We were somewhere around White Plains on the edge of the highway when the 100-years-in-toto, 80,000-plus-pesos flight of opulent Scotch whisky began to take hold…
I will spare you the gonzo details of the ride home from the recent “100 Years of The Dalmore” event at Solaire’s Whisky Bar, but almost no flying bits were involved — and let me assure you that my trusted associate, Mr. Tall Guy himself, was feeling high after downing grilled octopus, fried baby squid head, chocolates from our food server Victoria, and a trinity of drams of Dalmore single-malt Scotch whisky (the 15 Years, the Legacy, and the King Alexander III). What. A. Night.
In 2018, before everything went to hell with the pandemic, I had a chance to sit down with The Nose himself: whisky expert and master distiller Richard Paterson, OBE. I learned from him that you don’t just guzzle down one of the world’s finest beverages (as if you were in an alley with gin bulag in a melting plastic pitcher with the neighbor fearlessly belting out the tempestuous climax of My Love Will See You Through powered by Konzert). There is a quiet ritual involved. It is a delicate dance with spirits.
You take your time.
Or, rather, the whisky should take its sweet time with you.
“You should at least keep it on the palate for 25 seconds,” Paterson explained. “Top of the tongue first, then under, and then back in the middle. The longer you keep it on your tongue, the more you extract these lovely flavors. It is like eating Filipino food: the longer you chew, the more these delicious flavors come out.” A whisky, he insisted, is like a beautiful painting: the more you spend time with it, the more it achieves perfection.
That’s what we did at The Dalmore event. We took time off to sit down — charcuterie and flight(s) of a century’s worth of luxurious single malts in front of us — and to let the gods of whisky cast their spells upon us with liquid gold.
“This is only the fifth time that this event was held all over the world,” said Glenn Manlapaz, president and CEO of Emperador Distillers’ international division. (Emperador owns Glasgow-based Whyte & Mackay, which operates the famed whisky brand.) It was staged three times in the US (New York City’s Baccarat Hotel, Las Vegas’ Picasso at the Bellagio, San Francisco’s ROOH) and once in Singapore (The Cooperage).
Manlapaz explained, “What makes The Dalmore, the quintessential luxury Scotch whisky, special is one word: craft. The way the distiller gave birth to the liquid. I’ve been in the industry for almost 30 years, and The Dalmore has always been regarded as the apex. It has beaten all our expectations.”
He pointed out that the lovely spread in front of us boasts whisky variants that are rare, almost sold out, unavailable in the Philippines soon. “As of 2018, we have been forced to go into allocation. The demand is much, much more than we can supply. Somebody asked me, ‘Who are you competing against? Or who are your peers?’ My answer was plain and simple: ‘Brands that are outside the liquor category, playing in the luxury space: Rolls Royce, Patek Philippe, Lamborghini, Ferrari, F.B. Journe, Holland & Holland, etc. These brands are not selling cars or watches; these brands are selling scarcity.” The Dalmore Decades collection was auctioned off last year in Sotheby’s in Hong Kong with a hammer price of almost $1.2 million.
Let me remind you that the flight (or assemblage of three vintages with a total age of 100 years) costs P80,888++ at the Whisky Bar; but — as Manlapaz stressed — the experience is priceless.
“This is a liquid that has surpassed what it means to be a single malt,” explained George Schulze, The Dalmore resident whisky expert for Asia.
Nosing your whisky is like how you conduct yourself on your first date: “not too aggressive, tread lightly.” Much like audiophiles who can easily tell if the bass and midrange of an LP are tight and smooth enough, or if the soundstage is expansive enough for their liking, whisky aficionados can tell all sorts of notes from one swig of Scotch; they are the minor Mozarts of pours. The thing is letting the sherry tell the story.
“On The Dalmore 15, you’ll get (an aroma of) the nuances of strong orange, almost like a marmalade, and the spice from the sherry. You’ll get cinnamon and nutmeg. That will prepare your palate for what is to come,” said Schulze, reminding drinkers to “swirl” half a mouthful of whisky on their tongues. Drinking it on the rocks is politely discouraged. (Or the Scottish elders will come and poke yer eyes out.)
Taste every peso of it, I should say. Richard Paterson told me before that the beautiful notes of a whisky are like “a woman’s perfume with 21 different nuances — like Coco Chanel’s summer garden.” Maybe similar to Wayne Shorter’s saxophone solo in Aja in conversation with Steve Gadd’s drumming. Or whatever gives you a sudden rush, an initial thrill, a drop of realization that life may not be all that sh*tty after all.
“(It is) spicy on the palate, and the swallow is much smoother on the throat — we’re not getting any harshness here,” pointed out Schulze. “You’re having the flavors of the American oak, sweet Mandarin orange, vanilla, ginger and crushed apples come through. And since we’ve coated our palate already, our second whisky (The Dalmore Legacy) becomes less intense now. We still get the smoothness on the throat; it goes straight for the sweetness.”
The aroma of The Dalmore Legacy has a marzipan, caramel and crushed almonds characteristic. On the palate, you’ll get a taste of vanilla oak, passionfruit and gingerbread. It has a luscious espresso coffee finish.
The third whisky (King Alexander III) is our go-to swig. This might be the dram I would want bedside before a big-ass comet hits planet Earth, with slices of Diavola pizza toasting in the oven and The Whole of the Moon blasting from the Tannoys.
Schulze said, “The King Alexander is an absolute masterpiece. It is a non-age statement whisky, (we don’t mention its age) so we could focus on the flavor profile.” Six different cast finishes (“wine, Madeira, Sherry, Marsala, Kentucky bourbon and Port casks”) are exquisitely curated to create a one-of-a-kind whisky. Something that is “incredibly complex.” You’ll get the aroma of red berries and passionfruit; the palate is touched by citrus zest, vanilla pod, crème caramel and crushed almonds; finishing notes are composed of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
For people like Patterson (and also Schulze and Manlapaz), these things work on a symphonic level. The interaction among the ingredients, casks and hundreds of years of perfecting the craft — come together in these fanciful flights of The Dalmore.
It is inevitable: we mere mortals take a shot of The Dalmore and see crescents and half-moons; whisky experts drink it and see the wholeness. Its every precious dream and vision.