Dornoch Distillery remains one of the single most interesting whisky projects in Scotland. Run by absolute fanatics – in the best possible sense of the word – they go beyond what even most whisky geeks could dream up. Today, I take a closer look at two recent bottlings. Both distilled in 2018 and aged for 5 years. One bottled for the casQueteers, a Dutch cask sharing initiative, the other for The Whisky Show in London.
Founded by Phil and Simon Thompson, Dornoch Distillery’s original home is very humble indeed. The small former fire station at the edge of the grounds of Dornoch Castle has served them well. But now it’s time for something bigger. And presumably something better. Just last month their ambitious plans for a new distillery was green-lit by Highland councillers.
The new operation will sit at an 7.5 acre site at Dornoch South. The plans include a two-storey distillery, low-lying solar farm, two warehouses and a wetland system. There will be a visitor centre with tasting bar and shop too. The entire plans were published on the distillery’s website.
It’s an exciting new chapter for Dornoch Distillery and the area. It’s exciting news for Scotch whisky in general too. The brothers’ uncompromising, traditional approach to whisky-making has been a breath of fresh air. And some of theirwhiskies have already proven very impressive indeed.
The two single cask releases for the casQueteers and The Whisky Show share some similarities. Both were distilled in 2018 from floor-malted Plumage Archer and matured in bourbon casks. But there are differences too. The casQueteers release fermented for 7 days, while The Whisky Show bottling took 9 days to ferment. Also, the casQueteers matured in a first-fill bourbon octave; the Whisky Show release in a 100-litre refill bourbon casks.
Compare and contrast we shall…
Dornoch Distillery 2018 5 Years (53.4%, OB for casQueteers, C#68)
Nose: A touch of furniture polish and oak shavings along with hints of butterscotch, chalk, hops and limoncello. Also a whisper of mango sorbet, cotton candy grapes and yuzu. And let’s not forget the bread, grain-y backbone, which has been ever-present in any Dornoch I’ve ever tried. Taste: Proper oily mouthfeel with a touch of brown sugar, soft oak spices and green herbs, alongside juicy sultanas, a whiff of aniseed, rice pudding, and amber beer. Some waxes too, then touches of pine resin, as well as citrus and green fruits. Finish: Medium to long. Plenty of hoppy, green, herbal notes with a touch of milk chocolate.
The cask influence is not minor, yet the character of the Dornoch distillate is overwhelmingly present. I continue to be so impressed with this tiny distillery has been able to build so far.
Dornoch Distillery 2018 5 Years (57.4%, OB for Whisky Show London, C#124)
Nose: Somewhat funky, hints of varnish, but also a real bready, cereal-oriented foundation. There’s porridge with honey, touches of sourdough, Greek yoghurt and a whiff of brown bread. Give it a few minutes and the fruity notes begin to develop more – mango, some pineapple and maybe even a few sultanas. Taste: Fatty and oily mouthfeel with a lovely yeasty quality, alongside more sourdough notes, linseed and a grassy touch. Gentles notes of wet pebbles, chalk and mush bananas, as well as citrus peel and star fruits. Finish: Medium to long. Loads of character. The barley-forward nature makes an encore.
Just a whisky that oozes personality. There's really no whisky being produced in Scotland right now that's anything like what Dornoch Distillery does. And it's not just different, it's good. Most importantly, it's already recognisable. There's a shared DNA between all of their whiskies that I've tasted so far. That's just remarkable.