From my first encounter during a lull in Army Training to more recent ascents of the mountains surrounding it, Dalwhinnie has been a landmark surrounded by happy memories. The whisky produced here, a favourite dram of mine for the best part of 30 years.
I first leapt onto the tarmac of the carpark of the Dalwhinnie Distillery out of the back of a British Army 4 Tonne Truck in December 1991. Though my mates and I would have called this a raid of sorts, it was by no means an armed conflict. In fact we were taking a rare break from Arctic Training as we prepared to deploy to Norway on Exercise the following year.
Before the Distillery Tour and customary dram, it was the setting of this place which struck me first. Remote, wild, windy in amongst the mountains of the Scottish Highlands, if ever there was a place to taste a glass of the finest Single Malt Whisky, this was it. This is the highest and coldest distillery in Scotland sitting over 1,000ft above sea level among the mountains with an average temperature of -6C. The tour guide told us that Dalwhinnie is a Deluxe Malt, the top Malt Whisky of the Highland Whisky Region. Indeed we were in the presence of beauty and greatness.
I paid my respects to the visit, enjoyed the dram, helped some of my mates who weren’t too keen on whisky by enjoying their dram and then bought myself and my Dad a bottle. Dalwhinnie became the malt of the Christmas Holidays in our household that year with which we heralded in 1992 at the bells.
They say the standard Dalwhinnie 15 year old malt tastes of honey and vanilla giving way to smoke, peat and malt. I certainly never found the taste near as peaty as some of it’s Island cousins and, in my case, no block of ice was required to dampen the smokiness. I do like any spirit chilled however and so was delighted to come across Dalwhinnie Winters Gold when I returned to the distillery along the rocky roads of memory lane some 26 years later. It was summer 2017 and I’d just been up to Aviemore with my daughter Julia to climb Cairngorm. Julia, then approaching her 21st year, had not even been thought of when I’d first visited this place.
Winter’s Gold is a more spicy version of the standard Dalwhinnie and they say it is best drunk straight from the freezer. Again, I bought a bottle for my Dad and myself and put them both away till Christmas. 2017 was a special year in many ways but not least of which was that I had trained in the mountains of Scotland and then attempted to summit one of the Himalayas in Nepal called Mera Peak. I got within 300 vertical meters of the summit before altitude and exhaustion turned me back. Sipping on a sweet, ice cold glass of Winters Gold from the freezer was just an amazing way to reflect on those adventures. I have to say my Dad, with perhaps more traditional whisky drinking rules than myself, struggled with the idea of storing a single malt in the freezer.
More recently the tiny village Dalwhinnie has become something of a landmark as I continued my training in the mountains of Scotland. In the run up to my attempt on Kilimanjaro in 2018 I looked down on on the village with it’s distinctive distillery spires from the descent from Carn Na Caim which towers above it on the right hand side of the A9 as you drive north into the Highlands.
Slightly further south, near the Drumochter Pass my brother, his then climbing partner and myself summited 3 of the 4 Munroe’s on the other side of the A9 as we trained to prepare for Mount Toubkal in Morocco. I would say Dalwhinnie has been in my heart and at the centre of some great times in my life since I first arrived there some 29 years ago. I still drop into the distillery shop from time to time and pick up a bottle for myself and my Dad. For me, it always seems to be the during the Christmas Season that the dram and the memories that accompany it are enjoyed.