At the end of the 1980s, United Distillers (now Diageo) owned more than 50 whisky distilleries, a good number of them unfortunately silent since the 1983–1985 period. Some of their distilleries saw almost no official bottlings, and Dallas Dhu were featured almost exclusively in a few Rare Malts Selection bottlings. Let’s talk about the Rare Malts Selection, before reviewing a Dallas Dhu 1975 Rare Malts.
The Rare Malts Selection
DCL, the independent distillers grouped together since 1877, was recently moribund in 1985. In order to defend from a surprise bid by Argyll Group, DCL approached Guinness PC, which had recently purchased its competitor Arthur Bell & Sons of Perth. DCL & Guinness created United Distillers to control the wine and spirits operations for the companies they owned. UD immediately started a new communication and marketing program for their malt distilleries, with two axes. The first one focused on the different regions of Scotland, and the Classic Malts range was born. It starred six distilleries: Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban and Talisker. The second one, more exclusive, showcased the 36 distilleries in UD’s portfolio, about half of them having closed in the early 1980s, but leaving behind huge stocks still maturing.
The Rare Malts Selection was launched first in the duty-free market in 1995 because of its ‘disruptive and innovative’ nature. It would later be introduced to domestic markets as well. The Rare Malts Selection was completely different to the general market at the time, as instead of behind aligned by the bottom, with lots of mass-produced blends at 40% ABV, for the companies to pay the lowest taxes possible, the Rare Malts focused on small batches created by marrying about 20 barrels, making 4,000 to 10,000 bottles per release.
Casks were selected by vintage, meaning from a single year of distillation. The vattings were bottled at cask strength, without the use of colouring (with E150) nor chill filtration. The bottles were individually numbered, but didn’t mention the exact number of bottles from the batch.
For the first four years, between 1995 and 1998, bottlings were released twice a year, and featured four to ten different distilleries. The first year, 13 distilleries were showcased over 35 bottlings, with Brora and Clynelish heavily represented, with eight different versions, all distilled in 1972. The year 1996 saw 15 distilleries over 19 bottlings. Some of those distilleries were never to be seen again in the Rare Malts, like Aultmore, Benrinnes and Craigellachie. From 1999 things slowdowned, and only four or five bottlings would be released per year until 2005, when the range was stopped.
Overall, between 1995 and 2005, 36 different distilleries were showcased, half of them having closed between 1983 and 1985. Overall, 121 bottlings were released, in 20, 70 and 75 cl sizes. Thirteen distilleries were showcased only once in the Rare Malt Selection. Two box sets were produced, with five 20 cl bottles, in 1995 and 1996. The first one featured a Clynelish 1972, a Glen Esk 1969, a Glenlochy 1969, a Mortlach 1972 and a North Port 1971. The second one contained a Brora 1975, a Caol Ila 1975, a Dailuaine 1973, a Glendullan 1972 and a Teaninich 1972. The youngest bottling was 18 years old and the oldest 35-year-old. The earliest vintage was 1982 and the latest was 1969.
However, in 2016 Diageo released a 1976 Talisker 40-year-old and a 1976 Lagavulin 40-year-old for China.
Dallas Dhu Distillery
Dallas Dhu Distillery was founded in 1898 in the city of Forres, in Morayshire. Sources, however, depict two different starts for the distillery. One (scotchwhisky.com) says that it was founded by Alexander Edward, who hired the legendary distillery architect Charles Doig to build the new plant. It was then named Dallasmore. It would then be sold shortly after to the blending firm Wright & Greig, whose brand was Roderick Dhu. They’d rename then the distillery to Dallas Dhu. The other source (The book The Distilleries of Great Britain & Ireland by James Eadie Ltd.) mentions the same people but with different roles. The distillery would have been built by Wright and Greig on an estate owned by Alexander Edward. Anyway. Dallas Dhu is Gaelic for “Black Dallas”, taken for the neighbouring parish of Dallas.
Dallas Dhu changed hands in 1919 then 1921, before then owners, Benmore Distilleries, were bought by DCL . The distillery fell silent in 1930 until 1936, and a fire occurred in 1939. The distillery would restart only in 1947, before being closed like many others in 1983. In 1986, the brand was sold to United Distillers whilst the site became a distilling museum owned by Historic Scotland. However, the brand went back to Diageo in 1997.
Dallas Dhu 1975 Rare Malts Review
This Dallas Dhu is one of the very rare official bottlings existing. Except for a 64-year-old 1921 private cask which popped up on auction last year, there were only three 1970 24-year-old Rare Malts (with different ABVs) and this 1975 Rare Malts, aged 21 years old. This one was bottled on April 1997 at 61.9% ABV, without chill filtering. Obviously, you’ll have to rely to the secondary market and expensive amounts to secure a bottle. I have to thank a friend, Nicolas, on a French whisky discord group, who bought a bottle and sent me the sample I’m reviewing.
Deep gold. A swirl form small and tight beads on the crown, with very few becoming slow falling thin legs.
Neat: Quite intense, and very floral and herbal. Lots of heather, cut grass, lemongrass, and cherry tree and orange flowers. After a moment fruits appear, with peach, orange, apricot and lemon.
With water: reduction makes the nose more approachable, but it stays on the same notes. Maybe some mineral whiffs.
Neat: Intense again. Thick mouthfeel, waxy, on thick custard cream, orange, paraffin, then milk chocolate. At first the alcohol was quite strong but it tones down with saliva diluting it as you keep it before swallowing. Quite citrusy with lime, and no, it’s still quite hot, not from spices but from the high ABV.
With water: I had added quite a few drops of water but it’s still hot. More paraffin, vanilla, caramel, and less spices.
Medium long, on orange zest, vanilla and caramel ice cream, and some light smoky bitterness.
Intense is the word to describe this whisky. The ABV does not kid around, but still lets floral and herbal notes on the nose through. The palate is so thick you can chew it (okay, almost), and a bit of water is barely enough to tame it. In the end, another distillery at last ticked off, as it was my first time trying a Dallas Dhu. I’ll look for indy bottlings in the hope to get to know more this lost distillery, as this first try really picked my interest.
Thanks Nicolas! Picture courtesy of Whiskybase.