Quintessence: the fifth substance in addition to the four elements, thought to compose the heavenly bodies, and to be latent in all things. Names, overblown or otherwise, lend insight to their bearer’s origins. And accordingly, The Dalmore’s Quintessence tells the story of a unique blend of five casks.
Several distilleries have a history of making cask finishes a signature of their house style; Glenmorangie and The Balvenie spring to mind. The Dalmore may not be associated strongly with this technique, but it is because they have a more subtle approach. With a comparatively richer style among its contemporaries, it may not be as apparent at first glance (or nosing). They are seemingly partial to a richer style of sherry, with Matusalem a key component in many of its core expressions. In fact, their most recognisable offerings — the 15YO and King Alexander III — notably consists of whiskies finished in multiple styles of casks. King Alexander III, in particular, boasts six different styles: Matusalem, Madeira, Marsala, Port, Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the ex-bourbon barrels where the spirit underwent its initial maturation.
So as the names are a reflection of their origins, the whisky is a reflection of its maker. The Quintessence was somewhat of a pet project for the wine-loving Richard ‘The Nose’ Paterson, Master Blender for Whyte & Mackay and The Dalmore. It brought together two of his greatest passions: The Dalmore Distillery and exceptional red wine. You might even say this is quintessential Paterson.
The origin of the project dates back to as far as 1998, where an encounter with a Californian wine company sowed the seeds for what would become his latest creation. “Wine has been a passion of mine for many years so to be able to combine my love of wine with my love of whisky is something really special for me. In 1998 I met with a Californian wine company, and it was then that I really immersed myself in the fantastic array of wines produced in that particular region,” he said.
Although he never had the intention from the get-go to use those wines, he made a mental note of them. And it was after the creation of King Alexander III that his eye (or nose) turned back towards wine, and he thought about how he could he could incorporate them in his whiskies. Paterson was a man on a mission: he had a clear idea of what he wanted, and the five cask ‘design’ was no accident.
“I thought on this for a while, before the idea came to me to produce a whisky with five different red wine finishes; something totally unique that had never been done before,” said Paterson. His time in California, clearly, had left an impression on him, and he made the decision to return the Napa Valley. “I have fond memories of visiting California in 1998 and … This felt like the perfect opportunity to create a whisky with those wines from that region,” he said.
Needing to find the right casks that would achieve the vision in his head, Paterson met with producers from various vineyards and tasted many different wines until he found the ones that met his expectations: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. First matured in Amercian oak ex-bourbon barrels, the spirit was then divided among these five casks, and placed within Warehouse No 2 at The Dalmore distillery, which was deemed to have the perfect environment for the casks to impart their distinctive characteristics. The Cabernet Sauvignon, which Paterson calls the “King of Grapes”, provides the backbone of cedar, Morello cherries and sweet plums, while Zinfandel and Syrah bring light whispers of cassis and cranberries. The rich, indulgent notes are provided by the Merlot and Pinot Noir, adding forest fruits and blackcurrants to the mix.
For all of Paterson’s experience, creating the Quintessence turned out an insightful experience that even he found educational. Cask finishing, according to Paterson, is inherently unpredictable, and he never knows for certain how long it will take to get the style he wants, or what direction the spirit may take, even. “A cask is like a person; it is living and breathing. You must nurture and love it,” Paterson mused. Like pioneering craft endeavour, it’s a process that’s part science and part art, which he finds “exciting and magical.” Even after having worked with, and understood the nature of many casks, he finds himself having to continually nose and taste all his whiskies to ensure that they are going in the direction that he expects.
“It was great to be able to bring casks together from California as this was something I hadn’t really done before,” he said. “I had to watch the casks carefully to see how the flavours developed so that no particular wine dominated. It was an interesting process; it took time for the whiskies to develop into this one-of-a-kind whisky. It is indeed something special and it’s a whisky which I’m extremely proud of.”
And at a rather hefty S$2,220, the Quintessence is certainly, categorically special. Paterson explains that in addition to the sourcing of the casks, time was also a contributing factor to the cost. The Quintessence had to be brought together slowly to make the final assemblage, which took years — five in fact, which is rather unprecedented for finishing. Typically, finishing is done in a matter of months, as blenders usually do not want their whisky to be overwhelmed by wine. In this instance, Paterson and his team nurtured the casks until they finally provided the qualities he desired.
Unfortunately for those who find the Quintessence a little out of reach, there are no plans from The Dalmore to incorporate Californian wine casks into their regular line up at the moment; but Paterson says that he has not ruled out the idea entirely. He also assures that it won’t be the end of such whimsies and that fans can look forward to more of such endeavours in future, with casks from new bodegas and wineries never seen before.
“For me, one of the most exciting elements of my job is the continual evolution of whisky… I want to continue to create special assemblages that have a wealth of depth and flavour that will excite the palate,” Paterson adds, “… I can say I have some interesting and unique casks maturing up at The Dalmore, but I’m not going to reveal what these are just yet. You will just have to watch this space!”
The Dalmore Quintessence
(70cl, 45% ABV)
Colour Rich amber cherry wood with garnet highlights
Aroma Black Forest fruits, marmalade and honeycomb
Palate Tropical fruits, ginger and sun-dried raisins
Finish Cassis, orange, fresh baked banana
The Dalmore Quintessence can be purchased at HTH Wines and Spirits (+65 6288 5772)