To be labeled Scotch whisky your creation must be made in Scotland and be part of a broad category that embraces a wide array of flavors – from the smoked-peat versions from Islay and the Glenlivets of Speyside, to the Highland malt whiskies like those from The Dalmore.
What makes a great Scotch whisky? Time, more than anything else, says Gregg Glass, Master Whisky Maker & Blender at Whyte & Mackay. He came to Chicago recently to introduce the latest expression from The Dalmore distillery: The Dalmore 14 – a beautiful whisky with cocoa, candied citrus, nutty, and slight cinnamon flavors. It’s a new expression of how the Mackenzie family continues to exercise its passion for creating old-school Highland malt spirits in styles and flavors even non-expert consumers can really appreciate.
We Chicagoans are privileged to be the first – and right now, the only – place in the U.S. where you can buy this particular expression. Contact Binny’s for help buying a bottle of The Dalmore 14.
The Dalmore was a pioneer in using age statements to differentiate Scotch whiskies from each other – a new way to indicate quality. Generally, the longer a whisky is aged, the more complex and rich its flavor can become. The Dalmore sources its barley from right around the distillery, far north and east of Highland. Gregg says he grew up 5 miles from the distillery, so it’s like home for him. He talks about how barley varieties and water can change the ultimate flavor of whiskies, but it’s how the combination is aged that makes all the difference.
To start with, the first stuff right off the still is pure spirit – theirs is clear in color with notes of citrus and cocoa and a staggering 68% alcohol content. You don’t want to drink this by itself. But it is the beginning of the journey to becoming a fine aged whisky. In fact, says Gregg, 60-80% of a whisky’s flavor comes from the type of casks used to age it and the time and conditions under which it matures.
Once they’ve distilled the pure spirit, they put it into bourbon casks that give touches of vanilla and honey. For The Dalmore 14, the next stop is hand-selected casks from Pedro Ximenez sherry. I can tell you for sure that the Old Fashioned cocktail they sampled for media, made with The Dalmore 12, was excellent – just a hint of sweetness, and the handsome chocolate truffle-on-a-pick that garnished it was a rich, creamy surprise. How did chocolate happen here?
The Distillery staff, Gregg said, receive from 60 to 600 items to assess each year from companies that want to pursue a partnership with them. Recently they found a company they quickly recognized shared The Dalmore philosophy of using the finest ingredients to make a superior product that’s then showcased with the finest packaging. And now they have a strong relationship with Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago company that makes extra-rich, creamy chocolate truffles – the dark chocolate and orange are remarkable and the pairing with the whisky is genius.
The chocolate makers went back and forth on which characteristics of the whisky they wanted to bring out in the truffles they include in The Dalmore 14 Collection. The only way for you to find out what they decided is to buy a bottle and a box and sit down with no agenda other than to taste and enjoy all that lusciousness blending together in your mouth.
And for a great place to pair your whisky with food, you can start by ordering your whisky at Momotaro in Chicago’s West Loop. Even if you didn’t already like Japanese cuisine, you’re likely to become a fan after eating here. Gregg’s team collaborated with the chefs at the restaurant to build the delicious Old Fashioned cocktail and to choose just the right dishes to go with the flight of Scotch whiskies. From the delicious sea-salted edamame, the salad of crisp baby greens with sparkling citrus dressing, and the generous cuts of very fresh sashimi, to the super-juicy grilled strip steak with crispy edges, they put on a feast worth indulging in. Altogether, some pairings are made in heaven. Enjoy.
The Dalmore 14 Pedro Jimenez Cask Aged Scotch whisky. ~$90.