No need to introduce Dornoch distillery: every serious whisky enthusiast should know Simon & Phil Thompson who run the Dornoch Castle Hotel, the independent bottling label Thompson Brothers and at the same time produce 12000 litres of alcohol each year in their garage distillery.
Traditional methods are key in their operations: floor-malting, heritage barley, slow fermentation with brewers yeasts, open wooden washbacks and slow distillation. Add to this certified organic production, a deep knowledge of whisky history and constant experimentation.
In November 2017 they filled the first four casks with their spirit and it is cask #001 that we’re trying today, also the first ever to be bottled as a single malt. It was matured in an Oloroso butt sourced from Bodegas Robles (it seems they prefer casks from the D.O. Montilla-Moriles, rather than sherry cask).
Dornoch 3 yo 2017 (59,4%, OB 2020, first-fill American oak Oloroso butt #001, 50 cl, 893 btl.)
Nose: you wouldn’t say this is 60%, nor just 3 years old. It’s a mellow spirit drenched in juicy sultanas and fresh figs. Light buttery / waxy notes. Sweet apples with brown sugar and a touch of vanilla. Remember Montilla produces all wines from sugary Pedro Ximénez grapes, including their Olorosos. Natural barley notes and a bit of wood as well (ex-solera doesn’t necessarily mean old cask). Already nicely integrated but of course a little one-dimensional at this point.
Mouth: a nice mouthfeel but feeling less mature now, with a hint of rough alcohol alongside the raisins. It’s not a sherry bomb in any way, and also the cask was not extremely active. That’s a good thing but it also lets the youth come forward. Leather, a bit of green spice (pepper, nutmeg, juniper) and plenty of barley notes. Hints of walnuts and milk chocolate.
Finish: medium length, with wholegrain bread, hay, oak spice, a slightly alcoholic edge and a hint of toffee.
For a first cask (not just an inaugural release) the potential is obvious, but at this point we’re still dealing with a young and fairly symbolic release. It’s hard to say the spirit is truly exceptional, in this case it’s mostly the cask which was allowed to show its high quality.