On the Trail

Scotland's Silent Soldiers

David Driscoll

Scotland has many famous single malt distilleries. There's Macallan, of course. Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Laphroaig, and Lagavulin, too. We know these facilities by name because they also happen to be world-renowned brands. Macallan isn't just a place where outstanding Scotch whisky is made, it's also a heavily-marketed trademark. With the recent renaissance of all things whisky and a burning desire to know more about it from consumers, a number of lesser-known Scottish distilleries have recently entered the single malt market, hoping to put their own particular name on the map. While the names are still unfamiliar, many of the faces have been around for more than a century. You see: the Scotch whisky industry was built around the blend, not the single malt. Distilleries were built not to become single identities recognized for their individuality, but rather to play a role in the greater marriage. That model has served Scotland well for hundreds of years, but recently—with a growing thirst for more transparency—blended whisky has found itself declining in popularity. Today's budding whisky customer doesn't appear be interested in a nebulous recipe stamped with a corporate logo. They have no brand loyalty. Today's modern drinker wants details. They want to know where the whisky came from; who made it, and why it tastes the way it does. One could even go so far as to say being able to link a unique flavor in a whisky to a particular production practice is more important than the ultimate taste! That's why, for the last seven years, we've been driving around Scotland, visiting a number of these lesser-known distilleries, learning more about them, and negotiating for their single casks. One such distillery is Dailuaine, a member of the vast Johnnie Walker empire.

Because Johnnie Walker is the most popular Scotch whisky in the world, it needs a lot of juice to supply that demand. In order to create that much hooch, they need a lot of distilleries. With more than forty production centers in the stable, you can imagine that a number of these facilities are dedicated solely to the purpose of making a number of Walker's many ingredients. Dailuaine is one such facility. Originally founded in 1852, the Speyside distillery's house style is completely dependent upon what's needed from the Walker blending team. Typically, the malt is known for its classic Highland style, full of vanilla and nutty richness, but over the last few years the team at Diageo (Walker's parent company)—running short of its waxy component whisky from Clynelish distillery—decided to recreate a number of styles at Dailuaine. Still, the sherry-aged expressions from the distillery are what Dailuaine is best known for, including a number of European-only releases that capture beautifully that flavor of dark chocolate, almonds, and cake bread.

While Johnnie Walker produces almost all of its own whisky from within its vast network of distilleries, every now and again they run short of aged ingredients and need to trade with other companies to restock on certain flavor profiles. It's from that system of warehouses and blending companies that we're able to source and select single casks of whiskies like Dailuaine for our own private use. While we've visited Dailuaine before, it's not open to the public, nor can one take photos inside. The whisky itself must secured via a third party, which is where our direct relationships in Scotland come into play. This past year we were able to snag two of the best single malt deals we've ever found from a warehouse with a healthy supply of Dailuaine. One was bottled as a nine year old under the Hepburn's Choice label, and promptly sold out within days. The second, however, is an even older version of the same whisky: a fourteen year old sherry-aged delight that we bottled under the Old Particular label—one that we expect will sell just as quickly once the email newsletter is sent out. 

As Scotch whisky has risen in popularity, stocks for the most coveted selections have been ravaged and prices for those whiskies have often doubled (even tripled) as a result. It's for that very reason that we've turned our attention to the lesser-known distilleries—Scotland's silent soldiers—for our single malt needs. While we're always going to be excited by the rare and unattainable, it's the everyday workhorse whiskies that we're most desperate for. It's from distilleries like Dailuaine that we'll continue to fill that niche. 

-David Driscoll