The Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old is a classic in the world of single malt scotch whisky. While it has become quite popular among single malt connoisseurs, it is relatively unknown to the rest of the world. This is a shame really. The Dalwhinnie spirit has a body and flavor profile that can be enjoyed and appreciated by virtually everyone. For that reason, I believe a full review is in order!
Elevated in the Cairngorm National Park at the heart of the Scottish Highlands in the village of Dalwhinnie, the distillery stands at 1,164 ft., higher than any other distillery in all of Scotland. At this altitude, Dalwhinnie is shrouded in winter cold with an average annual temperature of 6.6 degrees Celsius (43.88 degrees Farenheit). I have always been fascinated by the ways in which a distillery’s environment will affect their whisky. For Dalwhinnie, the cold winter air and the high mountain streams produce a pure and crisp single malt that has been rightfully dubbed “The Gentle Spirit”.
At the heart of the Dalwhinnie range is the classic 15 Year Old, a recent gold medal winner at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. This is a beautiful expression that evokes the classic style of the Scottish Highlands with a distinct winter character. It’s rather old for an introductory expression and as it’s priced at roughly $70 here in the US, it’s a step above the general starting point for most beginners. Is it worth it? Let’s find out…
On the nose, a very light aroma with fresh fruit and a hint of heather. Crisp pears and sweet berries linger with bright honey and subtle spices. There is very little oak present on the nose and nothing is bitter or overly robust. Very light, fresh and fruity. In cold temperatures alcohol will draw significantly more air into the cask. In the case of this Dalwhinnie, the spirit seems to have aerated a bit during maturation. This is not to say that the spirit comes off as being dull or flat, just that in combination with a full 15 years of aging, it is light and airy producing a very smooth and welcoming aroma.
On the palate, wow! Ha! Surprisingly intense for 43% ABV. While the impact is quite strong, the alcohol quickly subsides to make way for a wonderful delivery of silky oak, fresh berries, some vanilla and more honey. Like a tiger stalking its prey, the oak is barely detectable on the nose but it instantly pounces on the palate upon its release. But as violent as a tiger may be, it is also a beautiful creature and the oakiness of this spirit is accompanied by an elegant, floral delivery in unison with heathered honey, orange zest and fragrant spices. Something worth noting – Dalwhinnie may craft their spirit in the cold but these flavors are perfectly suited for a mid-summer afternoon. Open this one up with two, no more than three drops of water per measure and the flavors harmoniously fuse together, allowing the heathered honey to really shine.
If you are new to whisky but perhaps familiar with wine, tasting this Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old can be likened to tasting a dry Sauvignon Blanc. It’s fresh and crisp with no one flavor dominating the experience. Everything is in sync producing one harmonious, refreshing spirit. The finish is long and quite pleasant as the oak slowly fades allowing the fresh berries one last chance to make a final impression. Beautiful really.
In conclusion, a wonderful, mature spirit that is priced very reasonably for what it offers. I have to admit I was somewhat underwhelmed the first time I tasted this but I find myself enjoying this more and more with each dram. A wonderful spirit. If you are new to the world of single malts or if you are looking for a whisky that will make for a great gift, this one is for you. It is chillfiltered and only bottled at 43% ABV but I think it’s fair to give Dalwhinnie a pass. I know, I know, hear me out. Although I prefer non-chillfiltered whisky, the light and airy character of the spirit seems perfectly suited for it’s fresh and crisp flavors. The 43% ABV is more than enough to deliver the whisky’s subtle complexity. Most importantly, it can be suited for almost any palate. Well done, Dalwhinnie.