (vanilla and slightly earthy cinnamon ). Walnuts again, with raisins and some bready and biscuity flavours.
Finish: Short to medium, very drying and with a bite of alcohol. Ending with bakery flavours, bitter espresso coffee (the thick and dirty kind).
Dalmore 12 year old is one of those whiskies which I would describe as ‘fine’. There are not faults to speak of here, and yet the entire experience is fairly mundane with no real depth and little of the character that you can find in older Dalmore bottlings (assuming you have the size of wallet needed for older Dalmore bottlings). The nose, whilst initially shy did offer up some enticing sherry-driven flavours – however, the palate doesn’t completely follow through with these, going down a road of dry bitterness rather than the opulent sweetness that the nose suggests. Many would argue that the ABV of this one is too low – I’d not disagree, but, fundamentally, I don’t think that a 3% or even 6% addition would reshape this whisky in to anything more than it already is.
Bottle Name: Dalmore 12 year old 1970’s bottling
ABV: 43% Distillery: Dalmore Region: Highlands
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.