Dalwhinnie, The ‘Gentle’ Whisky
Wednesday - February 07, 2007
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As we listen to tales of winter weather on the Mainland and observe the strange beauty of the ice storms that have descended, spare a thought for the folks who live near the Dalwhinnie distillery in Scotland.
I spent some time there last year, and was immediately reminded of the stark beauty of the highlands and the bitter cold of a Scottish winter.
Newtonmore, home to the Dalwhinnie distillery, is also home to some of the worst weather in the country. I went to Scotland to visit my brother Mark, a gamekeeper and chef who lives in a remote highland village near the Cairngorm mountain range.
I slipped off to Dalwhinnie early one morning to visit with distillery manager Donald Sterling while Mark took my husband Bobby and our son Max into the woods to look for stags. I was ashamed of myself for shivering as I waited for Donald outside the famous whitewashed buildings of Dalwhinnie.
Certainly this wasn’t the coldest winter on record.
“It’s not as cold as 1994,” Donald said with some authority. “Then, the average temperature up here for the entire year was 6 degrees.”
But the thing that always amazes me about Dalwhinnie is that it’s here, in this incredibly hostile environment, that one of Scotland’s most beautiful single malts is made. Dalwhinnie is known as “the gentle spirit.” Ironically, from one of the harshest environments in the country comes one of the most delicate whiskies in the world. After 15 years of aging in American oak, Dalwhinnie becomes a fragrant, heathery, lightly peated, incredibly appealing single malt.
It’s one that I often recommend to novice whisky drinkers.
“After 15 years, we take out the fire and leave the warmth,” says Donald.
When I visited, the distillery was undergoing its annual check, and I had the rare privilege of seeing one of the copper stills being replaced. Dalwhinnie has two copper stills, and within these giant cauldrons much of the personality of the whisky is formed. Distillers are naturally a little superstitious about replacing the stills, and I’ve heard tales of some distillers who will hammer and knock dents in the new copper to make sure it resembles the old ones in every way. No one’s admitting to such extreme measures at Dalwhinnie, but Donald does admit that they will replace “like for like.” You can be sure too that there’ll be a careful monitoring of this gentle spirit to make sure it loses none of its personality.
At 1,073 feet above sea level, Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland, and the clear snow melt that feeds the distillery comes from a stream (called Allt an t’ Sluic) three or four miles higher up the hill.
You’ll find Dalwhinnie at most specialty wine and spirit stores in Hawaii. It’s a wonderful malt to add to your collection.
All of the activity of the malt is on the nose, where you’ll sense heather and brambles and honey; and on the palate, where a flourish of activity takes place with just the first sip. There’s no real after-taste with Dalwhinnie and certainly none of the lingering smoke or salt you get from other more distinctive characters.
Mostly what you’ll find in this gentle spirit is the warmth and hospitality of the highlands of Scotland - without the wind chill factor.
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