The Dalmore Gets Ancestral – Again

Making history is something The Dalmore brand does very well. This eclectic distilling complex on the Cromarthy Firth north of Inverness has released such sumptuous, sought-after and eye-wateringly expensive drams over the last five years or so that its imprint on the single malt landscape is certain to remain profound for the foreseeable future.

The latest release from The Dalmore.

The latest release from The Dalmore.

Basking in the mahogany glow of their iconic, ultra-premium, 50yo+ releases, however, has never been master blender Richard Paterson’s style. The cult status afforded by the 64yo, Selene and Trinitas amongst others grants them license to explore and mark their distinguished history. The distillery, in operation since 1839 and under the control of the Mackenzie clan for significant periods since then, has now come to the aid of their ancestral bonds: Castle Leod, seat of the Mackenzies since the early 17th century, is in need of care and attention. The Dalmore Castle Leod is part of the rescue package, with proceeds of the £100 price tag going towards the restoration of the building.

‘I’m honoured that Richard Paterson has created this extraordinary single malt in tribute to Castle Leod, which is both my home and the spiritual home of the Mackenzie clan,’ affirms John Cromartie Caberfeidh of the Mackenzies. ‘The castle is filled with rich heritage and history, but more importantly, it has stood the test of time, and I have no doubt that in years to come The Dalmore’s Castle Leod will equally be recognised as a timeless classic.’

The Dalmore spirit has been aged initially in American oak before an 18-month period finishing in Premier Cru Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from Bordeaux and the producer’s tasting notes are fairly wonderful, promising a deeply enthralling experience: ‘exhilarating romantic notes of Rose de Mai’ on the nose, with ‘flirtation’ promised on the palate together with a ’sensual fusion’ renders this a ‘passionate love affair’. If only my history lectures were quite this fervent. 

There are to be 5000 bottles of the Castle Leod released.

Richard Paterson (L) with John Cromartie Caberfeidh with The Dalmore Castle Leod.

Richard Paterson (L) with John Cromartie Caberfeidh with The Dalmore Castle Leod.

These are fairly exciting times for The Dalmore, as my ringing-round the industry reveals that they are also renovating themselves. The visitor centre and the plant itself is experiencing a thorough overhaul and polish-up at present which, if I am honest, was required to bring the visitor centre into line with some of its other competitors which, in the luxury market, means The Macallan. The former manager’s house was a quaint venue in which to begin the tour, but the fairly cramped and dark conditions did not display the magnificence of the various Dalmores enshrined within.

I’m excited to see how this highly idiosyncratic site is to be opened up: the still house in particular is a ‘jungle-gym’ of copper and piping which cannot very easily be re-shuffled. My sources tell me that, to commerorate this expansion process, there will be a distillery-exclusive single cask released which, I don’t mind telling you, I want very badly indeed.

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It might not have the beauty of Laphroaig, or the commingled majesty of Lagavulin, but it is quite a charming place.

It might not have the beauty of Laphroaig, or the commingled majesty of Lagavulin, but it is quite a charming place.

Craighouse, Isle of Jura, Argyll, PA60 7XT, 01496 820240. Whyte and Mackay.

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      *****      Jura is a gorgeous place. Craighouse is a particularly gorgeous part of Jura. Isle of Jura is a whisky distillery. It’s the law of escalating returns. On the south side of the island, the distillery has palm trees and a lagoon for company. It is full in the face of the Gulf Stream and the juxtaposition of tropical topiary with bleak, barren Highland mountains is quite stunning. I think two of the Paps are visible from the Jura Hotel, and the single track road that vanishes into the hills after Craighouse is a very stirring sight.


‘Standard Tour’: FREE. See ‘My Tour’ below.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      The ‘Boutique Barrels’, a trio of single casks released for Feis Ile 2010 and the expressions will be bottled under this rubric for the next five years. A 1993 Oloroso Sherry (54%) for £75; a 1995 Bourbon (56.5%) for £65, and a 1999 bottling of heavily-peated spirit from a Bourbon cask (55%) for £55.

