Dalwhinnie (15 year)

Ironically, Dalwhinnie was maybe the 4th or 5th scotch whisky that I tried when I was first introduced to the wonders of single malt, but it was at a restaurant with a meal and I never wrote a review. At the time I was reveling in the joys of discovery of peat and sherry and didn’t have time for the simplicity and elegance of a good Highland ex-bourbon malt. Now that I’ve come full-circle, I can see what’s admirable about a well-made single malt aged only in ex-bourbon casks. The floral notes combine with the light summer fruits (peaches, pears, etc.) to create a tantalizing perfume with subtle complexity. Below that the cereal notes of malted barley run crisp and clear and can be appreciated independently of the other notes. In this way, with no peat or sherry or wine-cask influence, you can perceive the elemental building blocks of single-malt whisky.

Dalwhinnie is one of Diageo’s Classic Malts series, representing the Highlands (specifically the Central Highlands not including the Speyside region). Regionality has never meant a lot in scotch, and the lines are pretty blurred, depending on who you’re asking. I think of Dalwhinnie as Speyside in style (light, fruity, and honeyed), although Diageo classifies it as simply “Highland”.

Nose: White peach, blanched almonds, honeycomb and heavy florals – honeysuckle and … I don’t know … “flower shop”. Very pleasant, very focused. A rest in the glass drops some of the tart fruits and yields some white chocolate.

Palate: Medium-full body. Clean cereals (puffed malted barley) with a touch of peat (really more of an earthiness than smoke or real peat). In the background, a reprise of the aroma’s fruit-and-flowers routine, but overshadowed by the directness of the barley.

Finish: Short. Marzipan, a slight oaky bitterness, and faintly fruity. Fades with mouth-drying tannins.

With Water: A few drops of water increase the amount of fruit on the nose – mostly peach – and actually amplify the slight peatiness on the palate. Try this one both without and then with water.

Overall: A straightforward but very well-executed malt. This is a quintessential ex-bourbon Highland malt, with primary characteristics of summer fruits, flowers, and honey. It’s very similar to (and cheaper than) The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year and a little bit lighter in style than Oban 14, but stands up well against any unpeated ex-bourbon malt. If there is a weakness here, it’s in the forgettable finish. If you haven’t cemented in your mind what the “taste of the Highlands” is yet, this is a Must Try. Even if you have, Dalwhinnie 15 serves as a cabinet stalwart.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Originally built as the ‘Strathspey’ distillery in 1897, it was renamed ‘Dalwhinnie’ soon after, when the facility was sold in the midst of financial difficulties. As was the case with many Scottish distilleries, it changed hands many times until it ended up under the auspices of Diageo (formerly DCL). Dalwhinnie is one of the two distilleries in Scotland with the highest elevation – 1164 feet above sea level – and has recorded some of the lowest temperatures in the UK. Dalwhinnie still uses worm tubs (uniquely, wooden ones) and only has two copper spirit stills. Much of the distillery’s output is used in the Black & White blends. Dalwhinnie is part of Diageo’s Classic Malts series, representing the (Central) Highlands.
Dalwhinnie (15 year)
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $50 - $70
Acquired: (45ml sample bottle) From a Flaviar Tasting Box

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  • Haven’t had this one for a couple of years, but always enjoyed it. It’s a very subtlety flavored whisky, but those flavors are very pleasing, especially the honeysuckle nectar which reminds me of my youth. We had honeysuckle back of our house and would squeeze the nectar drop out of the flower. Brings back great memories.

  • I beg to differ with the conclusion on this one. I am met with a funny, almost medicinal nose here. The finish is fine and lengthy enough but there’s nothing overly exciting about it. I also find this scotch to exhibit a level of heat on the aforementioned finish that doesn’t quite pass my smell test for what a 15yr tenor should leave me with. I do believe equal and better malts can be found at much lower prices (Dalwhinnie 15 runs btw $60-$70 in Atlanta) and I can rattle off several 15yr olds that I prefer much better – Fiddich 15 and dare I say that even JW Green 15 are more satisfying.

