I was thrilled to be asked to be one of a handful of bloggers and food& wine journalists to be invited to a luncheon with Master Blender Richard Paterson (aka “The Nose” of Whyte & Mackay, owners of The Dalmore) upon his visit to Boston. I’ve represented several whiskies in the past, including Dewar’s and Laphroaig, but was not familiar with The Dalmore portfolio. I came away a fan – on several levels.
I follow Richard on Twitter (@the_nose) so it was great to finally meet him in person – he is as charming, funny & knowledgeable as one would expect. He kept us informed, and entertained, throughout the afternoon. There were six of us who met at Post 390 with Richard and Whyte & Mackay’s America’s Region Marketing Director Dawn Lambert – each place setting arranged with 5 wine glasses ready to go.
Richard began by taking us through his history, as well as that of The Dalmore. As both his father & grandfather were whisky blenders, it seemed only natural that he would follow the same career path- in fact, he told us he began learning about the craft at age 8. The Dalmore is one of 106 distilleries in Scotland, one of the 26 located in the Highlands region of the Speyside Valley – an area responsible for giving its whisky more backbone, muscle & structure than those in the south.
The Dalmore distillery was founded in 1839 by Sir Alexander Matheson, and owned by the MacKenzie family for more than a century (more on that later). After taking us through a brief tutorial on the type of pot stills used (“Big Bastards”) as well as the type of casks used to age the whisky (American white oak & Spanish sherry) as well as how to smell the whisky before tasting (1st sniff “Hello”, 2nd sniff “How are you”, 3rd sniff “very well, thank you”); the proper tasting technique – on the mid tongue, under the tongue, back on top, then swallow and let it linger; and the proper glass-holding technique “I’ll kill you if I see you holding the glass the wrong way”– we were ready to go.
The first one up was The Dalmore’s 12 Year Old. Paterson carefully selects and marries whiskies matured in 50 percent American white oak and 50 percent Oloroso sherry casks to develop its signature characteristics. The color was a beautiful deep gold, and on the nose we got citrus fruits and crushed almonds, with just a hint of marzipan. The initial taste was a little intense, but then came layers of citrus, Sherry and spice. The finish was moderate in length and had a slight honeyed vanilla note from the oak. The 12 YO is 40% ABV and retails for approximately $50.
Richard then explained to us about The Dalmore’s new packaging – each bottle will feature the stag image prominently on the bottle. The story behind that is back in 1263, an ancestor of former distillery owners Clan MacKenzie saved King Alexander III of Scotland from being gored by a stag, the grateful King granted him the right to bear the stag’s head in his coat of arms.
Back to tasting – we were then treated to The Dalmore 15 Year Old, Gran Reserva, 18 Year Old and King Alexander III, in that order. The 15 YO is the mainstay of the Distillery’s range of malts, and was awarded the Double Gold in San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition in 2009. It has been crafted from wood infused with three rare Sherries from world-renowned Gonzalez-Byass—Apostoles, Amoroso and Matusalem—to achieve a deeply mellow whisky. The color was a rich mahogany, the nose intense with slightly sweet malt tones and fragrances of orange, marmalade, spice, and just a hint of sherry. The taste was well balanced, and there was no mistaking the sherry wood finish of the malt, which closes with a medium-long, sweetness. Again, this was 40% ABV with a Suggested Retail Price of approximately $80.
Next up, The Gran Reserva, “the cigar malt” which was my 2nd favorite bottle of the day, and the one Richard says he drinks the most of. It is crafted from a combination of 60 percent sherry wood and 40 percent American white oak-aged malts ranging from 10 to 15 years of age. The color was mahogany, trending toward soft golden hues. On the nose we got some wonderful citrus notes balanced by the sherry and vanilla oak. A distinctive malt flavor hit the palate at first, but then yielded to sweet marmalade, spice cake and hints of roasted coffee and dark chocolate. On the moderate finish were zesty orange and lemon peels. The ABV is once again 40% with a Suggested Retail of $64.99.
The 18 Year Old is blended in the Dalmore style, combining primary aging in American White oak with finishing in sherry casks (Richard actually travels to the bodegas of Spain each year to personally select the Sherries and sherry casks that will be used in his aging and blending). Richard says this one needs “respect, like an elder, as it is set in its ways and takes a little longer to express its flavors”. The color was reddish-to-dark brown with copper highlights, and on the nose were hints of pine and lemongrass coupled with spicy cinnamon. Nut aromas from the sherry butts yielded to chocolate, orange and spice notes. The taste of delicate oak notes from 14 years in American white oak casks, with orange, sweet molasses, chocolate spiced cinnamon, rosemary and clove flavors – a result of four years in Matusalem sherry butts playing against the smokiness of the malt. The finish was medium-long, with an ABV of 43% and a Suggested Retail of $150.
The finale was The King Alexander III, which was my favorite…as Richard put it “like a box of chocolates with all different centers, just waiting to explode on the palate”. Wood finishing is very au courant in single malts today, but Richard was one of the pioneers of the trend as long as 40 years ago. From the 1970’s through the 90’s, he began aging his finest malts in a wide range of wine and spirit casks to add subtle shadings and nuance—not to sell individually, but to vat together to create a sublime malt whisky far greater than the sum of its parts.
Paterson’s palette of woods include French Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques; Madeira drums; sherry butts from Jerez de la Frontera; marsala barrels from Sicily; port pipes from the Douro; and sweet bourbon barrels from Kentucky. Upon maturation, the aged malts were perfectly blended by Paterson to create “the most noble of all The Dalmore malt whiskies”. We had added a drop of water to the other four to open them up, but this required no water, and received a score of 94 at The Beverage Tasting Institute of Chicago in 2009. The color was a deep, rich amber, and on the nose was a spectrum of complex aromas – citric and floral notes upfront which gave way to layers of black fruit and burnished oak. Over time, the nose continued to evolve. The taste was divine – the aged Oloroso and Madeira provided notes of crushed almonds and rich, citrus fruit flavors, the Port and marsala casks added hints of wild berries and ripe plums, while the Bourbon barrels came across as vanilla and creamy caramel accents. The Cabernet Sauvignon barriques added a touch of finesse to complete the blend. The finish was beautiful – and lingered for hours. The ABV is 40%, Suggested Retail is $250.00, and as only 200 cases will be available in the US, get it when you see it!
In addition to tasting some fabulous single malts, what came across was Richard’s passion for his job, creating and blending some of the world’s best single Highland Malt Scotch whiskies, and his passion for sharing those whiskies with the world. His message was one of patience, enjoyment and celebration….patience in sipping the whisky, not “knocking it back” as so many are wont to do. He really wants consumers to savor his malts, as the more time you give them to open, layers of taste and complexity will be revealed. He also wants people to share the whisky with someone they like – sipping, savoring and enjoying the conversation, the whisky and if lucky, a fine cigar. As he said, “whisky makes the world go round…but twice as fast!” From Boston, he is heading to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and Dallas, sharing his passion, one glass at a time.