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.