December is always a good month for drinking whisky. It offers excellent excuses for enjoying a dram: one to warm you up, one because it’s cold outside, or even just one because it’s Christmas. Dalwhinnie, which claims to be Scotland’s highest and coldest working distillery, should hopefully know a bit about drams for this time of year.
Dating back to 1898, Dalwhinnie is one of the smaller brands owned by Diageo. The distillery offers a limited core range, consisting of a 15-year-old, a 30-year-old, a distiller’s edition, and, at the entry-level, the NAS Winter’s Gold. The latter is made exclusively from spirit distilled between October and March. The packaging claims that this creates a more intense liquid with a richer, deeper character, “as heart-warming as our winters are bleak”.
Interestingly, the Winter’s Gold comes with a serving suggestion: chilling the bottle in the freezer before serving. While I’ve encountered suggestions of adding ice or a splash of water, this is the first time I’ve been told to freeze a whole bottle. Combined with the winter-themed packaging, it’s clear that Dalwhinnie has gone all-in on the whisky theme.
So, do the distillery’s credentials, winter theme, and serving suggestion combine to make Dalwhinnie’s Winter’s Gold the perfect December dram?
Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
43% ABV; no information on casks declared.
Colouring and chill-filtration were not declared. However, the internet suggests that this is both coloured and chill-filtered.
£44 (The Whisky Exchange)
Nose: Sweetness and honey lead, accompanied by fresh apple, pear, cinnamon, and furniture polish. A slight hint of smoke and a little citrus zest can also be detected.
Palate: Again, sweetness and honey dominate. There’s a hint of apple and red fruits, although this is quickly masked as raisins, warm pepper, and cinnamon make an appearance. A little harshness hints at the spirit’s youth.
Finish: A medium finish of honey and cinnamon, with a slight bitterness building over time.
Opinion: Unfortunately, this is far from the ultimate winter whisky. I feel like the distiller has played it a little too safe, creating a light and inoffensive dram, much better suited for sipping in spring or summer. For a proper winter whisky, I want big punchy flavours that can be adequately explored: smoke, sherry, or something similar. This delivers honey and sweetness but not much else. While the Winter’s Gold’s 43% ABV does add a more lingering finish than if it had been bottled at 40% ABV, it’s far from the “exquisitely heart-warming” and “lingering” finish that Diageo’s website promises.
When I tried it straight from the freezer, I found, unsurprisingly, that the nose had been almost completely neutralised. The palate did become a little more interesting: the overwhelming honey sweetness was eliminated, allowing a more thorough examination of the fruit and spice notes. Strangely, the finish seemed to become slightly more warming. While an interesting suggestion, I’m not entirely sold: I doubt freezing a whisky to reduce its prominent notes will become a widespread practice.
I have to mention the Winter’s Gold’s price tag. £44 is very steep for what is a very straightforward whisky. I would note that the Winter’s Gold can occasionally be found on Amazon on offer for as little as £25. This is worth looking out for: I feel that this price point suits the whisky far better and would make me consider buying a bottle. After all, the Winter’s Gold serves as a good introduction when taken as the entry-level dram in a wider range.
The Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold may not be the ultimate winter dram, but it’s far from terrible. It’s worth considering if you find it on sale.