There’s a valid question to be asked in how much a company can possibly finesse a product lineup, even when its products tend to be exceptional. At what point is it undeniably superfluous for a distillery to add a new spirit, falling into the sparse, unoccupied ground ground between its existing SKUs? How different and distinct must that new brand be, in order to justify its existence? And will the addition of that new brand actually help the bottom line by capturing some small, additional segment of the target demographic, or will it simply cannibalize potential sales of the company’s other brands?
This is the thought process I immediately started going through, seeing the announcement of The Dalmore 14 as a new, permanent addition to the distillery’s Principal Collection for the U.S. market. I’m a huge fan of The Dalmore’s house style of sherry and port-focused single malts, but it seemed hard to deny that this new brand was probably splitting some hairs. After all, The Dalmore has not one but two 12 year single malts, and a well-established Dalmore 15 Year. It already offers brands in the U.S. with official MSRPs at $65, $80, $100 and $130. Can you really sneak a 14 year brand into that space, position it at $90, and find a way for it to register as distinctive? That seems like a tall task, and a lot to expect from the consumer as well. Not that any of this is relevant to the quality of the spirit in the bottle, but you do have to wonder at the practical considerations of introducing a brand like this one.
Now: What is actually in this bottle? Well, The Dalmore 14’s signature feature is its sole use of “rare Pedro Ximénez casks from the House of Gonzalez Byass,” rather than other sherry styles such as oloroso that are used in a wider array of Dalmore brands. The company is positioning it as their first Principal Collection bottle to exclusively be matured in PX sherry, which will presumably make those concentrated fruity flavors its biggest calling card. As a bonus, it also has a slightly higher strength than the core Dalmore 12 or Dalmore 15 expressions, which both weigh in at a mere 40% ABV (80 proof). This one is 43.8% ABV (87.4 proof), a nice incremental upgrade, though it’s still a bit under the 44% ABV of Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve or the 46.5% ABV of Dalmore Port Wood Reserve. Regardless, it’s likely an admission that the U.S. market really prefers an elevated proof point.
I have high hopes for this one, so let’s get right into tasting.
On the nose, this one doesn’t immediately strike me as one of the more assertive Dalmore expressions I’ve encountered, but I suspect this is also a result of having tasted so many barrel-proof expressions lately. What this one really needs is a few minutes to open up in the glass, which reveals increasingly strong waves of caramel, syrupy dark fruit compote—blackberry and currant—and raisin. It’s slightly toasty in character, with a suggestion of honeycomb and a little cocoa. After a few minutes, the sherry really opens up in a big way, with increasingly punchy and vinous fruit notes and roasted nuts. Sweet, fruity and inviting.
On the palate, this is again decidedly on the sweet and fruity side, with bright red and black fruit and a little orange citrus, but it’s balanced out by equally assertive roastiness and sharp coffee, along with mocha. There’s a licorice-like spice as well, while the fruitiness suggests confections the first time around, baked pie or cobbler. Over time, this also grows more overtly sherry-like, with more dried fruit and oxidized wine notes. The coffee, meanwhile, gives it just a bit of roasty astringency, which helps balance the considerable sweetness. All in all, it drinks quite easily, with muted ethanol but a slightly thin mouthfeel. As is often the case with The Dalmore, I find myself loving the balance of flavors, but simultaneously wondering what this might be like at an even more elevated strength closer to 100 proof. That might really be a showstopper.
All in all, though, this is an excellent expression, one that has a tendency to grow in the glass—my enjoyment rose appreciably from first taste to last. I’m still not sure that it necessarily stands out from the rest of the Dalmore Principal Collection in a way that makes it an indispensable new addition, and the $90 MSRP isn’t exactly cheap, but at the same time the rampant price-gouging in the world of American whiskey makes it feel quite a lot more palatable than perhaps it once would have. Fans looking to enjoy the rich, decadent interplay of fruit and roast will find much to like here.
Distillery: The Dalmore
City: Alness, Scotland
Style: Sherried single malt whisky
ABV: 43.8% (87.4 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $90 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.