Whisky Review #24: Dailuaine 16 Years Old Double Header – WM Cadenhead bottling vs Flora & Fauna bottling

Dailuaine is a distillery that was totally unknown to me for many years up until January, when I purchased my copy of the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015 during my time in Scotland. As I was perusing it, I came across the entry for the distillery and it stated that it was owned by Diageo and that its primary focus was to produce whiskies which were to be used in the company’s various blends.

What caught my attention was the picture of the bottle of Dailuaine 16 Years Old from the Flora & Fauna series of bottlings from Diageo, which featured a copper hued whisky. The colour alone told me that this was a sherried whisky, which made me sit up and take proper notice.

Now, I am as much a fan of sherried whiskies as the next person and I have tried a fair few over the years. But this was from a workhorse distillery whose main purpose was to NOT make single malts for general sale. This is why the Flora & Fauna bottling caught my attention as it is as close to an official distillery bottling as one could possibly get and it gave us a peek behind the veil at what the distillery was capable of.

Dailuaine distillery
Dailuaine distillery

But first, a bit of history. The distillery was founded in 1852 by William Mackenzie. Upon his death in 1865, his widow leased the distillery to James Fleming, who formed Mackenzie and Company with William Mackenzie’s son, Thomas.

Over the years, the distillery formed alliances with the likes of Glenlivet (adopting the Dailuaine-Glenlivet Distillery Ltd. name in 1891) and Talisker (becoming the Dailuaine-Talisker Distilleries Ltd. in 1898). After Thomas Mackenzie’s death in 1915, the company was sold to the John Dewars & Sons, John Walker & Sons and James Buchanan & Co. consortium in 1916, who held it till 1925, when it was sold to the well known Distillers Company Limited (DCL).

The distillery continued under DCL’s ownership until 1987, when it was taken over by United Distillers (the company which later merged with DCL and others to form Grand Metropolitan, which then merged with Guinness to become the present day incarnation, Diageo).

Getting back to the whisky, I was sourcing for it in Singapore and knew that The Auld Alliance had the Flora & Fauna bottling in stock, but I was keen on looking for other versions from independent bottlers as well. It was in late May when I found a suitable candidate: A 16 Year Old Dailuaine bottled by WM Cadenhead.

Dailuaine 16 Years Old (bottled by WM Cadenhead from a bourbon cask).
Dailuaine 16 Years Old (bottled by WM Cadenhead from a bourbon cask).

The whisky in question was found at Quaich Bar in the River Valley district of Singapore and it was sourced from a bourbon cask. I am unsure as to whether it is a first fill or a refill bourbon cask as well as how many bottles were filled from that particular cask, but I will endeavour to find out more when I return to Quaich Bar next.

The Flora & Fauna bottling was found at Whisky & Alement during my most recent trip to Melbourne earlier this month and is a 16 Years Old sherried expression. I’m pretty sure that it has been sourced from a refill sherry butt as the flavour profile seems to suggest as such (but more on that below).

Dailuaine 16 Years Old (Flora & Fauna bottling).
Dailuaine 16 Years Old (Flora & Fauna bottling).

The Cadenhead expression cost me SG$18 whereas the Flora & Fauna expression cost me AU$17, which is rather decent when you consider that both expessions are 16 years of age.

So, let’s get stuck in aye?

Dailuaine 16 Years Old (46% abv, bottled by WM Cadenhead)

Colour: Golden sunset

Nose: Initial entry presents hints of bourbon and some vanilla, which is a nod to the bourbon cask used in the maturation of this whisky. There’s a generous hint of barley sugar and some creme brulee on the nose, followed by some cinnamon and just a touch of black pepper. There’s a hint of the alcohol strength of this dram lurking in the background, but it is otherwise rather subtle.

Palate: Toffee, salted caramel and some citrus notes are the first to inundate the palate, before the vanilla and creme brulee take centre stage. With time, some of the spices from the nose emerge, but only just. This is a rather sweet dram, but also rather well balanced in terms of the sweetness and spiciness.

The alcohol strength is more pronounced on the palate than on the nose, but once again it is subtle and not assertive. Some of the barley sugar from the nose makes an appearance towards the end.

Finish: Medium to long finish, with the sweetness carrying all the way through this dram. The cinnamon, black pepper and barley sugar intermingle well with one another and there’s a dollop of honey and a mild citrus note in there as well.

Balance is definitely the key here and it seems that all the different components are working in tandem with one another. The mouthfeel is slightly oily and it works well in this case. Very good dram.

Rating: 86/100

Dailuaine 16 Years Old (43% abv, bottled by Diageo for the Flora & Fauna range)

Colour: Copper

Nose: Initial entry presents some sherried sweetness, red stewed fruits and the typical spices which one would expect from a sherried whisky such as cinnamon and nutmeg. There’s also a nuttiness to the nose, somewhat reminiscent of roasted macadamias and cashews.

With time, the nose opens further and there’s a definite aroma reminiscent of fruitcake. The sherried nature of this whisky is not as pronounced as the likes of the Macallan or the Glenfarclas and seems to hint to me that it was matured in a refill sherry butt. There’s a certain oiliness to this dram that can be detected in the nose. Intriguing.

Palate: The sherried sweetness carries through to the palate, accompanied by the macadamias and cashews. With time, the stewed fruits and warming spices also emerge, coating the palate well and giving this a rather rich and somewhat velvety mouthfeel.

The rather mild alcohol strength also doesn’t interfere with the sherried nature of this whisky, although it does give it a somewhat clean feel. With time and a few drops of water, the sherry and spices become more pronounced and take control of the proceedings.

Finish: Quite a long finish on this one, with the sherried sweetness, nuttiness and warming spices from the nose ever present. Mouthfeel is oily and works very well with the other aspects of this whisky. Quite more-ish and definitely satisfying. A distant whiff of smoke brings things to a close.

Rating: 89/100

When you consider that both these exprssions show two different sides of the same distillery, the result is quite impressive. The bourbon-matured Dailuaine from Cadenhead is a complex and well-balanced dram which deserves far more recognition and praise whereas the sherry-matured Dailuaine from the Flora & Fauna range is a sophisticated and impressive dram which would surprise and even delight drinkers with its rich intensity.

If anything, Diageo has a hidden gem on its hands and would do well to perhaps give it more recognition and maybe even introduce a range of core offerings from the distillery. I would definitely be keeping an eye on this distillery and will be on the lookout for other expressions (especially the heavily sherried single cask Manager’s Choice expression bottled in 2009).

If you come across a bottle of Dailuaine either at a local bottle shop or at a bar, I would suggest that you take a leap of faith and give it a try. Who knows, you just might enjoy it as much as I do!

Slainte!

Brendan

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