Tag Archives: 1983

The 1983 Tasting Series #3: Dallas Dhu

In the two weeks since this tasting series began, almost as if on cue, there have been new rumblings about the Dallas Dhu distillery. As I said in the first piece in this series, the 10 distilleries closed in 1983 that have never reopened were unlikely to reopen again. Many of them share similar fates in being demolished or substantially renovated, but one of the exceptions is Dallas Dhu.

In 1988 after being closed five years, Dallas Dhu was opened to the public; it’s been operated as a museum since the early 1990s. Two weeks ago, Historic Scotland (the agency which oversees the Dallas Dhu site) was revealed to have commissioned a feasibility study to see if Dallas Dhu could resume production. The desire as stated is to have it produce as it was when closed so that the distillery museum has more of the sights and the smells and sounds of a working distillery.

In the whisky-nerd land, this is a crazy and potentially exciting update. I’m not familiar enough with these sort of processes to know how far it is from the feasibility study to the point where stills are producing whisky again, but assuming it’s like the US, I wouldn’t expect to see anything happen for the better part of this decade.

I’ve had a number of Dallas Dhus and generally found them pretty enjoyable, with nice, fruity and floral character. Unlike some other distilleries, I don’t generally feel like I need to do a lot of research on a particular bottling of Dallas Dhu before having them as I’ve found them generally agreeable.

Today’s Dallas Dhu is a Signatory decanter, distilled in 1979 and bottled in 2005 and weighing in at a whopping 60.6% ABV – guess the angels missed this cask!

The nose is light, slightly floral and honeyed, with a bit of chalkiness. There’s some white pepper as well. The palate leads surprisingly woody, with a fair amount of spiciness and verges on having too much oak for me. There’s a real abundant malt, tons of heat, and a touch of honey – and surprisingly, a sour note late.

The finish leads off very warm with pepper and malt, and has the mouth-numbing feel of Sichuan pepper. More wood on the finish as well as malt; it hangs around forever in a huge, long-lasting resolution. After a while it starts to get a little bitter.

My impression was that this was a little too hot at cask strength so I added some water to see if this would go in a more familiar Dallas Dhu direction. There was some more overt fruit on the nose; the palate had some tropical fruit, but also a confectioner’s sugar type sweetness – very sharp and pronounced.

As far as Dallas Dhus go, this one was an unusual miss for me. A little too hot at cask strength, a bit too sweet with water, and probably a touch too much wood.

Dallas Dhus have been creeping up steadily in price, but you can still find them for a fairly reasonable amount if you hunt. Then again, if the distillery reopens, in several years this may all be a moot issue.

At a glance:

Dallas Dhu 1979 Signatory – #1390 (d:8-6-79, b:4-4-05) 60.6% ABV
Nose: 
Light, slightly floral and honeyed, with a slight chalkiness. A little white pepper. Water adds a little more overtly fruity note.
Palate:  Wood up front with a fair amount of and spiciness, verging on too much oak. Abundant malt, lots of heat, a touch of honey. Vaguely sour. Water brings up a little more tropical fruit – but it almost gets a sugary sweetness too.
Finish:  Warm to lead, leaving pepper and malt, a little sichuan pepper and wood. Malt hangs around for quite a while. Huge, lasting finish. Dries a touch bitter.
Comment:  Hot as hell at cask strength, a bit too sweet diluted down. A lot of promise but not the best Dallas Dhu I’ve had.
Rating: B-

The 1983 Tasting Series #2: Banff

The 1983 tasting continues! Thanks to everyone who came for the first installment. I’ll be trying to publish these on Fridays or Saturdays, depending on scheduling.

This week we’re looking at Banff. If I’ve discussed whisky with you and we’ve drifted to the subject of closed distilleries, I have inevitably discussed this one with a little more intensity. Banff was my first “drink your age” whisky a couple years back, and I was blown away at the time by the really gentle buttercream vanilla notes on that particular bottle, as well as the wonderful, relaxed nose. Perhaps that bottle would pale with my malt experience since then, but that’s a discussion for a different time.

Over the last couple years in the wake of that tasting, I semi-quietly went on a Banff buying spree – up until recently they were an incredible mix of availability and value for a 1983 distillery. Banff didn’t have the lofty reputation of Port Ellen or Brora (and it can be an unusual if not polarizing whisky), but I liked the ones I’d had, so I thought I would capitalize on the opportunity.

Fast-forward a few years and now Banff is starting to command loftier prices and is a little less common. It’s still one of the most reasonably priced of the ’83s, though I suspect in the next two years, that will cease to be the case.

