This post begins with me in the Whyte & Mackay sample room, with Richard Paterson having just joined myself and Craig McGill. From my previous post on visiting the Whyte & Mackay office:
After stuffing as many sample bottles as possible into my pants pockets [no, of course not], Richard Paterson came through the door in his dark suit and bright pink tie, and the room came to life. If you’ve seen him in videos, he had that same high energy level that either sucks you in, or puts you on the defensive…like you’ve walked onto the set of a Billy Mays OxiClean info-mercial. I’m a fan of The Nose, so I let myself get sucked in, as it’s all in the spirit of fun and whisky appreciation.
The Nose entered the room and asked what our intentions were for this visit. Craig spoke up, mentioned that I’m a whisky fan and blogger, and suggested that a tour of the sample room, and perhaps a small dram would be nice. That sounded great to me! I felt a little guilty about even being there. It’s not like I’m “proper press” or an industry insider, so any time that an obviously very busy Whisky Legend was willing to spend with me was going to be much appreciated.
Hello, How Are You, Quite Well…
Tasting whisky the “The Nose” way is no secret, and certainly wasn’t new to me. Search for Richard Paterson on YouTube and you’ll find a number of videos showing his unique approach to getting people past the high alcohol content of spirits in order to appreciate the true flavors underneath:
Well, on this day, I got to enjoy the experience first hand, and I was happy to walk through the process I’d seen and mimicked many times before. I even learned something new in the process…
Mr. Paterson’s flare from the videos is not reserved strictly for large audiences and TV cameras. That’s just the way he is! I got the full experience, starting with his pouring a small dram into a glass, swirling it around and then throwing it on the floor. In this case, it happened to be with a $180/bottle Dalmore!
Then he walked me through the nosing process, lifting the glass up to the nose and pulling it away 4 times in order to “get to know” the whisky. You lift it up and say “Hello”, then pull the glass away and bring it back up…”How are you?”…”Quite well”…”Thank you very much.”
What I actually got to taste
What I originally thought would be a taste of a single standard bottling turned into an amazing flight of whiskies! The “warm-up” dram provided by Mr. Paterson was actually the Dalmore King Alexander III! A very nice whisky, though not something that jumped out at me as being head-and-shoulders above a more standard (and less expensive) Dalmore like the 15 year.
Next up was a special treat in its own right. A 30 year old bespoke sherry (Matusalem?), used to treat the casks of some of the “special” Dalmore releases. Wow! I had just recently stated on Twitter that I was not a fan of Sherry, even though I love whiskies aged in sherry casks, but this sweet dram was nothing like the more inexpensive and younger sherries at the local wine store. Not cloying at all, it contained many of the ripe red fruit and cherry flavors that I love in sherry cask whiskies.
With that intro to good sherry, The Nose returned to the sample counter and shielded me from the bottle he was using to pour the next dram. More on that below. The final dram was none other than one of my favorites…the Dalmore Mackenzie special release. But back to the “secret” dram that followed the 30 year sherry…
Tasting an 1868 Dalmore
The Nose was very coy about what I was about to taste. But he wanted to walk me though the process of nosing and then tasting it. This was a smaller dram than the previous two. It was clearly something special. Was I actually getting to try a 40+ year old Dalmore (one of my Bucket List items)?!
There were big, big espresso coffee notes on the nose, with chocolate. Some over-ripe red fruits as well. But it was the coffee notes that stood out to me. I’d never experienced that flavor in such a strong way on the nose of a whisky. It was absolutely amazing. I could have just sat there and nosed that glass forever. At this point, The Nose revealed that what I had in my glass was Dalmore from 1868! I wonder if my face went flush. I couldn’t believe he was letting me taste this!
On to the actual tasting, this is where Mr. Paterson tortured me a bit. He had me take a very small sip and hold it on top of my tongue while he proceeded to count and talk to me FOREVER! “Hold it, hold it, don’t swallow…” All the while, I’m failing to keep the liquid completely on the top of my tongue. It’s slowly leaking down the sides/back of my tongue into my throat. I sneak small swallows hoping he doesn’t notice. “Ok, now put it under your tongue and hold it there…” I complied the best I could, though most of the small dram had already snuck down my throat. “Now back up on top again…and swallow.” I asked if he expected me to do this with every sip I took. The answer was no – once you’ve acclimated your tongue, feel free to proceed in a more casual manner. :-)
I had already tasted some “older” sherry-cask whiskies (The Last Drop and Classic Cask 35 Year), so I had a good idea what to expect when this old Dalmore hit my mouth. It was going to be very woody, bourbon-like, and so dry my tongue would feel like it was shriveling up. Wrong! This was a very fresh, active, acidic, juice-like experience, full of seville oranges. Speaking of which, go take a sip of orange juice, hold it on your tongue, and let it roll over the sides and down the back of our tongue. The tingling sensation from the 1868 Dalmore was like that. It was almost an over-the-top acidic experience, actually. Certainly not boring! I also recognized some flavors from the Sherry we had just tried.
After that initial nosing and tasting of the small sip of Dalmore 1868, The Nose gave me a bite of Dark Chocolate to tie all of the flavors together and complete the experience. Actually, he said the ideal experience would include a coffee and/or cigar if I recall correctly. Kind of like a well chosen multi-course meal.
I can’t help but wonder if part of the magic of these old Dalmores is that Mr. Paterson flirts with the boundaries of what is allowed in proper seasoning of the casks with sherry. Certainly, he has gone to great lengths to choose the RIGHT sherry to season his finishing casks on these best of the best Dalmores. Whatever the secret is, I would never have imagined the flavor on the palate was coming from the same liquid that produced that coffee nose. But once I had swallowed and taken a deep breath, there was that coffee and chocolate again. A magical transformation!
Wow! Guided through an amazing whisky tasting by an amazing whisky legend. What an experience! The 1868 Dalmore truly was incredible. It smelled like no whisky I had nosed before. It tasted like no whisky that had previously touched my lips. Quite an education for the senses. Mr. Paterson said this was one of the “components” of the very expensive Dalmores that have been released in recent times. This makes sense. The individual elements of taste and smell were incredibly unique, but not necessarily the most balanced overall whisky experience I’ve had. I’m sure this is where The Nose works his blending magic on the official releases…finding the right balance of 1868 and other vintages to produce a dazzling final result.
Thank you Craig McGill for adding this unforgettable experience to my trip! And thank you Richard Paterson for not only fitting me into your busy schedule, but for sharing such a rare piece of history with an ordinary guy like myself.
This wasn’t actually the FULL Richard Paterson experience (or Craig McGill experience), but I’ve written enough in this blog post. I’ll post another with some final details from my Whyte & Mackay visit, and my theory on which casks that 1868 sample came from. Also, some thoughts on super-premium whiskies vs. more standard bottlings from the perspective of a middle class enthusiast.