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The Dalmore single malt likes to market itself as a premium, luxury brand but it wasn’t always so. In fact, the distillery once came very close to disappearing altogether. An advert in the Inverness Courier on Wednesday 22 July 1840 read: “The Subscriber respectfully informs his Friends and the Public, that they can have a regular supply of his Whisky on moderate terms, and which can guarantee to be of first-rate quality; indeed, it only requires a single trial to recommend itself.” The line was written by Donald Sutherland, the farmer and distiller who leased the property from founder Alexander Matheson.
Alexander Matheson established the distillery in 1839 and Sutherland ran the business with some success until his death in 1854. When Donald passed away, his wife Margaret decided to keep the distillery in her possession, delegating its management to her brother Charles. Under the advice of her father, she invested more of her wealth in the purchase of Park of Inshes Farm. Margaret moved to Inverness and lived in relative comfort whilst her distillery and farm were run by her brother and father, respectively.
Margaret attempted to get involved with the running of the business on several occasions but was often left out of the loop, being asked to sign cheques and never getting a straight answer as to what the money was needed for. When she eventually moved in with her father at Parks of Inshes, she finally began to realise that all was not well with her affairs.
Margaret’s father passed away in 1859, leaving behind insurmountable debts. Her brother, Charles, had made an equally woeful attempt at running the distillery, failing to balance the books for more than four years. To make matters worse, Charles had been selling whisky below market value in a desperate attempt to bring money in. The matter came soon came to a head. Dalmore distillery closed down and poor Margaret was declared bankrupt in 1860.
At a hearing in 1861, Charles said “I had difficulty in working the distillery, and was unable to allow the ordinary market credit to purchasers. The business became restricted; we were not distilling as much as we could, and sold the whisky new, which affected our class of customers, making us deal with inferior people. At this time, also, I made sales at a sacrifice – under market price, forcing sales to get money. My father must have known it; and I think it probable that some of these sales were made by himself. To keep a distillery like Dalmore in proper working position, there should be, in addition to the plant and machinery, at least 5000 gallons of manufactured whisky always in stock and about £1000 engaged in malt and barley, and cash to nearly £2000 to carry on the business and pay the duties. The books do not show the stock of whisky in the summer of 1856 or at any time. My father frequently took the bills of parties residing in his neighbourhood for their accounts due to the distillery, and applied their proceeds to the purposes of the farm at Parks. Before I closed the distillery, there were some cases in which I sold whisky and got payment by cash or bill, but failed to deliver.”
The whole affair was a disaster but the general feeling was that Margaret wasn’t to blame. She was, in fact, almost as much of a victim as those left in debt by the distillery’s failure. She had been greatly let down by the incompetence and negligence of her brother and father. Charles, perhaps fearing reprisals for his actions, fled the country, whilst Margaret saw out her days as quietly as possible. Dalmore, meanwhile, was plucked from the scrapheap by one Andrew Mackenzie.
Mackenzie’s ownership inspired the use of Dalmore’s 12-pointed stag emblem which had been a feature of the Mackenzie family crest ever since Colin of Kintail, Mackenzie Clan Chief saved King Alexander III from a charging stag in the 13th century. By the 1960s, the distillery had come to be owned by Whyte & Mackay. Nowadays the Dalmore is a massively successful single malt brand with various expressions on the market. The whisky tends to be cask-led with a particular focus on sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass in Spain.
Dalmore’s 12-year-old is the entry point to the distillery’s Principle Collection. It’s matured in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels and finished in oloroso sherry casks.
Smell: Some raisin-y sherry notes right away. Dark chocolate. A little ginger. Mixed peppercorns. Cinnamon. Touch of oak. Also caramel and vanilla. Chocolate orange creams. Wee char note in the background.
Taste: Sherry arrival with some depth. Develops into vanilla pods mid-palate. The longer you hold it in the mouth the more of a bourbon character you pick up. Caramel and toffee. Wee bit of citrus. Coffee and dark chocolate before an oaky spice finish.
Thoughts: It’s been a long time since I last tried a dram of Dalmore. Maybe 8 – 10 years. I remember being a little disappointed with my bottle back then, feeling like it lacked body and intensity. This wee sample, however, was better than I was expecting.
It feels to me like there’s been a climb in quality since then. Maybe there’s been a slight change in its makeup or something? The bourbon backbone seemed more robust and for a 40% whisky it wasn’t too lightweight. At that low strength it doesn’t need a lot of water but I added a little to see what would happen. Some red fruits came through on the nose and on the palate it took on a honeyed note with some malt even finding its way through.
It’s quite clean and structured. Some whiskies feel like they’ve gone from cask to bottle with minimum interference but this has the precise feel of the blender about it. Overall though, I found it to be well balanced with reasonably good depth of flavour and fairly pleasant to sip on.
Price: This is where things fall down a little. In my opinion, the Dalmore is of better quality than the average 12-year-old, 40% single malt but the official website quotes a price of £62 for a bottle and that seems excessive. Elsewhere it can be found closer to £50 but even then, I think I’d be a little hesitant. A nice dram that maybe thinks a bit too much of itself.
For more on Dalmore visit https://www.thedalmore.com/