  • I’m with Nathan on this one – I find Dalwhinnie 15 to be a high quality dram in the “delicate” flavour category. Lots of honey, but not over-sweet like AnCnoc can be at times.
    I also detect a very, very faint hint of smoke. It’s easy to miss, especially if you normally drink smokey/peaty whisky. But trying this Dalwhinnie after the usual lighter glenlivets, glenfiddichs, ancnocs, etc., you will find there’s a touch of it there.

  • Dear SNB,

    I am a fan of your perfect straightforward review. I became an ISLAY fan and we both have simillar tastes. We love Peat. Dalwhinne is like a spring water mate.

    Love your reviews mate.I hate Highlands particularly this one after ISLAY single ones.

    I drink only you recommend as MUST HAVE Marks.

    You havent reviewed Arbeg 10 in your database. I would buy which I could afford and availability in our Melbourne Australia- Dan Murphy’s store.

    My palette accepts Laphroaig 10 , Ardbeg 10 ,Talisker 10 and Lagavulin 10

    Will email you my Whisky journey..I learnt to know about whisky’s preferably scotch in my life.

    Kind regards,
    Ravi Raja.

  • While tangential to the subject at hand, I recently had my first taste of Dalwhinnie Distiller’s Edition at a whiskey bar in Philly and found it to be downright awful. The port (sherry?) influence added dryness and an off-putting rotten fruit note that was magnificently unpleasant. I think a nice blog could be crafted offering commentary on the DE version from each of the “Classic Malts” of Diageo (SN: hint, hint.)
    Lagavulin DE: worse than Laga 16, no doubt, and gets stomped all over by the incomparable Argbeg Ugy
    Dalwhinnie DE: see above
    Talisker DE: best of the bunch, but still can’t compare to the stalwart T10
    Oban DE: not bad at all and maybe improves upon the O14, although I have to acknowledge I don’t bow down to the god that is Oban 14 like many other noobs
    Cragganmore DE. Haven’t tried it, but I despise Cragg 12, so I can’t imagine it is worse.
    Glenkinchie DE. Ditto Craggenmore.

    CONCLUSION: In most cases the DE is worse than the standard bottling it is based upon, and almost always more expensive.

    • You could be on to something, DJ 😉 I haven’t tried them all, though… in fact I’ve only reviewed Talisker DE. A few of the rest I’ve tried at shows and was either unimpressed or I totally don’t remember what they were like. Getting all of those samples would be a pain. I might try to remember to stop by the Diageo table first at my next whisky show, so I can get some actual notes on them all. 😀

    • I have an old Craggamore DE (1992-2005) open for the last few months. I’m not a big fan of port finishes, so not thrilled with the bottle. However, it’s not really worse than Craggamore 12, which I find unsatisfactory. I agree the Talisker DE is probably the best. Only one I’ll buy, at least.

  • Those last 3 years make all the difference in the world. This is an excellent single malt (I’m not going to use an Scotch-snob comments about notes and the like). This has got to be one of the best deals on the single-malt market. At seventy quid a bottle, it is a reasonably priced treasure. Four stars; the only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars is because I would reserve those ratings for the ultra class of Scotch.

  • Fresh. Easy-drinking. Good for sharing with family and friends. I am stuck on Balvenie 12 Doublewood and Lagavulin 16 so this one, like other people have commented, feels like an entry-level dram; albeit, a well executed one.

    Like you suggested, the water does bring out the peat. Peat but not necessarily smoke. I actually prefer it with a few teaspoons of water. Thouroughly agree with your Must Try rating.

  • I finally got to taste it, since my Mother in Law is visiting from Europe (bought it for EUR 42 there) and I really enjoyed it. I find it very classic but nicely executed, glad to add it to my shelve.