A Dram Come True

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Image from The Whiskey Exchange

Whisky* fascinates me – it’s produced by many cultures across the world. There’s bourbon in the Southern United States, Irish whiskey, Canadian whisky* and of course scotch. While some might argue the differences are largely geographic, there are some distinct differences in ingredients and distilling procedures. This phenomenon is especially true in the context of Scotch whisky – even within a region, the flavours often differ so much that they can hardly be considered the same thing.

Take the Singleton of Glen Ord, on the edge of the region known as the “Black Isle”. The packaging might look familiar to Canadian scotch-drinkers – the label is almost identical to the Singleton of Dufftown, save the change in name. This one is exported solely to Asia, and is a smooth and balanced single malt. I was however quite disappointed to learn that Glen Ord did not peat their malt, though they have in the past. “Peated” means the malted barley has been dried over a peat fire, adding a distinctive smoky flavour to the resulting whisky that endures all stages of distillation and maturation. This however, makes the resulting product strikingly different from other varieties.

DSC07657Glen Ord matures half of the whisky is aged in bourbon casks, the other half in sherry casks. The two are blended at the end. It should be noted that the volume of whisky will decrease during ageing by about 2% per year, but can be higher in warmer, drier continents. This fraction of alcohol which evaporates from the casks during maturation is known as the “Angel’s Share”. Scotch must be aged a minimum of three years in the barrel, though most producers choose to age longer.

My only complaint with modern distillery tours is the lack of interaction. Yes you have a knowledgeable tour guide and have the opportunity to taste the wares, but you can’t get very close to the equipment in any stage past the mash. Neither are you allowed to take pictures due to the high concentration of volatiles in the air. This is consistent with most other operational distilleries.

The distinctive pagoda roof of a distillery seen at Dallas Dhu, designed to vent the heat of the stills.
The distinctive pagoda roof seen at the Dallas Dhu distillery, designed to vent the heat of the stills.

Not so at Dallas Dhu, a historical distillery dating back to the Victorian era located South-east of Forres in the Speyside region. This one we stumbled upon by accident while we were searching for Randolph’s Leap. Not only were we able to get up nice and close to the equipment, we were able to document our findings in photographs. Another stark contrast between the two distilleries is the difference in technologies used. While Dallas Dhu installed various mannequins around the premises to illustrate how tasks were done by hand, these procedures are automated in most distilleries today.

The Dallas Dhu was operational between 1899 and 1983, and is named for the Gaelic words for “Black Water Valley”. Currently, the property is owned by Scotland’s Historic Buildings and Monument Directorate. Historic Scotland has operated the property since its establishment in 1992. Here we were able to climb up into the two-storey tower where malt was stored, peer into the mash tun where sugars were fermented, and stand next to the pear-shaped wash still where the beer-like concoction was once transformed into a fiery spirit.

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Big ole’ bags of malted barley.

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We finished the tour sipping a scotch and watching a cheesy video listening to the ghost of Roderick Dhu impart his wisdom like a whisky-bottle genie. What were we drinking if the distillery hasn’t been operational for over 30 years, you might ask? Not the vintage Dallas Dhu – a bottle of the 1982 vintage will cost you a minimum of 200 pounds (which, realistically, isn’t terrible in the world of scotch). This one was the Roderick Dhu blended whisky, which incorporates a small amount (a teaspoon, perhaps?) of the original Dallas Dhu to create a pale, easy-drinking yet gently peated whisky palatable to most. While not my favorite dram of the itinerary, it was a unique addition to our whisky-tasting experience.

*Notice how I spelled this word without an “e”? Both spellings of the word itself has celtic origins, but the word “whisky” is used in Scotland and Canada. “Whiskey” refers to a similar libation in other locations such as Ireland and the United States.

References:

  1. Historic Scotland, Dallas Dhu Distillery. http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/places/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_085
  2. Whisky.com, Dallas Dhu. http://www.whisky.com/whisky-database/distilleries/details/fdb/Distilleries/Details//dallas-dhu.html
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