November 19, 2012

Dalmore 12 Year - Don't let my good looks fool you!

Darker is better, except when they're cheating...  

The Dalmore Distillery as we picture it
(actually from the animated Hobbit movie...)
The Dalmore
We'd love to love The Dalmore.  They have a very Lord of the Rings meets whisky thing going on.  The distillery was started by The Clan Mackenzie in 1839.  Their family crest, featuring the antlers of the Royal Stag, no doubt survived untold splendors of battle, face painting, and general Mel Gibson-esque Scottishness.  They lived on The Black Isle, by the waters of Loch Marle, near the shores of the Firth of Cromarty.  All really cool sounding places for a kick ass whisky to come from.

On Melted Sugar, Coloring, E150, and the breaking of hearts
There is a big scandal right now in the world of whisky about the use of caramel in scotch.  The beautiful dark amber color that we've come to associate with some of our favorite whiskies originally came from their time spent maturing in various types of wood barrels.  The liquor would pick up the color of the casks along with the woody flavor of oak.  Many whiskies would then be further matured in old wine barrels - sherry, port, bordeaux, sauternes - and would pick up the reddish hues and rich berry flavors of decades of ripe grapes.  So a general rule of thumb was: the darker the whisky, the more years of aged barrel goodness.

Along with the mass production of whisky came inconsistencies in the resulting color of the barrel aging process.  In order to maintain a standard look and feel, many producers began using E150 - a natural color additive made from caramel.  Even some of our favorite whiskies (Lagavulin, Bowmore, Bruichladdich) have admitted to using caramel coloring for color consistency.  While this is somewhat shocking, we believe that our heros use this ingredient not to substantially alter the color of the whisky, only to balance different batches with slight variations.

On the other hand, it is suspected that some brands have used E150 to radically darken the color of their whisky to simulate the mature, aged look of the classics.

The Review
Pouring a glass of Dalmore 12-year, you will be struck by its deep dark color.  Your spidey-senses tingling, hopefully expecting a delicious smoky beast, you'll raise the glass to your nose.  Get ready for a surprise.  There will be none of the smokey aroma that you expect.  None of the oak.  None of the port wine or sherry overtones.  None of the richness and allure that should come with a naturally dark malt.

The taste of Dalmore confirms it.  This is not a bad whisky, but it's a disappointing one.  Its taste is a little too sharp and alcoholic, with little balance and depth.  It has a medicinal finish with a sour aftertaste.  It's not terrible.  It's pretty smooth.  It's not Johnny Walker Red.  It's still drinkable.  But at $44.99 from, we give this scotch a C-.

There are so many better malts to choose from at this price, you will seldom go wrong with any other single malt from Islay or the Highlands.  For something mainstream and fool proof: Glenmorangie, Glenrothes, and Glengoyne, all offer superior bottles for under $50.  For the more intense and daring bottles, Laphroaig, Bowmore, and Bunnahabhain are all great choices.

It unfortunate that we can't rank The Dalmore as one of our righteous smoky beasts.  Perhaps it's because the small Shire-like distillery was acquired by a giant corporate conglomerate in India.  Perhaps it's because they thought they could use coloring to make up for flavor. it's impossible to know, but we'd recommend not spending a lot of time trying to find out.

Comparisons to other bottlings
Dalmore offers an 18-year for around $150/bottle and a "King Alexander III" bottle (supposedly a mix of casks between 16 and 22 years including Sherry, Port, Cabernet, and Bourbon-aged casks) for around $200/bottle.  KLWines also offers some outrageous 40- and 50-year bottlings at over $1,000 and even over $3,000 per bottle.  The 12 year was our first entre into Dalmore, and honestly we're not running out to pick up the pricier vintages.  However, we do believe in second chances, and will take our next opportunity to sample another variety and let you know how it pans out.