My Tour – 18/05/2010



Notes:      The distillery you see today is largely the result of a re-build in 1963. In the 19th century, Jura had quite thriving economy and community, but the traditional industries gradually fell away, and so did the distillery. It was salvaged in the 60s in an attempt to revive the fortunes of this little Hebridean isle after the population dropped to below 150. In the olden days of Jura, a heavily-peated spirit, not unlike those produced now in the neighbouring distilleries on Islay, was their trademark. Now they make a lighter, Highland-style malt. For four weeks a year, however, they step back in time and use malt peated to between 55 and 60 ppm. Inside it is a very modern plant, with a large, efficient mash tun manned by a man at a computer screen, stainless steel washbacks and two pairs of stills. All of the malt spirit that will become Jura is matured on-site, any that will head into the Whyte and Mackay blends will most likely be filled on the mainland.Jura Stills

GENEROSITY:      * (Choice of 10YO, 16YO, Prophecy (the heavily-peated expression), and Superstition.)


SCORE:      6/10 *s

COMMENT:      I had to wait for my 11AM tour because there was a load of Dutch sailors expected on the tour. Sure enough, a tall ship appeared in the bay, and a little speed boat shuttled passengers from the ship to the little pier below the distillery. It was very ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. One of their number was a gentleman who organises the Dutch and Belgian whisky festivals, and was performing a running translation into Dutch of our guide’s commentary. The distillery has a very friendly atmosphere and some very unusual distillery smells. The mash tun reminded me of mulled wine and horse riding arenas all at the same time. Our guide was passionate both about the process and about the island, and this kept me largely engaged despite still being woefully fatigued and depressed about reaching a tipping point concerning how many washbacks I can actually look at in the space of a week. When explaining the variability of maturation, she made the point I had never thought of before: wood was once oak, a living organism, and the story and history of that organism must have a bearing on the make-up of the resulting timber. Fascinating. I would have like to have seen some of that timber being put to proper use but there you are. 6,000 visitors passed through the Isle of Jura VC last year, and I don’t think you will be disappointed if you contribute to this year’s statistics. You will certainly fall in love with the island. That I can guarantee.

The Cairngorms meet the Caribbean.

The Cairngorms meet the Caribbean.

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True traditional beauty is on show here and it combines the tamed, fertile east plains with a vista on to the Grampian Highlands.

True traditional beauty is on show here and it combines the tamed, fertile east plains with a vista on to the Grampian Highlands.

Fettercairn, Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire, AB30 1YB, 01561 340205.

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      ****      Despite the inner turmoil I was experiencing at the time, I could not help but be struck by the beauty of the place. The cherry tree was decked out in glorious pink and the daffodil fields were still growing in front of it as I looked from the road in. The hills behind make this a perfect visual aid for the essential marriage at the heart of whisky: wild water and careful cultivation of that key grain.


‘Standard Tour’: £3.50. See ‘My Tour’ below.


My Tour – 16/04/2010



Notes:      On the necks of the wash stills they have little bands of piping filled with cold water to increase reflux. Is this a Whyte & Mackay thing, what with The Dalmore’s water jackets?

GENEROSITY:      * (1 dram)


SCORE:      6/10 *s

COMMENT:      For the second time that day I had a personalised, one-on-one tour. The tour begins with a video (quite an old one) about the local area. It actually illustrates the malting process which might help some of those who can’t quite follow the verbal explanations for the means of converting the starches within an ungerminated barley grain into soluble sugars. Jennifer, a long-serving member of the team, took me round and was a mine of information about the local area. I’m beginning to appreciate on this tour that every corner of Scotland has played a significant part in the creation of the country I see today. The Mearns area, as well as producing excellent barley, also gave Britain a Prime Minister in the form of Gladstone. I learn as we wander through the old maltings that a heavily-peated Fettercairn is due to be bottled soon. This is the official bottling of a single malt produced during the three weeks before the workers’ holidays which has hitherto gone into blends. The distillery is spartan and nicely containd. The warehouse is next, and it’s very atmospheric, some of the scents from maturing malt making their way into our little viewing ante-room. I’m shown a cask to our right with ‘Mr and Mrs Fujii’ written on it. It was laid down in 1984 for their Silver Wedding anniversary in 2009. Sadly, they divorced before the 25 years were up. Custody seems to have gone to Mr Fujii, and it s waiting for his son. The shop is well-stocked with W&M products and there is a singe cask bottling of Fettercairn, too.