Banff marks the first regional shift in this tasting. We started with St. Magdalene, the sole Lowland representative; Banff is first of a set of Highland distilleries. Banff has a relatively colorful history, and almost feels like the Swamp Castle in Monty Python & The Holy Grail, plagued through its history by fires and rebuilding. The first was in 1877 when a fire damaged a large portion of the distillery requiring an extensive rebuild, which took several months.

The most notable incident happened in 1941, a warehouse was bombed by a German aircraft. This article (page 9 of the linked PDF) has a really amazing eyewitness account -

The fires (two 100kg. bombs had been dropped) spread rapidly and a rivulet of burning whisky flowed through the fallen walls and into the stream. Being lighter than water, the flaming spirit spread across the width and was carried by the flow downstream. The burning river continued out of sight behind the peat store where a steeper gradient caused turbulence which extinguished the flames.

[...]

… they had saved twelve barrels out of three hundred.

[...]

Next day the Regimental Sergeant Major, the scourge of the troops, supervised an equipment inspection including water bottles. This resulted in several non-commissioned officers being reduced to the ranks and many squaddies being confined to barracks for fourteen days.

Jock Crystal reported that his ducks were drunk, and that some of the Old Manse cows were [unable to stand up].

 That alone would be a colorful enough past, but in 1959 during maintenance on one of the stills, a spark caused an explosion that damaged the distillery and required repairs. Fortunately no one was killed in that accident.

Banff was closed in 1983 (as all of these were) and the still house has been demolished; as almost a tragicomic grace note to its history, in 1991 one of the warehouses was destroyed in a fire. Banff is certainly in the category of “lost distilleries” – any new distillery to bear the name would be built from the ground up with no usable equipment from the original.

Interestingly (and somewhat in response to the question around St. Magdalene), Banff did practice triple distillation for a while, though the process ended in the 1920s.

Enough history for now: what about the whisky?

This bottle of Banff is from K&L’s 2011 bumper crop of exclusive bottles and was one of the stars of that productive trip (though eclipsed by the Ladyburn which sold out way before it arrived, as well as the Chieftain’s exclusive Brora from the same trip). This bottle is part of the Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare series, which I’ve had multiple bottles from and can’t think of a single one that I haven’t enjoyed. Alongside Signatory’s cask strength decanters, I’m usually willing to give the Rarest of the Rare a chance if I haven’t seen reviews for a bottle.

This was distilled in November 1975 and bottled in May 2011; cask 3353, at 45.2%. Interestingly a sister cask was released in the summer of 2001 – 3352 – as a UK release.

The nose on this Banff is initially sweet, with some malty notes and a touch of honey. There’s an overall dusting of white pepper and some wood in the background.

It’s got a nice mouthfeel, that bigger, slightly oily kind of whisky. It leads with a fair dose of wood, and has some flintiness to it that’s not unlike older whiskies I’ve had (in terms of distillation date, not time in wood). It’s slightly mineral which just adds a nice dimension. Some of the sweetness of the nose comes through; faint dried oranges and apples. It’s big and bold overall, and the wood creeps up with time.

The finish is warm and with plenty of white pepper; the minerality and a little malt comes along.

It’s a big, bold whisky that hits the spot for me. It’s really enjoyable, and the minerality harkens back to an earlier style of whisky.

This will not be the last time Banff is covered in depth here. As I mentioned, I acquired several bottles. At some point in the future (timing still to be determined), I will go through those as part of a project to do a deeper dive on Banff’s output.

At a glance:

Banff 1975 – Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare, K&L Exclusive Cask #3353
Distilled 11-1975, Bottled 5-2001 45.2% ABV
Nose:  Sweet initially with some malty notes and a touch of honey; white pepper all over, a little wood.
Palate:  Nice mouthfeel, leads with a fair dose of wood. Some old-style flintiness to this one, mineral. A little sweet – a faint hint of dried orange and apple. Big and bold. Leans a touch bitter with time.
Finish:  Warm with white pepper, again a slight hint of minerality.
Comment:  Quite big and bold. Really enjoyable. The mineral notes remind me of older (distillation date, not age) malts.
Rating: B+

The 1983 Tasting Series #1: St. Magdalene

The year: 1983.

Then, as now, it was a tumultuous time. The globe had been in the grip of recession, the middle east was unstable, and if you wanted to take a Tylenol to just deal with the headaches day-to-day life brought, you still were a little wary of the recent potassium cyanide poisoning.

