A few weeks back the Malt Nuts gathered to tackle the often overlooked Dufftown distillery. Outside some of the Singleton of Dufftown releases I’ll readily admit I haven’t had much more than a passing exposure to Dufftown. It’s one of the distilleries that just don’t come up too often in polite, or even impolite, whisky conversation so I was a bit more excited than usual to sit down and have a few drams.
A quick history of Dufftown via Malt Madness
- 1896 – An old mill was converted into the Dufftown distillery by the Dufftown-Glenlivet Distillery Co
- 1897 – Acquired by MacKenzie & Co (owned Blair Athol at the time)
- 1933 – Bought by Arthur Bell & Sons Ltd.
- 1974 – Went from 2 stills to 4
- 1979 – Upgraded from 4 stills to 6
- 1985 – Bought by United Distillers (later becomes Diageo)
The usual blind tasting nature of our meetings was in place, but because there’s not much Dufftown out there (less than 3% makes it into Single Malts) we didn’t have flights and instead just passed around blinded bottles labeled A-G.
- Nose: Apricot, banana, malt, graham, touch smoke, oily nuts and a bit of sherry.
- Palate: Smoke, malt, alkaline, fruit, nuts, butterscotch and hay.
- Finish: Long -> Malt, Tootise Rolls, dried fruit and smoke.
- Overall: B (83-86) Elegant, balanced, fruity sweet with a touch of peat… yeah I liked this. It hit all the right notes and I pegged it at a higher B until I added a few drops of water and it went to pieces. I just thought it was an uber temperamental whisky, but when I found out it was a low-proof blend it all made sense. Though I had no idea Bell’s was actually this tasty. Mind. Blown.
B: Signatory Vintage Dufftown 17 years (97-15): 54.8% – Hogshead Cask
- Nose: Apricot jelly, malt, oil, honey, hay, frosting sweetness and spice.
- Palate: Honey, tropical fruit jellies, malt and peaches.
- Finish: Med -> Peaches, dried fruit, malt, honey.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Ooh yeah this is good and it got even better with water. With just a splash it opened up to a deeper fruity character with previously un-noticed layers of orchard and tropical fruit coming out.
C: Signatory Vintage Dufftown 17 years (85-03): 56.6%
- Nose: Juicy fruit gum, nuts, malt, toffee, spice, dried fruit and bubblegum.
- Palate: Malt, honey, orange cocoa, spice, dried fruit and Canadian mints.
- Finish: Long -> Malt, honey, fruit and menthol.
- Overall: B+ (83-86) Funky sweet menthol and dried fruit slide through almost in unison. It’s weird, you wouldn’t think the two would work well, but here they work quite well and I found myself completely enjoying it.
D: The Singleton of Dufftown 28 years (85-13): 52.3%
- Nose: Dry grain, banana, butterscotch, hazelnut, dried fruit and a bit of a farmy character.
- Palate: Malt, banana, butterscotch, dark fruit, honey and more of that farmy character.
- Finish: Med -> Oily, vanilla, malt, toffee and farmy.
- Overall: B (83-86) It’s a good whisky, but compared to the two that came before it it’s just “ok”. Water didn’t really help it all that much, it just dispersed the farmy character a bit. I’d peg it on the low end of the B scale.
E: Signatory Vintage Dufftown 15 years (97-13): 55.3% – Hogshead Cask
- Nose: Banana chips, brown sugar, alkaline, hay, ‘Nilla Wafers, and honey.
- Palate: Banana chips, cinnamon, brown sugar, hay, alkaline, marshmallows, honey and tea.
- Finish: Medium -> Fruit, vanilla, malt, taffy and cinnamon.
- Overall: B (83-86) Some interesting notes and a decent balance that brings it to the higher end of the B scale, but not something to go nuts over. A fairly standard Speyside character.
F: Gordon & Macphail Exclusive Glendullan 12 years (99-11): 55.2%
- Nose: Banana taffy, nougat, dried apples, butterscotch and nuts.
- Palate: Banana taffy, nougat, dried apples, chocolate Necco and vanilla.
- Finish: Long -> Banana taffy, apricot, apples and toffee.
- Overall: B (83-86) The shift in overall flavor profile was noticeable, but having not had much Dufftown before I just thought we were getting into some older whisky or odd casks. Turns out we shifted to its neighbor Glendullan.
G: Cadenhead’s Dufftown 17 years: 57.4%
- Nose: Melon, pumpkin, touch malty and farmy.
- Palate: Melon, pumpkin, dry grain, farmy and a touch fruity.
- Finish: Med -> Melon, pumpkin, nuts and wheat bread.
- Overall: C+ (77-79) I really didn’t care for this one. It wasn’t balanced, had a weird melon meets pumpkin thing going on and with the wheat bread and dry grain notes I was getting I thought might a grain whisky. Turned out to be another Glendullan.
I think this tasting epitomizes why blind tastings are so important and so much fun. Throwing in the neighboring Glendullan and the Bell’s was a good way to see if the often similarly marketed Glendullan (Singleton) bore any resemblance without knowing and to “check our bullshit” when it came to the blend. I had no plans to try a Bell’s until I got around to doing a blend month, or something like that, and it’s entirely possible that knowing it was a blend could have influenced my judgement a bit when I did.
I like to think I try my best to be as objective as possible and only think about what’s happening on the senses, but the mind if a funny thing. Knowledge, like an ex-lover you’re not completely over, sits at the edge of your mind no matter how hard you try to push it out. You might not even be aware of it, but I’ve read enough psychological studies to know that unless all accountable variables are covered it’s nearly impossible for humans to be fully objective. Which is why I like blind tastings, but love it even more when someone sneaks something in no one is expecting.
I had fun attending, drinking and writing up the notes and I hope you enjoyed reading them.
Till next time, cheers!