I reviewed The Dalmore 12 year awhile ago, and was struck principally by the house characteristic orange peel notes. At the time, I wrote that the sherry was a little overpowering, and that I hoped the distillery’s older expressions would better balance it against the citrus and gentle Highland maltiness.
Yesterday I had the chance to sample some Dalmore 12, 15, and the Gran Reserva (not to be confused with the Cigar Malt Reserve…). The 12 was big and powerfully laden with orange notes, as expected, but the 15 took me by surprise. The 15 is good. As I’d hoped, its sherry fruitiness was muted in the same way that 18+ sherried malts are – leathery and resiny with some umami notes bordering on meaty. Think old leather furniture and orange-scented upholstery cleaner. The house characteristic orange was in force, but as a contributing player and not the main event. This 15 year-old tastes to me like a much more accomplished 17- or 18 year-old sherry finish, and K&L has it right now for $56. That’s a damn good deal.
(Before you ask, I wasn’t impressed by the slightly-cheaper Gran Reserva, which was released to replace the defunct Cigar Malt (again, not to be confused with the new, more expensive, Cigar Malt Reserve. Gah!). It was somewhat dull – less orange, less sherry, less everything, and with more rough edges on the finish. Review upcoming, but definitely pay the extra $5 for the 15-year).
The Dalmore 15 year is aged for 13 years in American oak ex-bourbon casks. It is then extra-matured for a year in a combination (3-way split) of Matusalem, Apostoles and Amoroso sherry butts, and then a final year of marrying in a sherry butt. That’s actually a pretty lightweight maturation for such heavyweight flavor.
Nose: Surprisingly mature sherry – it’s resiny like a far older sherry-finished malt. Thick, dense orange syrup and essential oil. Leather. Reminds me a little of the meatiness of GlenDronach 12, and the suppleness of The Macallan 18.
Palate: Dense. Orange blossom honey with a bit more fire on the tongue than the 12 year. A bit of raw cane sugar grassiness, and a pleasant blood orange twang (tartness).
Finish: Medium long. Nice spices like coriander and white pepper. Finishes with mouth-drying orange peel oils.
With Water: Opens up some interesting meatiness on the nose, like duck in orange sauce or cooked marmalade. Otherwise, it seems to dull the palate. Only really improves the nose.
Overall: This is a very fine example of a spicy, supple sherried Highlander with the added bonus of Dalmore’s signature orange peel. Better than the 12 year in many ways, it completes the picture that the 12 only hints at. It’s also better than the Gran Reserva, which was underwhelming. Dalmore malts seem to go ‘on sale’ once a year, and drop up to 20% in price for a few weeks. At $56, this is a quality sherried Highland malt for a great price. I’d even say it’s worthwhile around $65. If you want the same flavor profile without the finesse, the Dalmore 12 is also a great deal around $35 right now.