The Dalmore is easily one of the most discernible bottlings of single malt scotch whisky. There are several reasons for this, not least because it is one of the most easily readable and pronounceable of the Gaelic named brands, but also due to the instantly recognisable caberfeidh – the silver 12-pointed stag emblazoned on every bottle. The sight of the Royal Stag deer mount immediately evokes romantic mental imagery of wild deer roamin’ in the gloamin’ amidst the sweeping green glens and cold torrents of Celtic waters. Basically everything that you would expect to see on a tin of shortbread. Or, at least, it does for me. What I’m saying is: it is a pretty darn Scottish image.
Another reason behind its legacy is the man (or nose) behind the malt. The inimitable Richard “The Nose” Paterson. The effervescent and rogue-ish persona of the man is known throughout the scotch whisky circles and is backed by his five decades in the business, known primarily for his work as master distiller for Whyte & Mackay / The Dalmore. Not just anyone can put out a 12-bottle series of whiskies that command a price tag just short of £1m!
Far beneath those stratospheric prices however, the Dalmore 12yo is the flagship single malt for the Highlands distillery, within their core range “The Principal Collection“. The Cigar Malt Reserve tasted here is one of the non-age statement entries in that collection. The spirit has been “initially matured in American white oak ex-bourbon casks, with a small proportion remaining in the casks, with the rest being transferred into a combination of Gonzalez Byass sherry casks which have previously contained 30 year old Matusalem oloroso sherry and Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques”.
Why “Cigar Malt”? Well, in the words of The Nose himself “The body, structure, and character of this extraordinary expression is the perfect complement to a fine cigar.”
The whisky is bottled at 44% ABV, and is available for ca. £75-80 per 70cl bottle.
The first smell is a distinctive tobacco leaf smell (which should go without saying… and immediately explains the Cigar Malt angle!) and then there’s a juicy set of sweet flavours, like strawberries, plums, oranges, and peaches. A nice biscuity malt flavour and oak spice bring ginger nut biscuits to mind. The mixture of fruits and a decent little sherry kick also remind me of a boozy trifle.
There’s an immediate taste that reminds me of struck matches. Orange zest and strawberry sweetness then lead the way as this silky soft liquid glides through the mouth. There’s a delicious Christmas pudding medley of flavours in the glass as raisins, figs, dates, and more oranges unfold and are joined by the festive season’s classic spice assortment of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. It ends with a Brazil Nut and dark chocolate combo of nuttiness and bitterness.
The sweetness all tails off with a nice little black pepper fizzle. Nothing overpowering, and that struck match / tobacco leaf flavour leaves the lasting memory.
When I first started to explore single malt whiskies and left the comfort of the big Glens, the bottle that my eyes were instantly drawn to was The Dalmore. That shiny stag has a lot to answer for! The Dalmore in question was the 12yo, and following a good night with some friends whereby we worked through that bottle in a pub, I bought one for myself. That was 10 years ago and I still have the empty bottle. It represents a memory. A fond and fuzzy one.
Off the back of that experience I have built this malt up in my mind for quite some time. The price of it has always put it out of comfortable reach, as I was not sure whether I would enjoy it – not being a cigar smoker and all. So after thinking about it for ages and finally getting my hands on a sample, I’m glad to say that it did not disappoint. I was expecting some big dirty smoke flavours and discernible peat smoke from the name but it does not feature that at all. Instead, the Cigar Malt reference comes from that distinctive sulphur / struck match note and it is an uncanny match for cigars. In fact, the first smells out of the glass reminded me instantly of walking into Turmeaus – a tobacco and whisky specialist in the UK (the Chester branch specifically) where smoking indoors is still legal.
It is something of a poorly kept secret within the whisky world that The Dalmore bottlings can be somewhat caramel heavy. The E150 caramel ensures that the malt can be produced in a uniform but often more saturated colour. This could therefore be perceived to be masking the age and quality of a whisky, should that come into your own decision-making process, but for me it is about the flavour of the drink being drank, the memories they make, and the memories they invoke. Jeff over on JeffWhisky covers this with a good comedy angle here.
Back to the flavours then and beyond that distinctive cigar smoke hint, this malt still delivers those big orange flavours and festive spices that I have come to associate with The Dalmore, and was delicious. Being truly honest, were I to go out and buy a bottle, then it would probably last a while in the cabinet. That’s not to shy away from its quality as I did find it pretty delicious but I just do not think that I could drink too much of it in one sitting. Again, I’m not a smoker, let alone a cigar enthusiast, and as such I would keep the bottle for one-off sittings or nightcaps after a few glasses beforehand. Glad to have ticked it off the wishlist though and I would happily revisit this dram again and again.
Sample disclosure: The sample in the photos was received as part of a promotional tweet tasting event – organised by Steve Rush of @The WhiskyWire with The Dalmore. These notes are intended however as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whisky itself, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.