Monday, December 4, 2017

The Living Mountain with Dalwhinnie 15 year old malt

Nan Shepherd's 'The Living Mountain' is one of the most heart achingly perfect things I've ever read. I have a slight acquaintance with the Cairngorms and the Grampians, mostly as background scenery from various journeys. My partner knows them much better, and loves them in a way that reading Shepherd has certainly helped me understand.

I may not know the mountains well, but growing up in Shetland taught me to look at the details of an outwardly bleak landscape to find the beauty in it, in much the same way that Shepherd describes her mountains - and it's something I consider to be a real gift. The Cairngorms have the harshest climate in the U.K. when I did get up close (courtesy of the funicular railway, which is certainly the easy way) it was to a wind scoured plateau and a view of the inside of a rain cloud. It was stunning, but definitely on the bleak side. That first taste and Shepherd have not had given me the urge to see and experience more.

In many ways Shepherds prose puts me in mind of gin - both it's clarity and the juniper tang of it seem appropriate, but the Cairngorms are in whisky country, there are a few distilleries within the national park area (including Royal Lochnagar which is a particular favourite) but in the end Dalwhinnie seems more appropriate.

It's almost the highest distillery in the country, and is just off the A9 (a great road to take both for scenery and distilleries) in what looks a lot like the middle of nowhere, the 15 year old is definitely the expression to start with. Until a couple of years ago it was their entry level whisky, now there's something called Dalwhinnie Winter's Gold which has no age statement (nas) and is perfectly good, but I don't think it has quite the same elegance as the 15 year old (I'd also say it's sweeter and smokier, it's on offer pretty much everywhere at the moment, and at around £25 is excellent value - I might put ice in it, but I wouldn't freeze it as suggested).

Dalwhinnie is an excellent beginner whisky which essentially means not to peaty, smokey, or peppery - instead what you get is a smooth, elegant, malt with a hint of toffee sweetness, some honey, light fruity notes, and a whiff of heather about the finish. There's more than enough complexity to give you something to think about, and plenty of character, it's just a smoother, easier going, character than some other whiskies have.

It's that smoothness, the touch of honey, and the generally well made feel of the stuff, that makes me think it's right for 'The Living Mountain', that and the distillery setting in the hills. Terroir is something of a romantic conceit when it comes to whisky (the shape of thevstill, and the wood it's aged in, along with decisions about eat matter more), but it's easy to imagine that something of the spirit of the place gets in the bottle.


  1. I loved reading this, and wish I liked whisky. I shall look into the Shepherd book. Thank you.

    1. It's a brilliant book, and as regards the whisky, is itva definitely don't like, or just haven't found one you do like yet situation? If it's the latter there may still be one out there for you!