The Dalmore has launched a 51 Year Old expression and we were lucky enough to be one of the first to taste it. No, really. Here’s what we thought.
Any Scotch whisky lover will tell you The Dalmore is no stranger to extravagant expressions. Bottlings such as The Dalmore L’Anima Aged 49 Years, The Dalmore 60 Year Old and The Dalmore 45 Year Old have cemented this reputation. It’s not surprising then that the Highland distillery’s first major release of 2020 is a whisky fit to join this illustrious list: The Dalmore Aged 51 Years.
A launch event to taste and talk all about it took place at the Hotel Café Royal in Piccadilly, London this week, where master distiller Richard Paterson was on dapper and dandy form as usual to present his latest source of pride. It was all very exciting, as I’m sure you don’t need telling. This would be my only opportunity to sample The Dalmore Aged 51 Years as only 51 bottles (neat) will go on sale and the pleasure of its company in the future would set me back £55,000. As you would expect for a whisky of this type, there’s a glossy hand-crafted presentation case (black sycamore wood, don’t you know) which houses the crystal decanter and stopper. But, in the immortal words of Shania Twain, that don’t impress me much. Even if the 12-point ‘Royal’ stag is looking particularly resplendent in sterling silver.
The whisky itself is far more compelling. Bottled at a natural cask strength of 40% ABV and presented without any additional colouring, it was initially matured in ex-bourbon casks before it was distributed between Port Colheita 1938 casks, Matusalem sherry casks and first-fill bourbon casks. The spirit was then reunited in bourbon barrels for a final flourish. The press release notes that this demonstrates “how deeply The Dalmore treasures the sanctity of the cask”.
The official quote from Paterson in the marketing bumf drove this point home further. “The Dalmore 51 Year Old is a noble single malt of rare profundity and it has been my pleasure to closely follow its maturation over five decades. I am always looking towards the future and I carefully consider how each distillation will evolve, moving our spirits to new wood to transform their conclusion. The Dalmore 51 Year Old is a fine example of this.” At the event Paterson reiterated this, explaining that long maturation and cask innovation has been part of The Dalmore DNA since the Mackenzie brothers owned the distillery.
The fact that The Dalmore’s stringent wood policy across its thousands of casks and the guiding principle that the ‘cask is king’ took centre stage was particularly interesting. The classic issue with whisky matured for this long is that the profile becomes too woody. As I made my way to the event the question of how you successfully mature a whisky for 51 years was on my mind. In this case, Paterson clearly feels the answer lay in utilising multiple casks. He made a point early on at the event to say that by “using the right cask you rejuvenate the whisky, then it goes over like silk”.
In a presentation before dinner, Paterson told stories about the distillery and its history, but it wasn’t long before casks became the focus of the conversation. Paterson describes the maturation process of The Dalmore Aged 51 Years like a journey, one that begins in ex-bourbon casks that “provide the base of the whisky and allows it to settle down”. He then explained that in order to make something special he used Port Colheita 1938 casks for four years. “This took that American white oak and gave it body and character with those plummy notes you get with this style of the Port wine”. The spirit was then added to exclusive 30-year-old Matusalem sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass for five years, which Paterson explains was to bring notes of “old English marmalade, grapes, sultanas and Christmas cake. This, mixed together with that Port wine, comes together in a perfect assemblage”.
We were then invited to taste The Dalmore Aged 51 Years, I didn’t need telling twice. I was conscious that your perception of a whisky can be influenced by the setting, so I took a portion of my designated glass away to taste at home in order to compare and contrast my thoughts. You’ll be pleased to know what across both sets of notes, there’s hardly a mention of woodiness. Instead, my two separate tasting notes both concluded that this was a complex dram. In fact, I thought The Dalmore Aged 51 Years was utterly sublime.
The vibrancy of the fruit is striking, as is the heaps of flavour despite the low strength. It’s chock-full of Dalmore distillery character and each cask plays its part without every truly veering into dangerously tannic territory. Paterson described it as a whisky “that deserves every splendour, it’s something very different and something unique”. I’d add that it’s very, very delicious. For more detail, the customary MoM tasting note is below.
The Dalmore Aged 51 Years Tasting Note:
Nose: Homemade blackberry compote, lime marmalade, roasted espresso beans and a litany of dried fruit – dates, figs and sultanas – drenched in spiced molasses lead. Elements of dusty oak furniture, soft toffee pennies and vanilla cream develop among touches of golden tobacco, chocolate orange, Turkish delight and diced almonds. As the nose progresses notes of Conference pears, stewed plums and rich dark chocolate make their mark as lemon meringue, Bakewell tart (with the cherry), honey roasted peanuts and Bassett Allsorts emerge in the backdrop.
Palate: A faint rasp of woody tannins quickly make way for bold notes of sticky Jamaican ginger cake, stewed dried fruits, Madagascan vanilla and Manuka honey spread liberally on wholemeal toast. A tart hint of Morello cherry compliments the sweeter elements of damson plums, muscovado sugar, thick-cut orange marmalade and syrup sponge. A dash of festive cinnamon emerges in the mid-palate among complex notes of roasted pineapple, balsamic vinegar, liquorice lace, cacao, earthy red chilli and a hint of cinder toffee.
Finish: Long, resinous and full of dark fruits. There’s also a hint of floral perfume and soft caramel notes.