Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Dailuaine 1995

Johnnie Walker Black you devil!  What secrets lurk behind your slanted black label?  What makes men consult you, you amber oracle, in dim wood panelled bars and beside roaring fireplaces in order to spark conversations that glow long into the night?

And then there are your accolades . . . My personal favorite, as colourfully declared by the cantankerous author and journalist Christopher Hitchens:

"The best blended Scotch in the history of the world - which was also the favourite drink of the Iraqi Baath Party, as it still is of the Palestinian Authority and the Libyan dictatorship and large branches of the Saudi Arabian royal family - is Johnnie Walker Black. Breakfast of champions, accept no substitute." 

Mr. Hitchens' affection for Johnnie Black was enormous.  He drank it daily and in my opinion, that habit and his smoking killed him.  The BBC obituary of Mr. Hitchens' quoted him discussing his daily routine:

"At about half past midday, a decent slug of Mr Walker's amber restorative, cut with Perrier water (an ideal delivery system) and no ice. At luncheon, perhaps half a bottle of red wine: not always more but never less. Then back to the desk, and ready to repeat the treatment at the evening meal. No 'after-dinner drinks' - ​most especially nothing sweet and never, ever any brandy. 'Nightcaps' depend on how well the day went..."

Hitchens reminds me of another great contributor to western culture, from another era, whose fondness for scotch and cigarettes ended his life also by way of cancer of the esophagus:

Humphrey Bogart

This man (with a penchant for trench coats that seems to have been shared by Hitchens judging from the pic above) was credited with a memorable one liner: 

"The whole world is three drinks behind. If everybody in the world would take three drinks, we would have no trouble."

Not to be taken literally, but philosophically, there is some wisdom in Bogie's observation.

. . .

In any event, what makes Black Label so great?  The answer is in the single malts making up the blend.  One such malt is from the obscure distillery: Dailuaine

Bet you never heard of it.  You have no recognition of this distillery because 98% of its massive output (3.3 million litres per year) is used for blending.  A mere 2% is bottled as a single malt mostly by independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail.  

Dailuaine is a workhorse distillery.  There is no visitor centre.  Diageo has it in its portfolio of distilleries to produce enormous amounts of malt whisky for its blends.  Besides the Johnnie Walker blends, it also appears in J&B and Bell's.  So, is Dailuaine worth savouring on its own?

Nose (undiluted)
Orange Pekoe tea, black licorice, oily, seaweed and medicinal notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Oats, white birthday cake bread, zesty marmalade, tangerines astringent apricot and pears.  Great complexity of flavors.

Finish (undiluted)
Limes, pepper, oak and wisps of wood smoke.  Waxen dry with spices.  Wow!

General Impressions
I was really surprised by the nose of this malt.  Quite peaty, smoky and medicinal for a Speysider malt.  Interesting how those qualities didn't appear on the palate.  Maybe a twinge of disappointment.  I think this is the first malt whisky I have had that shouted smoke and peat on the nose, but made no such delivery when tasted.  Interesting.

Add Water?
I added water and found it did not improve much.  Matter of fact, it just took everything down a notch.  The H2o did make it creamier if that is something you like.  Water?  Generally not recommended with this malt.

You may get the impression from my tasting note that sherry plays no part in the flavor profile.  That would be a mistake.  Probably mine for not mentioning it, but I am mentioning it now.  Sherry is there in a light maraschino cherry style upon the palate.

Refill sherry hogsheads were used to make this whisky.  Don't know what a 'hogshead' is? Basically a 250 litre barrel that is considered ideal for the ageing of malt whisky.  Bottom line:  the sherry style of this scotch whisky is soft with a sprinkling of green fruit.  Think melon.  In any case it works!

Price Point
Some of Gordon & MacPhail's releases can be quite pricey.  This particular bottling was quite reasonable I thought for the quality of malt.  I paid around $60.  It is a 16 year old malt (distilled in 1995 & bottled in 2001) that punches slightly above its price point.  Good job!

