Back in the heady days of blended whisky in the late 19th century, there were almost 160 distilleries in the UK producing whisky, with plans to make that over 200 by the turn of the millennium. These early days of blending were an important juncture in the world of Scotch and secured its future as we know it today. Andrew Usher had recently pioneered the blending of whisky, Phylloxera hit France and introduced brandy drinkers to the spirit and Scotch was successfully shifting its position from ‘poor man’s drink’ to the preferred tipple of high society. It was all looking up for the whisky industry.
Riding the industry’s rising tide, a local Speyside entrepreneur, Alexander Edward, built two distilleries on his estate – Benromach and Dallasmore. Just one year after the Dallasmore distillery was built, it was sold to Glasgow blenders Wright & Greig Ltd, who purchased the distillery to ensure a steady stream of supply for their Roderick Dhu blend. The distillery’s name was changed to Dallas Dhu shortly after opening to reflect the popularity of this blended whisky.
A distillery with a chequered history, it passed through many hands but remained in operation for over 80 years, though there were periods of inactivity. The distillery witnessed a period of closure from 1916 before it was sold to J. P. O’Brien & Co. Ltd who restarted production in 1919. Just 2 years later the company went into liquidation, necessitating the sale of Dallas Dhu to Benmore Distillers Ltd.
In 1921, Benmore Distillers set about a transformational period for the distillery, investing heavily in Dallas Dhu and introducing new equipment such as electric lights, conveyor belts and hoists. However, as demand for Campbeltown malts slumped, a region which Benmore Distillers had a big stake in, they were forced to sell out to DCL in 1928 and the distillery was transferred to their subsidiary, The Scottish Malt Distillers.
The distillery continued under SMD’s control until its closure in 1983. The passing fifty years saw the distillery operate sporadically with periods of mothballing, a destructive fire which required the stillhouse to be rebuilt and signs of hope with advancements such as the increase of capacity in 1964. However, economic pressure and an unreliable water supply eventually forced its closure. As with much of the DCL (now Diageo) portfolio, the distillery was deemed surplus to requirements during the market downturn of the 1980s, and Dallas Dhu was one of eleven distilleries to close in May of 1983.
Two years later, and most likely a requisite of the distillery’s closure, a private owner bottled their single cask Dallas Dhu which dated back to 1921. In its time, a key component of the Roderick Dhu blend, Dallas Dhu was rarely seen as a single malt. Instances like this therefore represent an under-explored and important part of Dallas Dhu’s and in fact Scotland’s heritage.
A fascinating example of this private cask bottling is found within The Perfect Collection, including original documents acquired by Mr. Gooding on the Certificate of Age and the cask’s despatch receipt from Scottish Malt Distillers. These are interesting pieces of paperwork that provide details on the cask management and illustrate noteworthy provenance of the liquid.
The whisky was distilled on 16th April 1921 and filled into Cask no. 296 whilst the distillery was operated by J.P. O’Brien & Co. Ltd. This is one of the only examples of Dallas Dhu single malt from this period before the distillery was purchased by Benmore Distillers in the same year. This maturing cask was warehoused at Dallas Dhu for over 60 years. In a warehouse on the outskirts of Forres, an alchemy of maturation was slowly transforming this distillery’s historic spirit into something very special. As Cask #296 let the magic happen, the world around it was changing. This cask lay undisturbed as events that would irrevocably shape its very own industry unfolded around it (two World Wars, Prohibition in the U.S. and the Great Depression to name just a few). This cask lay in a setting itself of great human drama, a distillery with a lot of ups and downs in terms of its fortunes.
The historic Dallas Dhu distillery may not produce whisky anymore but remains a well-preserved time capsule ensuring the Dallas Dhu legacy under Historic Environment Scotland’s guardianship. Following announcements in 2019 that they are seeking out investment and development ideas, speculation is that this distillery museum, paused in full working order, may breathe warm life into its cold stills once again.
Very few official bottlings of Dallas Dhu exist, and the expression found within Mr. Gooding’s collection offers whisky enthusiasts insight into the owner’s foresight at the time. Had this not been a privately bond cask, a whisky such as this would never otherwise of appeared on the market. Bottled as a private cask, it is also natural to presume that most of this whisky has been consumed over the years.