Now here’s an interesting idea – engineer a whisky specifically formulated to appeal to those who like to smoke a cigar will sipping on one.
Dalmore is not particularly popular with malt enthusiasts, although I’ve known a few casual whisky drinkers who like them. They historically have straddled a wide range, with ultra-high-end aged expressions, and relatively low-cost expressions (particularly the previous 12 year old and original Cigar Malt). I think their focus on relatively sherried vattings has helped their general market appeal.
In recent years, their star has fallen as the entry levels have lost age statements and risen in price (and dropped in perceived quality). Specifically, the Cigar Malt was discontinued in 2009, and replaced with a slightly more expensive (but lower ranked) “Gran Reserva” shortly thereafter. They then subsequently discontinued the Gran Reserva and re-introduced a much more expensive “Cigar Malt Reserve” version in 2011. This time period coincides with their switch to a number of no-age-statement expressions (e.g. Valour), which have not been warmly received.
As an aside, I gather there was (and still is) some confusion with the Cigar Malt name, as it might make you think that tobacco was involved in the malting. Rest assured it wasn’t – these are as far removed from a smokey whisky as you can find. The point is that they are supposed to pair well with a cigar.
As I understand it, the original Cigar Malt sat between the original 12 and 15 year old expressions, in terms of both price and the age profiles of the whiskies that went into the blend. The current Reserve release is supposedly re-worked from older stocks, and is sold at a considerably inflated price (currently retails for $180 CAD at the LCBO, which is very premium for a NAS). It has also been upped to 44% ABV (from the original 40%).
This new Cigar Malt Reserve is believed to be a 70% vatting of Oloroso sherry casks, with the rest coming from American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, and finished to some degree in Cabernet Sauvingon barrels. Originally the Cigar Malt Reserve was intended as a limited release, but it seems to still be commonly available today. I sample this one at a bar in Oslo, Norway.
Let’s see how Dalmore does in my Meta-Critic database:
Dalmore 12yo: 8.43 ± 0.27 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore 15yo: 8.36 ± 0.52 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt: 8.53 ± 0.44 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.64 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Gran Reserva: 8.06 ± 0.39 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore King Alexander III: 8.32 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.07 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
As you can see, all the common Dalmore expressions get below-average scores in my database (note that the overall average for the single malt class is currently ~8.6). They also tend to be rather expensive now. Also, note that the Cigar Malt Reserve has a higher than typical variation as well – which is always an interesting point to explore.
Let’s see what I find in the glass for the Cigar Malt Reserve:
Nose: Creamy nose, very biscuity. Caramel and tons of brown sugar – among the most I’ve nosed. Some sherry dark fruits (figs especially, and cherries), but not very fruity overall (although it may be buried under the brown sugar). Cinnamon. Strong Christmas cake impression. Water heightens the fruitiness further – although its odd to come across such a big, sweet, flavour-packed nose with so little overt fruit.
Palate: Caramel again, moving more towards toffee now. Citrus (orange peel) and some lighter fruits (pear and apple) join the classic sherry fruit notes. I was hoping the baking spices would pick up further, but it is really only lightly spiced. Mouthfeel is ok, but palate is lighter than expected overall, and not very complex. Don’t add water – it dulls the palate even further (although it helps bring up the fruit slightly). Honestly, a bit of a let-down after such a strong come-on with the nose.
Finish: Shortish, and fairly simple. That citrusy bitterness builds, but the overall effect is still caramel/brown sugar sweetness. Water shortens the finish further – don’t do it.
This is actually a hard one to score. While it has a bold (and crowd-pleasing) opening on the nose and initial palate, it fizzles out quickly on the late palate and the finish. Not being a cigar smoker, I don’t know how well this would pair with a stoagie. But as a stand-alone malt, it is likely to leave you somewhat wanting – it over-promises and under-delivers.
As such, I can understand now why the Meta-Critic standard deviation is so high. But at the end of the day, I think the overall average score is reasonable. You may find this to be a step-up from many of the entry level expressions of similar style – but not by much (and certainly not worth the price differential). Personally, I would give it a middle-of-the-road score, slightly up from the current Meta-Critic average (i.e., something closer to the original Cigar Malt average score).
The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve went over very well with Nathan the Scotch Noob and Gavin Smith of Whisky Advocate, with top scores from both. Serge of Whisky Fun, Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Andre of Quebec Whisky all give it mid-range scores. But Patrick of Quebec Whisky hated it, as did Jim Murray.