Maybe Bogie was right.  If I and the rest of the world are three drinks behind, Gordon & Macphail's Connoiseurs Choice Dailuaine is a good place to start!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved except for the following photographs of Johnnie Walker Black Label, Humphrey Bogart and Christopher Hitchens. (1) The Johnnie Walker Black Label photograph appearing at the top of this post was taken by James Calvey and it is used here with his permission. No reproduction of his photograph is permitted without his consent. Mr. Calvey is the holder of all copyright to said photo. Check out more of his great work at his Flickr account.  (2) Photograph of Christopher Hitchens appears extensively in a Google images search, but no credit is given to the photographer. If you are the photographer or know the proper credit, let me know, and I will give credit and ask permission for its use in this blog. (3) See note 2 for photo of Humphrey Bogard in trench coat. (4) Final photograph of Humphrey Bogard was taken by Yusuf Karsh and the copyright expired in 1996. Accordingly, it is now in the public domain. (5) all those pics of bottles of Gordon & MacPhail Dailuane were taken by me and I hold the copyright. Ask me nicely and I may permit you to reproduce those images. Note: All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment. Moreover, all images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description. Oh yeah, one final disclaimer: Drink in moderation! I don't want you to share the fate of Bogie and Hitchens.


  1. Excellent post, as always, Jason. I wasn't aware of the JWBL connection with Dailuaine. I always learn something new on your blog.

    Those independent bottler issues are a slippery slope, Jason. Some are seductively delicious and they are seductively rare and exclusive by their very natures. Next thing you know you'll be drinking a bunch of closed distillery rarities with your pinkie in the air... :)

    Just kidding - I drink these kind of issues all the time. I have a pure bourbon cask Dailuaine 39 1971/2010 46.6% from "The Perfect Dram" on tap as we speak. It is floral, sweet and fruity (pears and melon) with a touch of mineral. No liquorice or seaweed in that one. Interesting.

    1. Cardhu is another single malt that is a constituent part of Johnnie Walker Black. I am reviewing that next.

      You are right that those independent bottlers can get you hooked on one-of-a-kind whiskies. Gordon & Macphail are no exception.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Hey Jason,

    I am a big fan of your reviews. Not only do I refer your blog before buying any whisky, but I also suggest your blog to others.

    Now, here's what I wanted to ask. Have you tried Tambowie Highland Pure malt? Can you write a review for it. It's available for $6 (750 ml) in the Total Wine store in my town. I was shocked to see a single/pure malt priced that low. Can you please review it for me?

    Thank you!

    1. Unfortunately, I cannot write a review of Tambowie as it is not available in Canada (where I live). If you do an internet search you will learn that Tambowie is light and sweet. For $6 you can't expect much, but sometimes the low priced ones pack a surprise.

      The late whisky critic, Michael Jackson, who never seemed to have a bad word to say about whisky wrote "it doesn't seem to go anywhere." Light bodied and orange he wrote of it.

      Dave Broom rated it a 67. That's pretty low. So, sounds to me like a really sweet malt with no complexity, but hey, why dont you taste and advise?

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated!

    2. Thanks Jason. I'll try and let you know.

      Also, have you tried the Black Grouse? It's highly rated on many websites, but I wanted your opinion about it?

      Thanks once again!

    3. For the price, Black Grouse is pretty good. But, you have to understand that it is very smoky and peaty. If that is not your cup of tea (so to speak), you may want to avoid it until you develop an interest in such flavors.

    4. Thanks for the reply. Do you think Black Grouse is kinda similar to JW Double Black in terms of the smoky-peaty flavor?

    5. Black Grouse is much more smokey and peated. So, if those flavors are something you are experimenting with I would opt for JW Double Black before progressing to Black Grouse.

  3. Jason,
    I just started today. I'm a whisky aficionado and after reading several blogs, I found yours truly interesting and easy going; without the snobbish galore of too many reviewers out there. So, now you have me as a follower! I bet I'll learn a lot from you. Greetings from Mexico.

    1. Tattaglia, welcome to the blog! You don't have to worry about snobby attitudes here. It's all about the whisky. Mexico is a great country! I was there in March. Beautiful! Cheers!

  4. Jason, I've formed an opinion that there's a striking relationship between the aging of malt in fresh sherry cask (non PX sherry, that is) and the development of the aroma for pear fruit. For me it's become one of the loveliest characteristics of whiskey. I find that exposure of the malt in the glass to air brings about a slow change, from sherry wine nose to that of pear. Among the purest examples of this are the best versions of Dailuaine and Lagavulin's 16Y. Keep your nose to the glass and let me know if you see it. JK

  5. Though I'm not really a fan of the black (give me the green if I must drink a blend) but since I'm a big fan of Bogie, Hitch and scotch overall, it's a great read.

    1. Thanks! Nice to hear from you again. Hopefully the New England Patriots will have a great season.