The Dalwhinnie distillery, which was originally named Strathspey, was founded in 1897 by John Grant, Alexander Mackenzie and George Sellar. The distillery is situated between the gentle, grassy style of the Lowlands and the austere, firm body of Speyside, which begins some 25 miles to the north.
"Many late Victorian distilleries were bravely sited; "madly located" Dalwhinnie, one of the highest of all distilleries - at 1073 feet - and now home to the Classic Malts’ delicate and smoky 15 year old Highland malt, was no exception." "Why on earth, you may think," continued the writer of this memorable epithet, "would anybody choose to build a distillery in this desolate, wind-sliced, rain-lashed patch of Highland wilderness?"
A good reason, certainly, was that it was close to the geographic centre of the Highlands and so enjoyed easy access to the reliable link to market offered by the new Highland Railway. This helped the distillery to survive its early fragile beginnings, just as surely as Dalwhinnie's setting had earlier helped the village itself to gain an importance beyond its size.
The Gaelic word from which the name Dalwhinnie comes is Dail-coinneeamh, also spelt Dail-Chuinnidh, which translates as "plain of meetings." Here on these high windswept pastures between the Grampian and Monadhliath mountain ranges, 18th Century cattle drovers would pause on their journey south, over the Drumochter pass to the great trysts or cattle markets of Crieff and Falkirk.
Where it can, Dalwhinnie retains the old ways. For example, traditional wood is still used for its washbacks, and just two copper stills send the alcohol into the lye pipes on its way to the stillman. He skillfully separates the "foreshots" and "feints" before allowing the purest middle part of the distillation to reach the oak casks in which Dalwhinnie will rest on its way to maturity.
Increasingly rare wooden worm-tubs, a landmark outside the distillery as distinctive as its pagoda roofs, help this remain a spirit of real character. Some consider that the slow deliberate condensation, which takes place in a copper worm, can't be matched in more modern condensing vessels.
When the water you start with comes from the highest mountain source of any malt, you expect something rather fine, and Dalwhinnie does not disappoint. The source, Lochan an Doire-Uaine, (Gaelic for "lake in the green grove"), lies at 2,000 feet in the Drumochter Hills. From it, all the pure spring water used in distilling Dalwhinnie flows over rich local peat through the distillery burn. No other distillery may use the water from this source – therefore no other distillery is able to yield Dalwhinnie’s uniquely clean, accessible, malty-sweet taste, giving way to a smooth and smoky Highland mouthfeel.
Dalwhinnie 15yo single malt
The style is that of the Highlands; a resilient marriage of gentleness and spirit. As befits a malt from such a place, Dalwhinnie defies simple description. Too gratifying for an aperitif alone, yet too gentle and delicate to be thought rugged or unapproachable; this combination of delicacy and depth sets it apart. Dalwhinnie is now owned by Diageo and represents the Highlands in their Classic Malts range.
One of the highest of all Highland distilleries, Dalwhinnie produces a welcomingly gentle spirit that's full of character.
Strength: 43% ABV
Nose: A big, crisp, dry and very aromatic nose with hints of heather and peat.
Body: Light to medium.
Palate: Smooth, soft and lasting flavours of heather, honey sweetness and vanilla followed by deeper citrus-fruit flavours and hints of malted bread.
Finish: Long, lingering, surprisingly intense finish that starts sweetly, then gives way to smoke, peat and malt.
(Sources: Diageo, whisky.com, wikipedia.com, picture; Paul Store http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/743)