It was to be a product launch like no other – and I am happy to say I witnessed it. I only wish every whisky lover could too.
This week, Dalmore unveiled its incredible single cask Constellation collection and, hosting it where they did, they were certainly reaching for the stars.
On launch afternoon, I found myself at Heathrow Terminal 5’s Sofitel hotel, waiting to be bussed to the Royal Suite, the air-side rooms where royalty await their flights. Now, as a colonial, this was a pretty big deal. Dear Lizzie is probably bigger in my country than she is in the UK – my Canadian grandmother (who has dutifully waved to the queen in times past when she’s visited my hometown) can tell you everything about her history and that scandal with her daughter-in-law, ad nauseum. As such, being permitted to grace this royal space was something I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago.
Upon entering the coveted building, we drank champagne and watched the planes take off just outside the window. A large luggage trolley full of Selfridges bags was being rolled past, ready to be loaded onto a private jet which landed soon after. Surreal indeed.
But, the day was all about the whisky and what a stunner that was.
Moving into a plushly regal, grey and purple waiting lounge next door, Richard Paterson – the famed Dalmore master blender – awaited us, while four bottles of the collection sat chic and shiny on pedestals surrounding the seating area.
The collection, he revealed, has been 10 years in the making – from particular cask selection to meticulously regulated finishing, such as is seen in the 1966 release, which was aged in bourbon barrels until 2002, when it was moved to a matuselam Olorosso sherry butt, before heading back to a distillery run bourbon barrel in 2008 for final infiltrations of oak.
The 21 bottles (yes, 21 new vintages from 1964-1992 are being released to the market) are a work of art in themselves; and, at a collective price tag of £158,000, nearly as pricey as one.
So, as the building shuddered and vibrated from the overhead jets, we raised our glasses and toasted the new collection, one dram at a time, starting with the 1973 release. This whisky was filled into French oak cabernet sauvignon casks after 31 years in American white oak. It rested there until 2008 when it was re-homed in a small batch, Kentucky bourbon barrel. It has been bottled at 48.1%.
On the nose, I got a bouquet of honeycomb, burnt toffee, plum and apple blossom, while the rich mouthfeel hinted of strawberry, sugared smoke, light lime, burnt pineapple and chewy oak. A real stunner to get the palate in action.
Moving on, we went forward in time to December 1992, when the next release was first casked. This whisky spent its first decade in American white oak, before being transferred in 2002 to a European oak port pipe. This powerhouse has been bottled at 53.8% and has a beautiful amber hue.
On the nose, I picked up melon, butter, fresh-blooming spring flowers (which I couldn’t quite pin down), while the mouth was all sea salt and spicy chocolate dipped ginger for me.
After a bit of ’90s pizazz, it was straight back to the swinging ’60s for our next dram. Amazingly, on the day this whisky was filled into its American oak barrel – 29 October, 1969 – the first message was sent by Professor Leonard Kleinrock over the ARPANET (also known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which was the precursor to the Internet. Who knew how things would change between that day and the day we sampled the dram at Heathrow airport. Incredible to think about, really.
Nostalgia aside, this 45% dram was my favourite of the day. On the nose, I immediately got big, delectable whiffs of marzipan, candied orange and pineapple and black pepper, while on the palate, I picked up hints of lavender, lemon rosemary, soya and plum. It was slightly drying on the top of the palate but had so much going on, it was incredible.
Finally, we were presented with the pièce de résistance, the 1964 Dalmore. At £20,000 a bottle, it is by far the most expensive whisky to have passed my lips. This baby spent 44 years in American oak before finishing in an Olorosso sherry butt for four years.
On the nose, I got hints of hazlenuts, jasmine, hayfields and a fresh box of mandarin oranges (like the ones I used to get wrapped in green paper as a child at Christmas). The mouth was rich and sweet, with bites of cinnamon, coffee and dark wood.
By the time I’d finished these four drams, I was firmly cemented in whisky heaven, wishing I could continue through the other 17 of this masterful collection. The plan for Dalmore is to release around 20,000 bottles, comprising a new collection of 4,000 bottles like this every year for the next five, making an astronomical mark on the industry – price wise and star wise.
The bottles will be available for purchase exclusively from Heathrow Terminal 5 for the first month – a big nod in favour of World Duty Free and BAA, which owns the airport. And, in the Olympic year when all the stars of the sporting world will be gracing Heathrow’s tarmacs, it’s a great opportunity to showcase some incredible whiskies, which are all packaged in exactly the same alluring purple and silver boxes – royalty runs deep through this, there’s no doubt.
As we departed, I was immediately filled with a desire to do it all again but feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to sample these delights.