How High Can You Get? The Highlands “Classic Malt”

Diageo sure knows marketing, and the six “Classic Malts” were meant to display the six whisky making regions of Scotland and to draw visitors, and awareness, for the distilleries. However, Diageo lacks a presence in Campbeltown, so Oban – a Western coastal Highlands distillery 140 km (86 miles) away- got the nod to represent “the sixth region”. For its highland malt, Diageo chose Dalwhinnie, one must suspect for its strategic location aside the highway from Perth to Inverness as much as for its intrinsic qualities as a malt.

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Nevertheless, the brand is the sixth overall best seller in the Diageo single malts portfolio (outperformed by Cardhu, Talisker, Lagavulin, Singleton of Glen Ord and Singleton of Dufftown), but plays an important role as the signature malt for the Buchanan’s blend, selling about 20 million bottles annually, the number three best selling scotch in the Diageo portfolio, after Johnny Walker and J&B.

The distillery style is very full bodied and rather sulfuric achieved through the use of straight onion shaped stills and a rapid cooling system, designed to lower copper contact to a minimum. This also explains why it’s bottled at 15 years, and not sooner. I have reviewed a 12 year old Mortlach, and commented on the missing years of maturation, and I assume a young Dalwhinnie would pull the same reactions from drinkers.

One curiosity about Dalwhinnie is that it’s the second highest distillery in Scotland and one of the coldest in the whole of the UK, clocking in at 327 meters (almost 1100 feet), second only to Braeval. Besides being a distillery, it also serves as an official weather station, the distillery manager is required to take readings from the station and pass them on the Met officials. I’d recommend doing that before venturing into the warehouse 🙂

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Dalwhinnie 15 (43% ABV)

Appearance: Gold, very slow forming legs.

Nose: Fresh cut green leaves, malt, nuts, light spices, manuka honey, fresh hay, faint wine and a light sulfuric note and some vinegar.

Palate: Very full bodied with earthy notes. Then nuts and spices appear, mostly pepper and allspice.

Linger: Short and nutty in the mouth, with a little more of a linger in the throat that comes through as spicy. The overall linger left over is of mouthdrying wet earth.


While this expression will never make it into my “must have” list, it’s an interesting comparison to the very full bodied Mortlach (the Dailuaine is supposed to be similar, but I never tasted it).



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