Scaling Heights: Legendary Dalwhinnie Distillery

Located in the Cairngorms National Park of Speyside, Dalwhinnie Distillery is the highest distillery of Scotland. Resting at the heart of the Scottish Highlands, the word ‘dalwhinnie’ translates into  ‘meeting place’ in Gaelic and it was indeed the meeting place of three ancient cattle drovers’ routes. Though easily accessible by road and rail today, the Dalwhinnie Distillery is often cut off during winter. It is also reputed to be the coldest distillery of Scotland due to its location in the Western Highlands, where the average winter temperature lingers around six degrees celsius.

Up Above the Loch So High

‘Madly located’ is how the Victorians felt about the geographical positioning of Dalwhinnie. After all, it has had the dubious distinction of being the coldest place in Britain. The distillery also functions as a meteorological station and takes temperature readings twice a day. In the season of high snow, the distillery is capable of being completely self-contained. It even houses the staff in an on-site hostel if necessary.

Yet, its location had served it well in the past and continues to do so even today. Legend has it that when the huge herds of black Highland cattle made their way south to the Falkirk Market, their furry coats served as the perfect cover for whisky smugglers. Small casks were transported with the cattle. The Dalwhinnie Village was also a place where the herdsmen downed a few swigs to beat the cold. Clearly, whisky and Dalwhinnie are like Laurel and Hardy.

Even today, the production of whisky at the Dalwhinnie Distillery is deeply impacted by its location. The pristine snow-melt water from a loch nearby is used in making whisky here, something that no other distillery can use. The ambient temperature also affects the process of production. Condensation in the worm tubs happens quickly as the worms are naturally cold.

Of Changing Ownerships  & Dalwhinnie

Though it has shared a long informal association with the history of whisky in Scotland, the first distillery to be established here was in 1897. The owners were Alexander Mackenzie, John Grant and George Seller and they called it the Strathspey Distillery. It was renamed as the Dalwhinnie Distillery in 1898 by the second set of owners. In 1905, the largest American distiller, Cook & Bernheimer took over the reins. So effectively, it became the first Scotch distillery to be owned by a non-UK company. The ownership has changed hands many times since. Currently, it is owned by Diageo.

Touring the Dalwhinnie Distillery

The Dalwhinnie Tour is popular. It has been recognised as the ‘Best Distillery Tour 2017’ by Drinks International. Call ahead during the winter months to see if they are open to visitors. Tours depart regularly for most of the year and last for about 45 minutes. On the guided tour of the distillery, you will learn of the traditional art of malt whisky distilling. After the tour, sample two Dalwhinnie Single Malts paired with handmade chocolates. They complement each other perfectly. This tipple-trip will set you back by 12 Pounds only. To try up to six Dalwhinnie Single Malts with the guided tour, you will have to pay 25 pounds. All adults on the Dalwhinnie Distillery Tours receive a complimentary Dalwhinnie whisky glass that makes for a lovely souvenir. If you are partial to a hot chocolate with your Dalwhinnie to warm yourself up, it can be arranged for. Visitors who do not have the time for the tour, simply avail of the whisky and chocolate tasting option. It is priced from 6 Pounds onwards.  At the on-site shop, you will find the signature Single Malts of Dalwhinnie which are 15 years old. The Distiller’s Editions which date back 20 years and 36 years are also bottled here. The honeyed Dalwhinnie is rich and sweet, with notes of peat and heather. However, a majority of it is used by Diageo-owned Buchanan Black & White blends.

The majestic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands are known to inspire poetry even in most rugged of the lot. Coupled with the Dalwhinnie Single Malts hailing from this region, the floral of this whisky will remind you of the valley.