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The history of the Dalwhinnie Distillery

The Dalwhinnie Distillery is famous for its single malt scotch known as the gentle spirit. It’s also the coldest distillery in Scotland. In this article, we cover their history.

Title picture courtesy of VisitScotland.com.

Location

Dalwhinnie sits within Cairngorm National Park at the heart of the Scottish Highlands. Its name means “Plain of Meetings” or “the meeting place” in Gaelic. This makes sense because it lies at the intersection of three drove roads between the Grampian and Monadhliath mountain ranges. The village is one of the highest in the United Kingdom at 1,154 ft above sea level. It’s also the coldest, with an average temperature of 6°C.

Courtesy of StuzzyW at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Though considered to be a “desolate, wind-sliced, rain-lashed patch of Highland wilderness“, it was chosen for two primary reasons:

That spring water source is very interesting. It comes from Lochan an Doire-Uaine (“Lake in the green grove” in Gaelic), a body of water 2,000 ft above sea level. The water flows over the peat from Allt an t’Sluic before reaching the distillery.

Courtesy of Geograph.org.uk.

Further, that water source is exclusive to Dalwhinnie. No other distillery can use it. This means that no other distillery can capture that “uniquely clean, accessible, malty-sweet taste and smooth and smoky Highland mouthfeel” that Dalwhinnie is known for.

Trading hands

Courtesy of VisitScotland.com.

Dalwhinnie was not a one stop success story. It had traded hands to so many owners before it finally became what it is today:

  • John Grant, George Sellar and Alexander Mackenzie, three local businessmen, banded together to create Stratspey distillery in 1897.
  • It didn’t fare well. John Somerville & Co and AP Blythe & Sons purchased the business in 1898 and the business changed names to Dalwhinnie.
  • Seven years later, Cook & Bernheimer, a US distiller, purchased the business in 1905.
  • In 1919, Macdonald Greenlees bought the business.
  • In 1926, DCL bought the business (in 1986, the titan Diageo acquired DCL)

Ups & downs

By this time, Dalwhinnie had found it’s owner. However, in 1934, they had to close due to a fire. They reopened in 1938, but temporarily shut down due to WWII in 1940. In 1968, they started importing barley to acquire greater control over the taste. In 1986, they refurbished their location and opened a visitor center shortly thereafter in 1991. They again closed for a massive renovation project that took three years to finish.

Characteristics

Courtesy of VisitScotland.com.

Is it a highland malt or a Speyside malt? In 2009 it was re-classified as a Speyside malt after the region was better defined, but many refer to it by both types. Due to its location and unique distillery components, Dalwhinnie has a unique flavor profile. As stated by The Whisky Exchange, it’s “too gratifying for an aperitif alone, yet too gentle and delicate to be thought rugged or unapproachable; this combination of delicacy and depth sets it apart.”

Their collection

Courtesy of VisitScotland.com.

Dalwhinnie’s collection is on the gentler side with notes of “heather honey, citrus, vanilla and sweet malt.” Try their most famous offering, the Dalwhinnie 15 Years Old.