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Pitlochry to Braemar

Pitlochry to Kinnaird Castle, 61 miles

As I mentioned in the previous post, my attempts to tour Blair Athol were thwarted. The first I heard about it was when I was shopping for supplies in Robertsons (my kind of grocer: half of shop for fine whisky, the rest for everything else you might need to live on.) It seems their silent season had been brought forward and I’m afraid you won’t be able to tour the distillery until July. The man recommended I head along anyway, because they werew still offering an explanation of the process and a free dram.

I got there but everything was largely shut up. The man in the office said he could call the guides but I didn’t think it was really worth my while to be told about a distillery I was in. I’m all about the showing! The basics are £5 entry, with an exhibition for Bell’s whisky and a dram of the 12YO at the end. 

I headed for Edradour, then, and it is such a beautiful distillery (see tour review below). The sun was out, a fresh breeze was blowing and you feel totally removed from everything. It is your quintessential farm distillery with oodles of character.

That done all I had to do was cover the, as I thought it, 50 miles to Kinnaird Castle outside Brechin, where my aunt is a tenant and had succeeded in securing a room for me in the castle itself which are normally rented out by holiday-makers. So what better motivator was there than great food, my own room and bed, and above all someone familiar?

The route was an exceptionally picturesque one, heading north out of Pitlochry onto seemingly the roof of Perthshire with suitably strained breathing. The sun was strong and ever-present again. I passed many little communities, encountering very few cars. It wasn’t until I joined the road to Blairgowrie that the road deteriorated and the traffic worsened.

My Mum, always with half a mind on my stomach, had found a nice stop on my sparsely-populated course. I pulled up at the Old Cross Inn just within Blairgowrie and as I was getting myself sorted out a man appeared. He asked if he could help and I said I was after a drink and some food. He said that unfortunately the chef was away and the kitchen was closed. Obviously he took pity on my sighs of dismay and generally ragged appearance. “I can put the fryer on and do you a bowl of chips.” It ended up a bowl of chips, a pint of Coke and a cheese and ham toastie. I enjoyed my chat with Liam, for that is his name, just as much. Your hospitality will not be soon forgotten.

So taken was I with the charm of such encounters that upon leaving I neglected to secure my backpack to the rack. A massive honk from a truck behind me told me as much. It was in the middle of the road. Lesson learned, and reflecting on how life is instances of good and bad luck, I carried on to Brechin.

I’d said in my phone call to my aunt that I’d arrive by 5PM. Kirriemuir only just went by at 4.45PM. The road out of Forfar, connecting with the one to Montrose and Brechin, seemed to go on forever. 55 miles came and went on my odometer. I began to notice familiar views, however, and I took the turn off to Farnell knowing I was home.

The food was extraordinary, the room palatial and the bath lovely and hot. The company, though, was what I began pining for even before I left the next morning.


Kinnaird Castle to Fettercairn, 15 miles

A very necessary shorter day, this one. Had the itinerary been any more severe, I might not have left at all. Why leave such comfort for more stress, exhaustion and strangeness? I didn’t answer this inward enquiry, just saddled up and left.

Before Glencadam which my aunt had arranged for me, I wanted to check my brakes. The descent into Pitlochry the day before had reminded me that brakes wear out, and having that happen coming down a Cairngorm would not be advantageous. The man in Tayside Cycles reassured me that they had bags of life left.

After my Glencadam tour (see below) it was a very short – and pleasant – ride to Fettercairn. I had been promised by my Dad, who works in Aberdeen and stays in Fettercairn when he does so, that the treatment to be had with Mike and Denise at Kishmul, my B&B for the night, was second to none. The road on which it sits was divine, and the atmosphere of the place so very tranquil. I’d already got some excellent photos of the distillery against the mountains and the daffodil crops but went for a walk to get a closer look.

I had my lunch beneath a majestic monkey puzzle tree, watching the light breeze tickle the early cherry blossom on the tree just in the distillery yard. After a cup of tea and some carrot cake at ‘the arch’ (no capital letter), and asking at the Ramsey Arms for public computer access (no chance) I returned to the distillery for my tour. For the second time that day I was accompanied solely by the guide and what a nice tour it was. Being part of the same group as the wonderful Dalmore made the trip to the shop especially interesting. I shall post up my review of the tour later.

After dinner at the Ramsey Arms (super scrummy) I retired for the night, but not before checking out my route to Aviemore on my maps. I knew that the following three days would be tough, and that if I survived them then my continuation of the tour would be with some momentum, the worst being, for now, over. Obviously those three days which had troubled me so greatly in mental preparation will now look very different. The first of them, however, went ahead (almost) as planned.


