WHISKY REVIEWS, NEWS, HISTORY & FOLKLORE
Dál Riata Distillery
Dál Riata is a planned new distillery that will take up residence at the heart of Campbeltown in Kintyre. The four whisky-loving friends behind the project chose their location well. Campbeltown was once home to somewhere in the region of 30 distilleries but only 3 are in operation today. It seems probable, therefore, that the town could easily accommodate another. Being on the mainland, it doesn’t suffer the same access difficulties as some of the island locations currently being bombarded with new distillery projects.
Dál Riata will take its place on Kinloch Road, overlooking Campbeltown Loch, and will produce a new single malt in a style consistent with the traditional whiskies of the region.
The distillery takes its name from the ancient Gàidhlig Kingdom of Dál Riata, which is said to have been established in the 5th century by the legendary figure of Fergus Mòr. The kingdom grew to cover much of Scotland’s Western Seaboard and part of Northern Ireland – from Argyll to County Antrim. It is believed that it only came to an end when it merged with an increasingly Gaelicized Pictland to create Alba, or Scotland, as we know it today. Though something of the Dál Riata spirit and some of its borders would re-emerge in the later rise of Somerled and his descendants, the Macdonalds, otherwise known as the Lords of the Isles (but that’s another story!).
Dál Riata was known to have a great seafaring culture but for many, the primary occupation was subsistence farming, with barley and oats as the key cereals. That culture will be celebrated by the new distillery as it plans to grow barley near Dunadd, the site of a hill fort believed by many historians to have been the ancient kingdom’s capital.
The project was granted planning permission in September of 2023 so developments should begin to move quickly on site. In the meantime, the founders decided to bottle a series of small-batch single malts in order to introduce themselves to the whisky public. It makes sense! People are much more likely to listen to you talk about your new distillery if you have a dram or two to pour them.
Piggybacking on the design of co-founder, Iain Croucher’s North Star Spirits independent bottler, the Dál Riata team created South Star Spirits with Small Batch Speyside, Highland and Islay single malt expressions available.
The whisky was distilled in 2011 and bottled in 2021. It’s bottled at 48% ABV and there were 2200 bottles available.
Smell: Fruity, fresh and vibrant. Fruit salad. Floral. Malty. There’s a wee note of dry grass. Lemon. Vanilla fudge and a lovely buttery note. Custard cream biscuits. Pineapple tarts. Toast with lemon curd. Limeade. Wonderfully soft nose.
Taste: Again it’s the fruits that make the first impression but there’s also some toffee and some gentle oaky spice. It has a nice texture to it actually, something you maybe don’t expect from a lighter Speyside. There’s a surprising oiliness. That floral note again. Apples and pears. Apple crumble! Cinnamon and ginger on the finish with some dry oak.
Thoughts: I picked this bottle up at auction. Not because it’s the kind of thing I usually buy but because it was available at a good price. I’m really glad it crossed my path, though, because it’s a lovely wee dram. Sometimes I find some of the fruitier Speysides to be too delicate for my tastes but this carries some weight which really helps to deliver a more satisfying experience. The fruits undoubtedly lead the way but there’s some nicely balanced spices in there to add a little seasoning. Some good length on the finish too.
Price: £45. Let’s just say the quality to price ratio is doing very well here.
For more on South Star Spirits visit https://southstarspirits.com/
For more on Dal Riata Distillery visit https://dalriatadistillery.com/
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