Insights + interviews

In Conversation with Richard Paterson on The Dalmore Quintessence

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For the wine-loving Richard ‘The Nose’ Paterson, The Dalmore Quintessence was somewhat of a pet project.

For the veteran — and legendary — Master Blender for Whyte & Mackay and The Dalmore, the limited edition Quintessence was a fusion of two of his great passions: The Dalmore Distillery and exceptional red wine. The Dalmore Quintessence also aptly marks the 50th year of Paterson’s extraordinary career in the whisky industry, and he shows no sign of abating. He isn’t called ‘The Nose’ for nothing — The Quintessence is an ambitious showcase of his deft hand (or nose) in the art of blending. The fine balancing act of assimilating five characterful wines and whisky is not one that is to be scoffed at. Paterson shares the story behind his latest creation and what’s in store for fans of The Dalmore.

AA: Regarding the Quintessence, can you share what the motivation was; how it started, when did it start?

RP: Wine has been a passion of mine for many years so to be able to combine my love of wine with my love of whisky is something really special for me. In 1998 I met with a Californian wine company and it was then that I really immersed myself in the fantastic array of wines produced in that particular region.

At that time I hadn’t particularly thought about using different wines from that region to mature my whiskies, but little did I know that this visit had planted a seed in my imagination that was to grow into something spectacular.

After I had created The Dalmore King Alexander III, an assemblage of 6 different finishes, my thoughts once again turned to wine and how I could use it more within my whiskies. I thought on this for a while, before the idea came to me to produce a whisky with five different red wine finishes (ed: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), something totally unique that had never been done before. I remembered my time in California fondly, so I decided to return there to seek the casks which would eventually become The Dalmore Quintessence.

AA: It’s the first whisky of its kind to feature five different wine casks. Was this by design or a consequence of your experiments?

RP: The Dalmore Quintessence was created entirely by design. I had the idea to create a whisky with a five red wine finish, so I set about looking for the right wine casks in which to finesse my whisky and achieve the vision I had in my mind.

I knew the style I wanted for this whisky so I went over to California and I met with the producers of various vineyards and tasted many different wines until I finally discovered the ones that would be right for this whisky. I have fond memories of visiting California in 1998 and I knew the wines were excellent and of the calibre I was looking for. This felt like the perfect opportunity to create a whisky with those wines from that region.


AA: Can you share some insights that you gained as a result of this project? Will it change the way you approach things in future?

RP: It was great to be able to bring casks together from California as this was something I hadn’t really done before. I had to watch the casks carefully to see how the flavours developed, so that no particular wine dominated. It was an interesting process, it took time for the whiskies to develop into this one of a kind whisky. It is indeed something special and it’s a whisky which I’m extremely proud of.

AA: Are there any plans for future experiments for other wine types or regions?

RP: Absolutely.  For me one of the most exciting elements of my job is the continual evolution of whisky. I want to push the boundaries of what is possible, work with new bodegas and wineries to source casks which have never been seen before. I want to continue to create special assemblages that have a wealth of depth and flavour that will excite the palate.

AA: Will we see more Californian wine finish Dalmores in the regular line up?

RP: As for more wine finishes, I would say that you should ‘never say never’. However at this point in time I’ve no immediate plans to include Californian wine more regularly in the line-up but who knows what will happen in the future.

AA: The Quintessence is a rather pricey whisky. Did cost reflect the pricing, or was it a marketing decision?

RP: With whisky you need to remember that a great deal of care and attention goes into each and every drop. The Dalmore is special as it has unique stills which produce a robust spirit that can be matured in many different types of casks which I source from the world’s finest bodegas and wineries. Quintessence  has been finessed in five different casks, before being brought together slowly to make the final assemblage. This takes time, it’s not an overnight process by any means, my team and I nurture each cask for years and years until it finally gives me the quality I am looking for.

AA: Only a select few wine cask finishes (e.g. Port, Madeira) appear relatively regularly on shelves. What are the biggest challenges working with wine finishes and what finishes do you think have the potential to be popular in future?

RP: A cask is like a person, its is living and breathing.  You must nurture and love it. Cask finishing is unpredictable, you never exactly know what direction it may go in or how long it will take to get the style you are looking for. It’s a little bit of science mixed with art, which makes the process even more exciting and magical. I’ve been in the industry almost 50 years and although I have worked with many casks, picking up their behaviours and characteristics, I must continually keep nosing and tasting all our whiskies to ensure they are going in the direction I expect.

As for what’s going to be popular, I can say I have some interesting and unique casks maturing up at The Dalmore but I’m not going to reveal what these are just yet. You will just have to watch this space!




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