And the whisky industry was in the height of the whisky glut. The whisky industry faced its own set of austerity measures: A severe cutback in production, with many distilleries closed. We’ve seen some come back since then, but ten distilleries were shut and are unlikely ever to return, especially with a trend towards consolidating production at mega-distilleries.

Over the next several weeks, I will be looking at a sample of each whisky. I’d planned this tasting a couple years ago (and fortunately at that time many of these were cheaper to acquire). As the time drew near to do this tasting, it seemed wasteful and gluttonous to hoard this whisky strictly to myself. Several friends have gotten in on this tasting and you may hear other impressions from them as this tasting progresses.

The ten distilleries that were lost in 1983 that we’ll likely never see a new whisky from are Banff, Brechin (North Port), Brora, Dallas Dhu, Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor, Glenlochy, Glenugie, Port Ellen, St. Magdalene (Linlithgow). Some of these are relatively common (though increasingly pricey); some of these have all but vanished. I’ve had some of these before and some will be new.

This is not an exercise in flash, superiority, or any sort of whisky elitism. It’s a theme tasting I’ve wanted to execute for a while, and the time has come. My goals for this will be twofold: To have, if nothing else, a “last word” on some of these for myself (accepting that I may already be priced out of future editions), as well as to try and compare these to modern malts as a base of reference. As we know, distillery character can be very distinctive and some distilleries are just one of a kind.

Distillery #1: St. Magdalene – Lowland
Ultimate fate:
Converted to apartment buildings

Also known as Linlithgow (for the town it is located in), St. Magdalene is unique in this tasting as the only Lowland distillery. The bottle representing St. Magdalene is the 2009 Dun Bheagan bottling, distilled in October 1982. It’s 26 years old, and comes from cask 2219. Many reviews of this bottle exist online and, yes, you can still find this bottle for sale.

The nose on this is light and somewhat floral, with a touch of confectioner’s sugar. It’s got a certain white wine sourness to it which dissipates after some time in the glass. It has light wood influence, peppery spice, and some lemony notes emerge. With even more time in the glass, vanilla starts to come out a bit, as does a very faint touch of leather. All in all, a relatively light nose for a 26 year old whisky.

The palate enters a touch bitter from the wood; it gives way quite quickly to a general maltiness and some white pepper. There’s a faintly floral top note and then the heat picks up. Subsequent sips reveal some lemon curd and ginger – actually probably the most distinctly gingery taste I think I’ve ever gotten from any whisky.

The finish is dry initially with a touch of wood, some white pepper and plenty of malt. A little vanilla is there; there’s a hay quality to it and some straight-up barley. It goes to a slightly root-vegetable note at the end, in a long and lasting finish.

This whisky isn’t one I’m particularly crazy about; the sourness on the nose and the questionable cask influence didn’t work for me particularly well. Other bloggers have noted this whisky is one that can be hit or miss from session to session. I can certainly believe it – I wasn’t enjoying the bitter and winey notes, but the lemon and ginger (and overall quality with substantial time in the glass) were nice.. just not nice enough to overcome all the negative qualities I perceived.

What’s like this? Hard to say, because I haven’t ever had anything with quite a pronounced (to my palate) ginger note. I’ll keep looking; unfortunately this one seems fairly unique to me. I’d love to hear what anyone thinks about this one.

St. Magdalene is regarded as one of the better closed distilleries, and I must confess after my first contact with it that I’m not entirely sure I get it. I have at least one other bottle in reserve for the future, so that may be the eye-opener.

Next week, the 1983 series moves to the Highlands.

At a glance:

St. Magdalene – Dun Bheagan 10-82 – 2009 (26y) #2219 50% ABV
Nose: 
Light, somewhat floral with a touch of confectioner’s sugar. Also a bit white wine-like. A little wood, some light peppery spice; lemony notes emerge. Over time more vanilla emerges; a faint touch of leather too.
Palate:  Enters a touch bitter from the wood; gives way rather quickly to maltiness and some white pepper. A faintly floral top note and the heat picks up. A little lemon curd and a touch of ginger.
Finish:  Dry initially, a touch of wood, some white pepper and plenty of malt; a touch of vanilla, a little hay and some straight-up barley. Has a slightly root vegetable note at the end. Quite lasting.
Comment:  This benefits greatly from some time open in the glass. To me it starts a bit sour and weird but the air really brings it into focus. While it does develop nicely, it also doesn’t quite develop enough.
Rating: B-