With that in mind, I should be cured of all ills and in perfect health after this past weekend’s events. Three tastings in 3 nights left me dreaming in amber, smelling peat where there was none and, believe it or not, drinking decidedly un-distilled liquids for most of Sunday.
The first of the three, a Dalmore tasting with the inimitable Richard Paterson, was held at Elixir in San Francisco’s Mission distirct. Elixir’s proprietor, H. Joseph Ehrmann, has done a fantastic job not only restoring this bar, but making sure it serves as classroom for all things spirit-related. Whyte & Mackay’s (and The Dalmore’s by extension) Master Blender, Mr. Paterson held court in the intimate back room, taking us through the history of whisky, the finer points of proper tasting, and four expressions of his Highland malt.
For those that have seen him in full flight before, this isn’t news, but for those that haven’t, Mr. Paterson puts on quite a show. He’s got a fantastic head for history and is storing more dates up there than you can imagine. He gave whisky its historical context in regards to Phylloxera epidemic, which wiped out Europe’s wine trade and really opened the door for Scotch and other spirits, and the American civil war, which heavily influenced the rise of the Campbeltown distilleries .
As educational as Mr. Paterson can be, he’s a lot of fun as well. There was ice and water thrown about as well as stories of slapping larger men than he when they shot expensive drams down in one heedless gulp. He compared Scotch’s regions to women: Speyside being Cindy Crawford in negligee and Islay being the bitches and the vandals that demand respect. Towards the end of the evening, he chose one lucky bastard out of the audience to try the Dalmore 62 Year Old (Check out Zach’s (the lucky bastard) blog Spirit of the Bar for his thoughts), and scared a few years out of him with a behind the back party cracker.
Oh yeah, there was whisky, too! We tasted the following four and were teased mercilessly when he whipped out a bottle of the 1992 Mackenzie just to tell us we were’t tasting that one.
The Dalmore 12 Year Old, aged in American oak and Oloroso, is a big, bright, 12 year with a lot of orange marmalade and caramel vanilla balanced with clean wood. There isn’t a lot of smoke here, but it definitely has that strong Highland feel.
The Dalmore 15 Year Old, aged in Amoroso, Apostoles, and Matusalem sherry butts, has more complex spice notes than the 12, and deeper, more luscious citrus/mandarin notes as well as some faint berry/wine tones. There’s a bit more astringency towards the end as well.
The Dalmore Gran Reserva replaces their lauded Cigar Malt, mostly in name only, and is made up first fill oak casks aged between 10 and 15 years. It has a much drier quality than the 12 or the 15, chocolate and coffee tones join the signature orange and vanilla notes. The Gran Reserva has a reserved, dark, dusky quality to it with a nice touch of smoke at the end.
The Dalmore King Alexander III has been aged in every thing from bourbon casks to French barriques to sherry butts, Madeira casks, port pipes and marsala barrels. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure nothing was aged in pickle barrels. All the time spent with the wine-y wood really comes through here, its a rich and fruity, a little raisin-y, with strong vanilla and interesting cedar-y wood notes.
All four were excellent drams, with the 15 and the King Alexander III really standing out. All in all, it was an great evening and Mr. Paterson an excellent, informative and entertaining host.