Drinking Scotch with The Dalmore’s Richard Paterson

After spending some time with Tom Bulleit yesterday, I moved on to lunch with another whiskey world celebrity, Richad Paterson of Whyte & Mackay, which produces The Dalmore line of single malt Scotch whiskys, among other spirits.

Paterson is serious about his passion and is renowned for his olfactory skills: At one point, the author of the book Goodness Nose had his nose insured for 7 million British pounds.

Paterson walked myself and a few other writers through The Dalmore’s current lineup (sans the 40- and 50-year-old expressions, but plus a couple of surprises), offering insight into this Highland malt, which was established in 1839.

Favorite highlight: Paterson’s suggested method for drinking Scotch. In his words: Drink a sip of coffee, take a bite of chocolate, then nose and taste your Scotch. Preferably enjoy all of this with a good cigar. Decadent? You be the judge.

Thoughts on all expressions tasted follow.

Dalmore 12 Years Old – This is a great entry to the house style of Dalmore, which focuses on an often huge, orange citrus character as the backbone of the spirit. Most of its whiskys are finished in sherry barrels — this one for about three years — and sherry is another common theme with the brand. With virtually no peat (and what peat is used is of a different type, which produces very little smokiness), this is a wonderfully light and fruity malt, perfect for everyday drinking and at a great price, too. 80 proof. A- / $40

Dalmore Gran Reserva – Formerly “Dalmore Cigar Malt,” this expression has been rebranded for a population which may not in fact smoke. Paterson doesn’t like the change, but the spirit inside is the same, a larger, oakier style that spends between 10 and 14 years in barrels, with more time in sherry butts. Take the 12 year and drop more wood character into it, giving it a bit of smoke, and some vanilla and cocoa, and you’ve got Gran Reserva. I slightly prefer it to the 12. 80 proof. A- / $60

Dalmore 15 Years Old – Uses casks that contained three different styles of sherry to finish the spirit, giving it an overpowering sherry and intense orange oil character. Touches of medicinal notes here. Lovely but more of a malt to pair with a dessert, I think. B+ / $75

Dalmore Mackenzie – Just launched this week in the U.S., this 14-year-old Scotch spends a whopping 7 years in old Port barrels, giving it an intense plum and cherry character that is simply gorgeous. Paterson didn’t have much to share but I loved what I tasted and am dying for more. 92 proof. 3,000 bottles released. A / $TBD

Dalmore King Alexander III – A 20 year malt that is finished in six different types of barrels: Port, Madeira, Marsala, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bourbon, and Sherry. Unimaginably complex, it’s got loads of wine-like characteristics (surprisingly that cabernet character is prominent), plus chocolate notes. Yet that citrus house style still comes through. Slightly tough finish, though, which is a surprise for a spirit this old. 80 proof. B+ / $225

Dalmore Selene 1951 – OK, there’s a story here. Selene is a 58-year-old Scotch and, as you can imagine, very very rare. In fact, Dalmore made 30 bottles of it, that’s it. Paterson started talking about it reverentially and I, being an ass, held out my glass for a sample, mostly as a joke. Much to my surprise, Paterson dipped into his bag of tricks and produced a tiny vial of whisky: Selene 1951. I was shocked further when he poured half of that vial into my glass. I passed it around the table so everyone could inhale its vapors, but the taste was all mine — alas, it was so little that the moment was fleeting, to say the least. Still, the intense incense, marmalade, and leather character came through (especially on the nose), all braced with a hefty orange backbone. Many thanks to Richard for sharing such a rarity with me — certainly the rarest and most expensive liquid I’ve ever touched to my lips. 88 proof. A / $15,000


Tasting Report: Delamain Cognac Guided Tasting

All hail the House of Delamain.

I reviewed much of Delamain’s exceptional cognac line earlier in the summer. This week, the company’s Managing Director Charles Braastad took the time to guide me and a handful of other wine and spirits writers through his company’s offerings. This tiny cognac producer makes some amazing products: The youngest of its products are about 20 to 25 years old. Your typical XO cognac need only be six years old, and the vast majority of cognacs – VS and VSOP — are aged less than that. Delamain ignores at least 90 percent of the market and aims exclusively at the top tier.

We tasted six of Delamain’s products, including the four I wrote about earlier.

My notes and ratings were very similar as they we were back then, although this time we were tasting over lunch (and one wouldn’t normally drink cognac with a vinegar-laced salad dressing), and the presence of some 50 glasses of cognac around the room certainly led to some heady aromas in the air… all of which really made you want to drink cognac, immediately and often.

I rated the Pale & Dry XO an A- this time out, really enjoying its oily honey- and vanilla-laced flavors as an aperitif. Ditto the A- for the much different and far richer Vesper, which has more wood and smoke and is more of a bruiser than the XO. Again I felt the Tres Venerable (B+ this time) was potentially too long in the cask, with a pronounced bite and an intense woodiness that was almost overpowering in its earthiness. And, yes, once again Extra de Grande Champagne (pictured) was my runaway favorite (again an A), a candy-coated cognac full of gingerbread flavor, apples, cinnamon, and other complex spices. Extra reminds me of Christmas — like a movie Christmas, not the crappy one you really had as a kid.

Two cognacs I’d not yet tried were also on tap. The first is Delamain’s Reserve de la Famille, which had previously been held only for family members and visiting guests. Unlike the others in the line, it is not a blend, but a single-barrel cognac that has been aged (roughly 60 years) to the point where the alcohol has naturally dropped to 86 proof. (Diluted cognac is slowly added to all the other blends to bring them down to 80 proof.) As with many single-barrel spirits, the subtlety and smoothness is absent here, and the spirit is less balanced than Delamain’s blends. But it was surprisingly mellow considering its origins, though the higher alcohol level gave it a bit too much heat. At $599 it’s a bit hard to justify over the $399 Extra, but I liked it well enough to rate it a B+.

Last and certainly not least is Le Voyage, which is, hands down, the most expensive spirit I’ve ever sampled. One bottle (and only 500 were made) costs $7,000, which includes the Baccarat decanter and leather carrying case (see photo below). Braastad noted that most of the bottles sold to date (about 250) had been sent to Moscow and Dubai. How does it taste? Le Voyage is meant to inspire you to think of a voyage, “a series of global subtle sensations” that include Russian leather, tropical musk, American tobacco, African coffee, Far Eastern spices, and of course the Grande Champagne fruit. It is a complex blend (bottled at 84 proof) and, while I didn’t pick out any Russian leather, the notes of tobacco and smoke are palpable. There’s a little heat here again, and the spirit really packs a punch, but I’d certainly give a lot to sample the stuff one more time. Alas, three modest sips had drained it away. Sigh. For $7,000, you’d have to have mad oil money to afford it, of course. Putting the price aside (which you have to to even consider something at this level), I rate it a solid A-.

Thanks again to Delamain and Charles for an insightful, educational two hours.