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Saturday, 19 February 2011

Try Me A River....

Purveyors of luxury malts The Dalmore are no strangers to releasing expensive whisky. And we mean VERY expensive whisky. Last year's Trinitas raised a few eyebrows with its grotesque £100,000 price tag and a few critics (including us) questioned what the purpose of the release was; nothing wrong per se with an exclusive bottling, but at that price surely a whisky, which very few people will ever get to try and therefore a case of an attention grabbing price hugely overshadowing the actual liquid. Last December's 59yo Eos was a still mightily expensive release, but we were fortunate to be able to try a small dram and it certainly impressed and grabbed our attention, primarily because of its huge complexity and zestiness, despite its vintage.

With whisky beginning to challenge the super-premium Cognacs around the world, it is understandable why distillers are cashing in on 'Mega Drams'. But does the quest to release the world's most expensive whisky and the tit-for-tat price war (particularly between Dalmore and Macallan) create an equal amount of negative publicity for the brands, especially in times of austerity?

The cynic in me wonders whether the marketing department at The Dalmore were starting to get a little antsy about releasing all these pricey bottlings, when they created their new series of releases, but let's look at them from the positive perspective the represent.

The Rivers Collection is a series of 4 whiskies, to help raise money towards the conservation of several of Scotland's major fishing waterways - namely the Dee, Spey, Tay and Tweed rivers.

The project was launched initially with the Dalmore Dee Dram, whose sale contributed £35,000 to help preserve fishing on this iconic river. The project now hopes to raise a much more substantial amount towards the upkeep of Scotland's other heritage rivers, with £4 being donated from every bottle sold. The bottlings are all produced from a combination of American Oak and Oloroso sherry matured casks, bottled as NAS and at 40%. It's not clear how big the run is on any of these, but we assume they won't be around for long.

So what is the liquid like? Are they all different, perhaps mirroring the changing temperaments of their namesake rivers? Let's dive in head first and hope we don't get carried away...

The Dalmore - The Dee Dram - NAS- 40%

Nose: Sweet candy floss, with hazel nuts, some musty cellar notes and dry wine cork aromas. Given time in the glass, there is also a slightly meaty note, perhaps cooked pork.

Palate: Quite bitter and dry on the first sip, with a rubbery note and more of the cork notes. Not that nice at all. A hint of stewed apple and green apple peel develops on the 2nd sip, but it's fairly unbalanced with the dryness and rubber.

Finish: The Oak dominates the finish, which lingers for a while and drops off quite unremarkably.

Overall: Not the greatest of starts, if i'm honest. A very one dimensional and flat whisky, rather unlike the actual River Dee, which i'm told is the one of the highest water sources in the UK!

Next up- a little trip down into the River Tay bottling.

The Dalmore - The Tay Dram - NAS - 40%

Nose: Dark burnt caramel, with spirity notes and a bitter-sweet aroma of Demerara sugar. Slightly fermented red grape juice and a hint of fresh vanilla pods. Better than the Dee Dram, but still not hugely impressive.

Palate: Again, quite a bitter taste initially, with a malty undertone (thick malt extract) and a nutty, ale-like mid palate. The spirit dominates and it feels like a lot of very young whisky has gone into making this bottling.

Finish: Shortish with more of the malty/ale notes lingering.

Overall: Hmmm. Not doing it for me at all, i'm afraid. There's no real development here and not a great deal of complexity, although the nose has a little more character than the Dee.

Our 3rd whisky is the Tweed Dram, which is incidentally a river on whose banks I spent a wonderful day's Salmon fishing about 6 years ago. I caught absolutely nothing, but as most anglers with my limited ability will testify to- it's all about the 'one that got away', rather than the ones you catch. Will the Tweed Dram deliver that prize catch, or leave me blanking again?

The Dalmore - The Tweed Dram - NAS - 40%

Nose: A peppery note hits first, followed by the aroma of... yes, old tweed jackets! There's also the presence of some freshly cut green apple, Acetone, a grassy note and some creamy malty cereal. Although it shares some of the negative characteristics of the Tay and the Dee, it has a bit of vibrancy to it, unlike the first two.

Palate: Sweet cereal, mint humbugs, spirit and digestive biscuits all arrive first, but a rubbery note follows through swiftly afterwards, with a lighter vanilla /floral flavour beginning to develop. It's a little off kilter, but works far better than the Dee and the Tay.

Finish: Green grassy flavours linger on the palate with a touch of white Oak dryness at the death.

Overall: A step up on the previous bottlings, this has zesty youthful notes, which are a welcome surprise and clearly positive in the whisky's overall balance.

Our final river dram is the mighty Spey, the 2nd longest in Scotland and arguably one of the most important waterways from both a fishing and a whisky making perspective. Fast flowing and slightly unpredictable, let's hope its name-sake dram can keep up with the undercurrent and not get caught up in the weed beds...

The Dalmore - The Spey Dram - NAS - 40%

Nose: A familiar malty note comes to the fore first, with brown sugar covered dried fruit, a hint of vanilla, and a little musty note. This does seem to have a faint aroma of cinnamon buns - that freshly baked smell, which I find highly alluring on my visit to the bakers, so a few extra points as a result.

Palate: The palate is again young, a little bitter, but with some fresh fruit notes, malted milk biscuits, green apple peel and perhaps a touch of the cinnamon, returning from the nose. Dig deeper and a deft touch of vanilla comes through. Although not that much more developed, it is probably the best of the 4 in my opinion.

Finish: Malt and the remnants of the green apple peel stay in the mouth for a while, with echoes of the vanilla fading as the palate dries.

Overall: Very similar to the other 3, but with perhaps a slight edge in terms of overall balance.

So, rather like a days fishing- a mixed bag indeed. I can't say I was an overall fan of the type of whisky on offer here, but there were a couple of high points, with the Spey being the overall Catch Of The Day...

You can purchase these whiskies from the following links: