What the Hell Goes Into a $75,000 Whisky Anyway?

One thing that better not go into it? Ice.

By Kirk Miller

The Dalmore
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19 May 2017

World Whisky Day was last weekend, and since every day is whisky day in our world, we took up an invitation to meet with Richard Paterson, the gregarious Master Distiller for The Dalmore, at The St. Regis Hotel in New York.

In Paterson’s hand: A collection of extremely rare single malts from the northern Scottish distillery — including a chance to taste the Dalmore 50, a Domaine Henri Giraud champagne-finished, 50-year-old single malt created to mark Paterson’s 50th year in the whisky industry.

Paterson, a third-generation distiller who started worked at the Dalmore at the age of eight (!) and was already a master blender by 26 (he also studied wine for 15 years, which plays a huge role in selecting the casks for The Dalmore’s limited edition releases), has been credited with creating specialty blends like the Cigar Malt, King Alexander III and the luxe line of 21 whiskeys known as the Constellation Collection (which retails for over $200,000 and is being re-released this year).

We sip on The St. Regis’s Dalmore Experience, a tasting of King Alexander III, 18-, 25- and 35-year old Scotches, while Paterson regales me with historic tales of the brand that stretches from the actual King Alexander III in the 13th century (long story short, you can trace the brand’s 12-pointed Royal Stag to one moment of battlefield courage) through the Opium Wars, a side conversation on French artist Paul Cezanne’s influence on their 25-year single malt, and finally ending with late last year, when the Dalmore 50 was bottled and released.

Aristocratic? Sure. Fun? Oh yes.

While the individual ingredients are important, Paterson credits the aging and manipulation of the casks for providing The Dalmore’s flavor. Which is why you’ll find something like the King Alexander III, the only single malt that undergoes six different cask treatments (bourbon, Matusalem barrels, Marsala casks, Port pipes and Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques).

And yes, there is a way to taste these.

“Don’t warm it up with your hands,” says Paterson, holding the glass low on the handle. “Swirl it around, then bring it up and say hello. Each time you do this, you’ll get something different. And don’t knock it back! Say slange y va [a Scottish toast meaning “to your health”], then when you drink it, hold that liquid in your mouth — on top and under and then back in the middle. The longer you keep it there, around 20-30 seconds, the more flavors you’ll extract. The more warmth, the more you’ll open it up. You won’t need water or ice.”

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A few things we learned during our initial runthrough: Chocolate orange is the top note here and in pretty all of The Dalmore line (with something like the King Alexander III, you’re going to get a lot of different aromas, tastes and finishes, hence the need to “chew” your Scotch). And the second taste is more important than the first, because you’re prepping your palate (Says Paterson: “You’re probably enjoying this after coffee or tea. The second taste really gets you into the whisky.”)

And then we get to the 50. Only fifty decanters were created for this special release. The spirit was aged in American white oak, Matusalem oloroso sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass Bodega and port Colheita pipes from the Douro region of Portugal, with the spirit then sitting 50 days in champagne casks from Domaine Henri Giraud before going back into American oak. On the last few days of December 2016, this elixir was hand-filled in crystal decanters crafted by the French crystal house Baccarat and placed in a presentation case by Linley (who are pretty good at making those).

What you’ll notice: Chocolate orange (natch), citrus notes, crushed almonds, marzipan, plum and a bit of “elegance and refinement” courtesy of those Pinot Noir grapes. We took a (very tiny) flask home, and also found dried cherries and, for lack of a better term, a bit of earthiness. “It’s going to linger and come back to you in the middle of the night,” says Paterson. Hopefully in a good way.

Bad news? Those bottles of 50 were snapped up immediately upon release (Paterson even personally delivered one bottle to a Los Angeles fan). Your best bet is to hunt down the bottles online at places like the The Whisky Exchange (where it’s currently not available) or during a whisky auction. Godspeed.

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