Last summer, we were invited to join an online music session that a friend in Sweden had started with some other friends of hers – that we didn’t yet know. Since then, we meet most Wednesdays on Zoom to share songs and tunes. Sadly we can’t play together because of a slight time delay, but we can play for each other, which is also very nice, and we have good chats and lots of fun. We had a good Burns night party together on Zoom and will soon celebrate St Patrick’s day!
One of these ladies lives in Devon, near the Dartmoor distillery. Before Christmas she organised whisky samples for all of us, and since it was well known in the group that I’m the whisky geek, she asked me to host a tasting. I couldn’t say no, of course, it was just for a group of friends and sounded fun.
Dartmoor started distilling in 2017, with an old cognac still they had managed to source to Devon from France, and that has undergone some major restoration work after its arrival to Dartmoor. The distillery is built in the old Bovey Tracey town hall building, built in 1866 in the little town with the same name, located in Devon near the Dartmoor national park.
This is a small scale distillery. From what I understand, they have no fermentation equipment but the wash is made by a local brewery, with a recipe specified by the master distiller at Dartmoor distillery, and made from barley from a nearby farm. The small but chubby pot still is flame heated and designed to give as much flavour as possible to the final product.
This trio is Dartmoor’s first more commercial release – there are also the First Release whiskies, more pricy because, well, it was the first whiskies ever made at Dartmoor. All of them are only 3 years old, but nevertheless, I enjoyed having the opportunity to taste these whiskies, especially because I had never heard of the distillery before, I know very little about English whisky in general, and I like to explore new whisky brands.
All of these are single malts, bottled at 46% ABV, and have no artificial colouring.
First-fill bourbon cask
Light and youthful. Some nail polish, green apple, something sour that is a bit unpleasant to begin with but that disappears after a while, mixed with fresh birch leaves, nutmeg and oxidated fruit.
Light but with a pleasant, soft to creamy mouthfeel. Also a certain leather-like or bitter-dry feel that I often get from young whiskies. There’s oxidated apple with a weird sort of flavour I can’t define – something leather-like. Bitter chocolate somewhere mixed with sweeter flavours. The finish is short and light, mostly fruity.
This one certainly shows the youth in the whisky but it’s quite nice. Some younger whiskies are very subtle – this one definitely has some character, although a bit strange in some ways.
Oloroso sherry cask
Pencil shavings, light sulphur, toffee, burnt sugar and some spice.
Dry mouthfeel. Light sulphur follows along from the nose. Then there’s also toffee with almonds, some orange and warm spice – something like chili. The finish is longer than that of the bourbon cask, but still short and quite simple.A few drops of water takes the edge off the sulphur feel and makes the whisky much nicer. More sweetness comes through on the nose, and there’s a creamier mouthfeel and the overall flavours seem more balanced and mellow. There’s still a bit too much of sulphur notes left, though.
Bourdeaux red wine cask
An oily, biscuity aroma to begin with. Chocolate, mint, green pepper, pencil shavings, mixed fruit in the background.
Lighter than the other two. A soft quite pleasant mouthfeel. There’s chocolate with mint, dry spice, raspberries, oak. Short and simple finish with dry gentle spice.
I always enjoy tasting whisky from new distilleries, it’s fun to see what they are doing, what sort of flavour profiles they’re working with, and then if possible follow the development of the whisky. This trio is youthful and not so balanced but has a good range of flavours. They give an almost uncomfortably dry-ish, sticky, leathery aftertaste though, this is also something I often find in younger whiskies, for example the earliest releases from Dingle. However, some 3-year-old whiskies are more like new make, so – without being an expert on the topic – I believe these have good potential and I hope to taste whisky from this distillery again in a few years.
I also very much look forward to visiting my friend in Devon, and the distillery.