In the heart of the Scottish Highlands, beside the picturesque shores of the Cromarty Firth, is The Dalmore, a distillery I have driven past numerous times on my way to, or from, Speyside, but have been unable to visit, as timings simply have not worked out. When I received an invitation from them to come to Scotland and sample a new release, I thought this would be my chance. It turns out it wasn’t, it was in may way even better – an opportunity to visit the V&A in Dundee, with whom they have partnered for the release. The distillery has existed for 180 years, so can happily wait for another opportunity.

Founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson, a trader in the Far East, The Dalmore was built on the banks of the Cromarty Firth, harnessing the pure waters of the River Alness. The location was strategically chosen for its access to this clean water, and proximity to barley fields. This estuary is recognised for its rich biodiversity. It is home to a wide variety of bird species, marine life, and flora, making it an area of significant ecological importance. The Cromarty Firth is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA), and a Ramsar site. It played an important part in the development of the Scottish Highlands. Historically, it was a hub for trade and naval activity, with its deep waters allowing ships to navigate easily. This strategic advantage was recognised as early as the Viking era and continued through the centuries with the firth playing a role in both World Wars as a naval anchorage.

Matheson’s vision was to create a distillery that could produce whisky of unparalleled quality. However, it was under the stewardship of the Mackenzie family, who took over in 1867, that The Dalmore began to gain status. The Mackenzie family introduced the iconic 12-pointed Royal Stag emblem, a symbol derived from a historic act of bravery by one of their ancestors in 1263. This emblem, which is on every bottle of The Dalmore, symbolises the distillery’s commitment to excellence and the rich history that underpins its operations. Under the Mackenzies, The Dalmore became known for using sherry cask maturation in the late 19th century.

Throughout its history, The Dalmore has been at the forefront of innovation in what is traditionally a slow-moving industry. It was among the first distilleries to experiment with different types of wood for ageing, using sherry casks from the renowned bodegas of Jerez, Spain. Today, innovation is slower as rules and regulations have to be abided by, meaning great emphasis is put on the finishes of individual whiskies. What the distilleries can do though, is collaborate with organisations outside of the whisky world, and in the Dalmore’s case, help raise money for them. To this extent, two new whiskies have been added to ‘The Dalmore Luminary Series’ in a joint effort with V&A Dundee, marking the second instalment of the series that merges expertise from the whisky and architectural design worlds.

I was able to attend the launch of them last week at the V&A in Dundee. The most exclusive expression, called ‘The Rare’ is 49 years old and looks stunning. It is presented in a beautiful glass sculpture by Melodie Leung from Zaha Hadid Architects. Only 3 bottles are being released, and one will be sold at a Sotheby’s auction in May 2024, with all the proceeds going to V&A Dundee. I expect this to reach a high hammer price given how it is a piece of art. To me, it represented in way how whisky looks in slow motion when swirled around a glass. It was a spectacular sight set against the music and light show at the V&A.

The Rare has been matured in American White Oak ex-Bourbon casks and finished in a blend of Port Colheita 1963, Apostoles sherry, select Bourbon and a unique 1951/Virgin Oak hybrid cask. I wasn’t able to taste this, but The Dalmore has said that it “offers layers of intense vanilla, dark berry fruit and cacao aromas, with a palate of freshly roasted chestnuts, blackcurrant, Doyenne pears and soft patisserie spices leading to a subtle, sweet smoke finish”

On a more affordable level, “The Collectible” is a release of 20,000 bottles, which will come in a presentation case inspired by ‘The Rare’ sculpture. It has been matured in Bourbon casks and finished in a blend of Graham’s Tawny Port pipes and Apostoles sherry casks, with a small portion in peated, hand-selected, ex-refill Bourbon casks. It will be available at the beginning of April for £275. This was created, as was “The Rare” by Gregg Glass, the Master Whisky maker and Richard Paterson OBE, the Master Distiller.

I was fortunate to taste this and found it to be delicious. The peat was subtle so it did not interfere with the fruit, but complement it. It had layers of flavour reminiscent of a comforting creme brulee with hints of caramelised orange peel. There was also a delicate spice running through with a cereal note. I was happy to learn that neither has been non-chill filtered or had colour added to them, allowing tasting of The Dalmore in its natural form.

One of the bottles will be displayed at the V&A for all to see, and I encourage you to view it in person. We were able to get a direct flight from Heathrow to Dundee, with the V&A just a couple of minutes away. The Malmaison Hotel is so close it is faster to walk than to order a taxi.

The Dalmore

If you enjoyed reading this article you may also enjoy my piece on the Glenturret Prowess.