Dalmore is a distillery that is located in the northern Highland town of Alness. It is one of two whisky distilleries in the town, with the lesser known Teaninich being the other. Dalmore was founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson and is currently owned by the famous whisky name of Whyte & Mackay, which is now a subsidiary of the Indian owned company United Spirits. United Spirits took over in 2007 and have since re-branded the Dalmore whisky range and packaging. They have also recently done this to the two other Whyte & Mackay single malts – Jura and Fettercairn. Dalmore has an annual production capacity of around four million litres and has long been renowned for their use of sherry casks to mature their whiskies.
Recently, we were delighted to be invited to the London launch of Dalmore's new premium whisky - the 45 years old Aurora. The event was held The Wonder Bar in the iconic Selfridge's department store on Oxford Street and was hosted by Richard Paterson - the irrepressible veteran Master Blender for Whyte & Mackay, with an amazing 40 years service under his belt. Things were started with an informal whisky and chocolate matching exercise, involving the Gran Reserva, 12, 15 and 18 years old Dalmore expressions. We then moved on to the introduction of the new Aurora, which is to be released at the end of October. It is named after the Aurora Borealis, a natural phenomenon also known as the Northern Lights or 'Dance of the Spirits'. This whisky was put in to a cask (an Oloroso sherry butt to be precise) on 29 April 1964 and having sat in a warehouse for 46 years was recently selected for this special bottling. There are to be only 200 bottles released at 45% ABV, with each one costing £3500.
Our tasting notes
The colour of the Aurora is a dark amber with a reddish hue. The nose has much evidence of age and notes that fight for your attention - there is a heavy orange zest character (think of marmalade), caramel, dark dried fruits (imagine sultanas and prunes), nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), plenty of wood spice, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, dusty bookshelves and waxy furniture polish. On the palate, this is rich, intense and complex with the orange marmalade and wood spice notes from the nose particularly prominent to start with. The combination is reminiscent of spiced oranges. Through comes a lot of oak and the waxy polish - this makes you think of old furniture. Sweeter notes also start to reveal themselves with time and these include intense caramel, milk chocolate and dark dried fruits (the raisins and prunes again, plus some candied peel). Finally, some further bitter notes appear - espresso coffee, a whiff of cigar smoke, burnt sugar and a hint of liquorice. The finish is long and dry with plenty of the dried fruits and wood spices present. It becomes very woody and increasingly tannic as time goes on, before fading to leave a hint of the aforementioned coffee and tobacco smoke.
What's the verdict?
The Dalmore Aurora is one of the oldest whiskies that we have ever tasted, so this makes it hard to compare with anything. It is an intense and powerful whisky that reveals a softer and more delicate side with some work, patience and time. The increased length of time spent in a sherry cask has led to a number of the younger Dalmore characteristics - dried fruit, caramel, wood spices - becoming more exaggerated. This makes the whisky very interesting, as other elements that only appear with increased aging in a cask - coffee, chocolate, wax polish etc - also appear to create an amazing complexity and richness. This may be too much for some, as will the price tag and availability!