Fettercairn to Braemar, 54 miles

Denise, as promised, set me up as best she could with a stonkingly excellent breakfast. I’m not sure that’s an official adverb but it ought to be when associated with that kind of food. She had also taken my request for a packed lunch (just a couple of sandwiches) and gone to whole new levels of accommodation. There were three sandwiches, a banana, apple and two chocolate bars. Without such a sack of vittels, I don’t think I would have made it.

Cairn o’ Mount is a famous hill in the area, often closed in winter. I wish it had been closed on Friday. Long, and unreasonably steep in parts. I’d like to brag and say I didn’t get off and push. That’s true, but only because to have done so would have been far more dangerous than simply carrying on. The gradient was so severe and the camber of the road in the final bend before the merciful parking area so inhospitable, I had to ignore my screaming legs bursting lungs and incoherent thoughts and just push on. I rolled into the car park and let the wall at its perimeter stop me. I have never been quite that destroyed.

The view south and east from the parking area on Cairn o' Mount.

The view south and east from the parking area on Cairn o' Mount.

I carried on after a few minutes, the view from the top sea and farmland on one side, the snow-capped Cairngorms on the other.

Royal Deeside: simply spectacular. Murderous to cycle through, however.

Royal Deeside: simply spectacular. Murderous to cycle through, however.

Until Aboyne the road did nothing but writhe up and down. There were many hobby cyclists out for a spin, and from either direction they all looked as if they would rather be mowing the lawn. The wind was what did for me. As I continued to head west, so it continued to gust at me. This only became a physical problem after I finally made it to Royal Lochnagar. Despite the sandwiches and banana I had finished with the distillery cat before the exemplary tour (more details later), I came out deeply tired. The nine miles to Braemar were some of the longest I had ever attempted. The road followed the banks of the Dee, so was fortunately flat, but was essentially long straight sections, with a cheeky bend at the end which I prayed would reveal the town, but instead promised more trees.

My knees had been registering some complaints intermittently all day, and now it was the re turn of my face. My lips felt rather raw, so I stopped to apply some well-known petroleum jelly. My fingers came away covered in blood. I was bleeding, and a lot. Mercifully, finally, I wobbled into Braemar. The hostel was at the other end of the town, of course, and I rasped up the steep drive to the front door. Abandoning the bike, I went to find the reception. It was busy, so I checked my appearance in a car window. I looked like I’d been in a fight. Congealed blood came from my nose, my face was ashen white and unsightly build ups of goodness-only-knows were at the corners of my mouth. Had I been in a fight? I felt like I had, only I was mssing the adrenaline. As I said to my parents, surprisingly matter-of-factly, when they phoned, I was at zero. Languishing at the bottom of the barrel, utterly spent, is not as unpleasant as many people make out. My exhaustion shielded me from many haunting realisations. I had a shower, then an enormous pizza from the Hungry Highlander and was in terrific spirits. I’d encountered my first real set-back. This tour felt like it was my own at last, after I had no option but to make the pragmatic decision to change the route. It was almost a relief to be so run-down, liberating that it truly was my decision to sacrifice my grand plans for the sake of the whole experience I can still have. Yes, I wanted to do a full tour. But these things happen when one is on the road.

Unfortunately, I could not maintain such equanimity into this morning. It dawned grey, cold and snowing so had yesterday been a normal day, I probably would still have had to call off my trip to Aviemore. Coming to terms with my fatigue and the imperfect nature of my journey, however, I couldn’t see any of the pluses anymore, hence the post of earlier today. My aim is to get to next Sunday (for my Speyside distances are largely quite modest) and then see how I am. I’m keen to be moving again, and Diane at Tomintoul sounds like she can sort me out.


As for the photos, dear readers, I have done what I can. An hour (£3) of uploading and only the picture of Glenkinchie would load onto my photostream – check it out, it’s beautiful. I have deleted four fifths of the pictures on my camera so that I had less to upload, but still, the other nine images I wanted to show you wouldn’t transfer. I tried again and zilch. I have done my best folks. Technology is just not on my side.

Apologies also for ay typos or tautology. I’m writing these posts straight onto the computer – no drafting – and haven’t time to read back through. With less than two minutes of credit left, I shall see you all when I see you.

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