I have a lot of fondness for Dalwhinnie. Back in 2008, when I first started on my whisky journey, the Dalwhinnie 15 was the first bottle I ever bought.
I’d visited Milroy’s of Soho in London a couple of months before for a whisky tasting and it was there that my love of whisky first took root, as I’ve mentioned before on this site. When I went back and timidly asked the shopkeeper what he would recommend me to buy, he gave me a taste of a few and it was the Dalwhinnie that stood out: rich, fairly sweet, clean and not peated (for then I hated peat in whisky). It was my perfect kind of dram. I remember feeling very ‘grown up’, very indulgent getting myself something so expensive to drink.
Since that time more than seven years ago, I’ve drifted away from the distillery’s whisky – having quickly realised there were thousands more out there to try, I got distracted and it rather unfairly got lost in the “whiskies I really enjoyed in my past” pile.
Despite not having much of it, the sheer fact it was my first ever bottle immediately unearths happy memories of it. Dalwhinnie helped me on my whisky journey when I most needed it: at the crucial stage when I could have become a one-off buyer of the water of life, never to purchase again. Instead, I’ve of course ended up on a much more fruitful and fascinating adventure.
As such, my curiosity was naturally piqued when I heard about Dalwhinnie’s new release: Winter’s Gold. I can’t, necessarily, say it was piqued in a good way. Over the past couple of years, more and more fancifully named whiskies have been hitting the market, some of them good, some of them not. And while I’ve been a staunch supporter of trying whiskies before judging them, my Spidey sense was tingling when I read: “The suggested serve of Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold is frozen.”
Frozen? A single malt? This had me intrigued.
As background, this is not the first whisky to have a serving suggestion of this type but it’s the first I know of for a single malt. Johnnie Walker Gold, for instance, and Famous Grouse Snow Grouse also made the same recommendation. Putting alcohol in the freezer does a couple of things: it helps to mask the ‘alcohol’ burn (hence why vodka is often shown being served straight from the freezer) and it makes liquid more unctuous, both of which can be appealing for stronger serves. My favourite martini is the Vesper over at Duke’s in St James’s, and all of the alcohol the team uses for its creation comes straight from the freezer (as does the glass). It’s thick, oily, rich – a most indulgent drink. But I can’t say I’ve tended towards serving my whisky this way.
I was also slightly suspicious of the release which has distillery manager Bruce Mackenzie stating: “Distilled in the depths of winter at the highest distillery in the UK, Winter’s Gold honours the influence that cold has on Dalwhinnie. Our master blender, Dr. Craig Wilson, only selects casks laid during Scottish winter months to create a golden, rich single malt whisky.”
Now, I know Dalwhinnie is one of the highest distilleries in Scotland (there is debate as to whether it actually holds that accolade) but I can’t say I was entirely won over by the concept that the whisky laid down during winter months is going to have any impact on the final whisky in a bottle. There’s also no mention if the whisky itself is chill-filtered, which is often considered a key influence on changing the mouthfeel of a whisky because it tends to strip out things like fatty acids that make the whisky go cloudy when going cold. If you’re aiming to increase that rich texture by freezing it, I wonder if simply selling a non-chill filtered version would get you partway there?
All that aside, as per usual I wanted my nose and tastebuds to do the judging. And, I have to say I was impressed. Served straight from the freezer, it was delicious: rich, oily, with just a perfect amount of sweetness balanced with a drier edge at the back of the palate. The freezing hadn’t taken away from the notes on the nose either, which was a concern of mine. There was no trace of the 43% abv, but it was still floral, fresh and appealing. It felt bolder than I recall the Dalwhinnie 15 being and I was drawn back to glass easily. Unfortunately, I do not have any Dalwhinnie 15 to hand to try it side by side, but as soon as I get some I’ll be sure to update this blog.
Despite my queries about the brand’s marketing, I am glad to say that the whisky itself is enjoyable. Still, like many other Diageo releases from its ‘Classic Malts’ distilleries, it’s being priced in higher than the main market release. Dalwhinnie 15 still sits at around £33 whereas this will be going into shops come September for £38. This was the same tactic taken for Talisker’s Skye release back in March, which is more costly than a long-time favourite of mine, Talisker 10. While no one has said that the age-statement releases are disappearing anytime soon, I can’t help but wonder if these are the beginning of a more permanent change to long-standing ranges. Only time will tell. And in the interim, both my nose and palate thoroughly enjoyed Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold, which is a rather major point to make.