Dailuaine 10-Year Cask Strength Single Malt

Exclusive Single Sherry Cask #HL18065 selected by K&L (2021)

MASH BILL – 100% malted barley

PROOF – 118.8

AGE – 10 years 4 months

DISTILLERY – Dailuaine (bottled by Hunter Laing & Co.)

PRICE – $60

WORTH BUYING? – Given the price in these whisky-boomed times, I’d say it’s a soft yes.

Dailuaine? Never heard of it.

I’ve likely never heard of most distilleries in Scotland, given most don’t ship their own bottles overseas to the United States. Many smaller—or for some other reason lesser known—Scottish distilleries are only available outside of the internationally-known blends into which they are anonymously poured due to the efforts of independent bottlers like Hunter Laing & Co.

Dailuaine is owned by Diageo, the mega-corporation that also owns the likes of Cardhu, Caol Ila, Johnny Walker, American brands like Seagrams 7 Crown and Bulleit, and on up into Canada with Crown Royal.

The Dailuaine Distillery was originally founded in 1853, when the rural northern Speyside region where it resides was not yet connected by railway to the rest of the country. The name “Dailuaine” itself comes from the Gaelic term “dail uaine,” meaning green valley. The distillery is situated not far from the River Spey at the foothills of the scenic Ben Rinnes mountain range. Within ten years of its founding, the trains did come, and in ten more years Dailuaine had already grown into one of the region’s largest whisky producers. Over subsequent decades it passed through many hands and many modernizations.

Since 1997, when Diageo bought the distillery, the whisky produced there has gone primarily toward Diageo’s various blended brands. So if you’ve had Johnny Walker you’ve had Dailuaine—blended in with several other distillates, of course. Pure Dailuaine releases are rare, and only come from independent bottlers—save the lone Dailuaine 16 Year “Sherry Cask Flora & Fauna” Single Malt. But good luck finding a bottle!

So when this new-to-me distillery popped up on the K&L website, I looked into it a bit. It didn’t take much reading-up to sell me on a sherried cask strength outing aged 10+ years priced at $60, a great price for cask strength Any Scotch in today’s market. And, it was another Speyside whisky—the region I’d accidentally started exploring (via recent Tamdhu and BenRiach outings) in the hopes of identifying whether there is a Speyside regional flavor profile or if that notion is marketing.

So here we are, seven weeks after uncorking and a full handful of pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a range of beautifully clear yellows, from straw to lemon to amber to gold, with occasional orange and brassy highlights

NOSE – bright honey, vanilla custard, milk chocolate, fruits like plum and peach, crisp salty sea air and light edgy oak tannins

TASTE – melon of some sort (like a honeydew-cantaloupe hybrid), a creamy vanilla sauce, a sharp edge seemingly from the proof in combination with some tannic oak

FINISH – melon, vanilla cream, custard, a lingering sharp peppery bite and the gritty tannic edge

OVERALL – at once refreshing and edgy, like a cool Spring day on a beach strewn with rough bits of rock coarsening the sand.

This is an interesting one. It’s two things at once: delightful and rough. The honey, melon, and various creamy notes delight. Then the bite from the combined proof and tannins sting the soft flavors from the edges. That gritty sting tends to dominate on the taste and especially then the finish, distracting from the sweeter and more succulent flavors.

I added seven drops of water to see what this might do. After letting it mingle in the glass for a few minutes, on the nose I got an uptick of candy notes, namely a tangy gooey caramel. Everything else mentioned above remained, except the fruits were now absent. On the taste the proof bite was gentler, revealing a finely ground black pepper note and allowing more sweet cream, custard, honey and milk chocolate notes to show themselves. The finish was likewise gentler, not biting but warm and lingering, the flavors fading faster than the heat…

In my recent Speyside experiences as well as my reading up on other whisky writers’ accounts of Speyside scotches, prominent honey notes continue to be a through line. So, although honey notes are found in other whiskies as well, if I want to guarantee myself a dollop of honey in my glass it seems I can reach for a Speyside and my craving will be satisfied.

But in terms of overall satisfaction, this introduction to Dailuaine is a mixed bag. It’s that persistent gritty edge. Sometimes tannins or even a sharp proof bite can etch a defining line around a whisky in a very satisfying way. Here the bite gnashes a bit too much. Or it’s like getting some coarse beach sand in your shoe and still trying to enjoy your walk along the shore.

I’ll certainly add water going forward. It helps. And this cask strength Dailuaine will no doubt contribute to a refreshing Highball cocktail. I’m drinking it on a suitably chilly, overcast Spring afternoon—weather typical of both San Francisco and Scotland. Maybe I should bundle up, hop the 5 Fulton bus to Ocean Beach and try this again as the sun sets out over the Pacific and the inevitable wind lashes at my face. That mix of beauty and sting might be just the right atmosphere for this particular pour.


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