On our last day in Laggan it was time to check out the nearby distillery at Dalwhinnie. Booking online secured us a place for the 1pm tour and we travelled the now-familiar route to Dalwhinnie and its cluster of white buildings with the distinctive distillery chimneys which we had already seen a number of times from the road in passing.
Despite its remoteness this is a popular stop on the Speyside Whisky Trail and coaches can often be seen in the car park; today we were lucky and avoided any mass of sheep-like tourists. Instead we were part of a small group of 8 and, led by our tour guide, Jane, we started our exploration of the distillery.
This is the highest and coldest distillery in Scotland and we were told that it is the cold water from the Allt-an-t'sluic spring that gives the whisky its unique flavour. After having seen all the stages of creating Dalwhinnie whisky and visiting the warehouse where the American white oak casks are stored slowly maturing over a minimum of 15 years, we ended the tour with a tasting.
The Dalwhinnie 15 year old single malt is described as a "gentle" whisky. As I am not a whisky lover I always approach tasting with some trepidation but on learning that this particular drop was both lighter in colour and flavour than many other single-malts I was game to try. Another bonus was that the whisky was served with chocolate! (The chocolate is hand-made by Ian Hutchinson Chocolatier and the cream used in its creation is sourced from a single herd of cows to maintain a consistent product).
Jane guided us on the best way to experience the flavour of the whisky and we duly sipped then nibbled some chocolate and sipped again. I have to say that the rich chocolate taste added something unique to the whisky and the mix was quite palatable. In fact this was the first whisky that I was able to drink neat without gagging! Yes, I'm aware I am a philistine when it comes to appreciating the finer points of whisky but I know what I like - and what I don't!
It is a testament to its flavour that I actually bought a bottle of the Dalwhinnie 15 year old single malt for myself. Usually I will buy whisky to take home for others to enjoy, never for me.
One thing that our guide stressed and which made perfect sense to me was to ignore the number on the bottle for anything under 18 year old whisky. A greater age does not mean a better whisky; rather, each distillery bottles at an age which is best for its whisky. So 8, 10, 12, 15 and 18 years give no indication as to the actual quality of the whisky. Her advice was to buy whisky to drink not to sit on a shelf, and drink what you like not what others say you should like or you think you should like. On the other hand anything over 25 years is worth shanging on to as an investment and definitely anything over 40 years will only gain in value over the years.
Tour over we browsed the shop, bought our whisky but passed on the chocolate which, although very nice, was a bit steep at GBP 1.50 per piece! Then, home for our last night in Laggan. Tomorrow it's off to Glasgow and our last few days in Scotland.