Dalwhinnie

Written by Chris Thornton | 11th of November 2021
Dalwhinnie Distillery, producers of Scotch Whisky

On the western edge of the Cairngorm National Park lies the small village of Dalwhinnie with a population of only around 80. It might be small but Dalwhinnie boasts a fuel station, a pub and inn, a train station, and of course the distillery (read more below).

Perched at the north side of Loch Ericht it is 1152 ft above sea level and one of the highest (and coldest) villages in Scotland, 2nd only to Wanlockhead (1498 ft) and Leadhills (1460 ft).

The village is situated just of the A9 motorway on the old "General Wade's Military Road", the main route through the Strathspey Valley hundreds of years ago which historically leads past Ruthven Barracks to the northeast.

Despite being a very picturesque wee place surrounded by rolling hills, Dalwhinnie is known for its expansive distillery complex which produces some of the finest single malt Scotch in Scotland.

Dalwhinnie Distillery

Dalwhinnie Distillery is a very picturesque distillery nestled in Glen Truim in the Scottish Highlands. The buildings are all maintained with pristine white paint which contrasts beautifully with the surrounding forests and moors.

Foundations

Built-in 1897, it retains its two distinctive pagodas reaching up from the central building designed by Architect Charles Doig. Originally the distillery was named "Strathspey" but was changed to "Dalwhinnie" or "Plain of meetings / meeting place" in Gaelic, in reference to the ancient cattle droving routes between the two mountain ranges. It was considered madness in Victorian times to build at this location due to the high altitude and harsh cold weather.

Water source at Dalwhinnie

The most important ingredient for a distillery is of course water, which is provided by the "Allt an T’Sluic" Spring water and snow meltwater from the surrounding hills make it incredibly pure and fresh. It has been debated if Dalwhinnie should be considered a Speyside whisky considering the spring and hills contribute to the Spey river even though it is located in the Highlands.

The highest distillery in Scotland?

Formerly the highest distillery in Scotland in 2008 but dethroned shortly after by the reopening of Braeval Distillery near Tomintoul. Given its high altitude and the likelihood of heavy snow, the distillery is completely self-contained and has on-site facilities to house all staff if required.

The whisky at Dalwhinnie

The whisky at Dalwhinnie distillery is aged for 15 years or more in bourbon barrels, although some distillers editions have used Oloroso Sherry casks. Only a small portion of the single malt produced at Dalwhinnie is actually used in their signature 15-year aged "classic malts" product, the majority is used in a blended whisky called Buchanan's Black & White.

The distillery would be considered small in comparison to some of the others in Scotland, but it still has the capacity to produce 1.3 million litres of pure alcohol per year.

In the past, there have been special 20-year-old and 36-year-old edition releases. Independent bottlings are no longer produced at the facility. Interestingly wooden worm tubs are still used at Dalwhinnie, one of the last distilleries in Scotland to do so.

Dalwhinnie Distillery, Scotch Whisky Masters, now open and following Scottish Government guidelines

Dalwhinnie uses lightly peated and smoked malt sourced from the owners Diageo industrial facilities.

Two racked warehouses provide enough space to age 5000 casks at Dalwhinnie.

The stills at Dalwhinnie

Created by Abercrombie & Co, Dalwhinnie has a 17,000-litre wash still and a spirit still at 14,000 litres.

Production setbacks

The distillery suffered a fire in 1934 and was closed for four years due to deep snowdrifts in the freezing cold winters hindering the rebuild process. In 1940 production was halted due to a restriction on barley during WW2.

Dalwhinnie Distillery Visitor Centre

Dalwhinnie Distillery is now owned by multinational beverage behemoth Diageo and would be a great first foray into touring Distilleries. The visitor centre opened in 1992 after an investment of £3.2 million pounds at the site, which includes a cafe and shop. There are great whisky tours on offer all year round (bar Christmas and new year) and the staff are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable on this working distillery.

Whisky Lovers - what does Dalwhinnie whisky taste like?

The Whisky from Dalwhinnie is golden in appearance and has the aroma of citrus, vanilla and apples. It tastes very smooth with a heathery-honey sweetness, apple, vanilla and citrusy flavours with notes of malted bread. It has a smokey/ sweet malt finish.

Meteorological Station

There is a scientific weather station based at Dalwhinnie, which recorded the coldest average temperature ever in Britain for June, September and October.

Conclusion

A trip out from Aviemore down to Dalwhinnie makes for a nice day trip for a tour around Dalwhinnie Distillery, with easy access down the A9 - it's about a 40-minute journey past splendid mountain scenery. There are a lot of things to see and do on this stretch of the A9 including the aforementioned Ruthven Barracks, Loch Insh, Highland Wildlife Park, Wildcat Centre and Highland Folk Museum.

Location of Dalwhinnie

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