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Friday, November 21, 2014

Single Malt Report: Dalmore 12 year old (old label, 2005 bottling)

This week, I declared that a Brora was better than a Craigellachie.  That's what is referred to in some circles as a steaming hot take.  With this post, I happily lay another steamer out just for you.


Actually, this version of the 12 year old was bottled before the three-dimensional silver plastic stag head was glued to bottles, before the ABV was lowered, before the price doubled.  Yes, this was back when Dalmore 12 cost $25-$30.  And it looked like this:

Rather than going through a list of Dalmore gripes, I'll give you some background to this particular sample.

Ownership: Whyte & Mackay (United Breweries Group)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-sherry casks (likely American oak), possibly some ex-bourbons too?
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Bottled: 2005

Once upon a time, Florin (a prince) gave me one-third of his bottle of Dalmore 12 (bottled 2005).  We had tried the stuff the evening before he gifted the large sample, but I didn't remember what it was like.  He had found it to be noticeably peated.  Before I started into my 8oz, I sent 2oz of it to My Annoying Opinions in a sample swap.  Yes, you read that correctly: I swapped part of someone else's sample for a sample.  Yup.  Moving on...please see MAO's review here.  Though he did not find any peat in the whisky, MAO had some nice stuff to say about it.  There was further conversation about its peat levels in the post's comments.

Many months later, I finally tried the whisky and...... yyyyuck it was all rotten eggs with a hint of orange peels.  I let it sit in a half full bottle for a week before trying it again.  Things had changed.

The color is rosy gold.  The first notes on the nose are hot hay and moss.  The rotten egg element while still present has mostly vanished.  LOTS of orange peel, though.  There are smaller prune, beach, and sweat (yes, with an 'a') notes.  Also some toffee and cherry lollipops.  The mild palate gradually grows sweeter with time.  The sherry stays subtle.  Some orange candies, raisins, salt, and moss.  A wormwoody bitterness and maybe some mold on the sherry casks.  The sherry ramps up in the finish, as does the sweetness.  Small notes of sea air, orange candies, and raisins.   Not much else.

WITH WATER (approx. 40%abv)
The farmy hay note remains in the nose, as does the orange peel.  More moss.  Buttery toffee and caramel.  Seaweed and canned peaches.  The palate gets bitterer, while the rest of the flavors flatten out into a blur, like a sherried blend.  Maybe also some burnt white bread crusts, stone fruits, toasted grains.  The finish has some sherry, tobacco, stale dried fruit, and grass.

It's definitely not boring, seeming to change with every sniff and sip, sometimes off-putting, sometimes fascinating, good and bad elements firing at the same time.  Thank goodness that rotten egg thing slipped to the background.

Next, I left the final ounce in a 2oz sample bottle for ten more days to see what a little more oxidation would do...

The nose is much fruitier now with raisins, prunes, pears, and green apples. No eggs! But also, no orange peel. Hint of moss, soil, and wet sand.  The palate remains mild.  The nice bitterness is still there.  More sherry.  A little pepper in the throat.  That pepper remains in the finish, along with the bitterness.  Some salt, sherry, and celery(!).

The more it oxidized, the better it got.  It basically went from an F to a C to a B-.  I don't really recommend adding water to it as the whisky is already light.  That rotten egg issue appears to be unique to my experience, so discount it (if you dare!).  While I would not say this is peaty whisky (probably a 2 on Serge's 0-9 P scale), there were mossy notes repeating in the nose and palate.

As MAO concludes, this was a reasonable whisky at $25.  Can't get much sherried malt (especially with an age statement) at that price.  Plus as I mentioned above, it gets points for amusement value.  I've seen a number of these older bottles on shelves in this neighborhood.  But at $50.  For half that price, I might bite.

Availability - Random corner liquor stores
Pricing - $25-$30 once upon a time, almost twice that price now
Rating - 80 (with oxidation)


  1. With further tasting I was struck by the 'nice bitterness' as you call it, which I identified as old whisky. Basically, it has lots of whisky that's much older than 12 years! It is an odd one for sure, but I liked it enough, for that reason, that I went and bought another bottle (it went up to $40 in the meanwhile).

    Here's another review of a similar bottle that gave it the same score as you did:

  2. Though Masterquill found a number of different notes than I, he did find the whole package a little scattered too. And similarly, he finds its "difference" can be a positive thing. Thanks for that link.

    There seems to be a few different kinds of bitterness(es) in whisky. There's an herbal wormwood-ish type of bitterness that I love -- I'm thinking that's from well-matured good distillate. There's a chemical bitterness that seems to come from crummy oak and/or caramel colorant. That sort doesn't work well with my palate.

    1. I found different things every time I drank that whisky - most of them interesting. I fully agree with you with the wormwood-like bitterness from good, well-aged whisky, in contrast with chemical, inorganic bitterness associated with caramel and assorted things going wrong in the cask & in the bottle - probably including oxidation (your Bearded Lady being an extreme example). Sometimes young whisky - especially American craft - will have a 'green' bitterness, like you're chewing on a broken, healthy tree branch; that would be a third category of bitter, less pernicious than the second, but not quite pleasant either. I'm embarrassed to say, it's only this year that I learned to recognize and appreciate the 'good' bitterness in whisky! At first I thought it was the signature of some closed distilleries (Littlemill, if you need to know), but then I found it again and again in other old whiskies - usually 20+ yo. Tomatin Legacy is a good example of a NAS whisky where the older components play a key role.

    2. Ah, yes, the green wood bitterness! I forgot what the heck the third version of bitterness was when I was writing my previous comment. Didn't realize you'd tried Tomatin Legacy. Think it's worth getting? My neighborhood wine store (which has more than a case of it in stock) shows up in winesearcher as the only California liquor shop that has the Legacy. Though I think Total Wine has it too.

    3. Complete brain fart - I meant Tomatin Decades, naturally. I haven't tried the Legacy but I'd wager there's no way in hell it's anything like the Decades. And good for you, keeping track of what I drink!

    4. Oh, I didn't tell you about my Florin Tracker spreadsheet? I completely agree about Decades. Haven't tried Glen Grant's Five Decades (can't these companies come up with original names?), but I wonder if that one works as well as Tomatin's. Too bad it's $150+.