Tasting the single malt with the stag’s head on the bottle.
Bourbon and rye have made some tremendous leaps in reputation in the last ten years or so, and while there are many who will always hold the whiskies of Ireland closest to their heart (perhaps in a flask), it would be difficult to argue that there is a more highly-regarded form of whisky out there than Scotland’s most famous liquor.
You could spend a lifetime developing your appreciation and knowledge for Scotch. Many have. But to do that you need to get started, and there’s the kicker – Scotch is such high-variance liquor that it can be frightening, baffling, and intimidating to newcomers. Grab the wrong bottle, for example, and your first sip is going to wallop you with smoky peat flavors for which most people require time and effort to develop a taste. This effect has scared off more than one neophyte.
So, enter The Dalmore. Like most Scottish distilleries, they have a wide range of products, many of them reaching into bank-breaking price ranges. That’s why we’re focusing on their 12 Year offering. Here we have a not-quite-entry-level single malt that’s both affordable and not too aggressive (want more information on Scotch and its designations? Check out our introduction here). It’s aged in American white oak bourbon barrels and Spanish sherry casks, and it pours a lovely mahogany-gold.
I’ve been lucky enough to procure a bottle, and I’ll share my thoughts with you here.
As expected, there’s zero smokiness to be found in the nose – it’s all deep, sweet scents. The Dalmore literature says I should smell orange marmalade in here … but I don’t. What I do get is quite a bit of maple syrup and raisin, with a general spiciness and a distinct hint of milk chocolate at the back. There’s a distinct alcohol note, and I suspect their 15 year and older offerings are a bit more subtle in that department.
Once you’ve enjoyed the scent of your scotch for a while, it’s time to move on to the taste. I’ve tried several preparations. Here’s what I found.
New to Scotch?
Check out our Introduction to Scotch, which will have you understanding what you’re drinking in no time.
The Dalmore 12 Year greets you with an aggressive sweetness up front as it hits your tongue. This spreads out into a long, pronounced alcohol burn that spreads to coat your entire mouth. There’s a touch of spiciness here, and a decent hit of citrus, followed by a little caramel. The long, lingering finish has some coffee notes and lots of oak character – it gives that tannic sensation of your mouth drying out that you find with many red wines.
Adding a bit of filtered water or spring water often helps whiskies “open up” or bloom, and The Dalmore is no exception. The water tones down the aggressive sweetness and helps cut some of the alcohol burn, though the latter is still present and accounted for. The notes of citrus are still very prominent, but I’m having a hard time finding the “sweet vanilla pod” their literature suggests. I was hoping some of the milk chocolate from the nose would be present in the taste, but if it’s there, my palate can’t discern it.
The Dalmore 12 Year is a drinkable, smoke-free, and relatively smooth scotch whisky available at a reasonable price (around $48 per bottle). It compares well with, though is distinctly different than, both Glenfiddich 12 Year and Glenlivet 12 Year. I don’t like it as much as I like Oban’s 14 year offering, another non-smoky scotch that’s readily available, but a bottle of Oban 14 will set you back closer to $70. The Dalmore is a fine, cost-conscious choice. How to determine if it’s right for you? I recommend finding a bar with a good selection of Scotches and selecting a flight of three or four 12 years in order to find one you like. The Dalmore might just be that one.