Age: No age statement
Someone once told me that if you need to freeze a drink before you consume it, it’s probably not very good. Yet here we have Dalwhinnie telling us that we should drink their precious spirit straight from the freezer. Being Scotland’s highest and coldest distillery, you may expect the folks at Dalwhinnie to know a little something about subzero temperatures. Indeed, the spirit for Winter’s Gold is distilled exclusively during the winter months, when the cold temperature of the water and the stills results in an extra smooth drop of whisky. Although I doubt whether the impact on the flavour really is noticeable, there’s no denying that Winter’s Gold is beautifully marketed by Diageo.
The idea of serving a dram chilled and having it slowly warm up as you’re drinking it is quite enticing. Adding warmth is like adding water, it changes the flavour of the whisky. I’m eager to try this dram, yet somewhat daunted by having to review a whisky that’s constantly changing. I drank Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold straight from the freezer, with an extra dram at room temperature for comparison.
Nose: With the aromas locked up tight, this whisky seems reluctant to give up its secrets. Cloaked against the cold, Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold keeps its cards close to its chest. There are a few hints of barley and hazelnut, infused with a slightly herbal tang. I’m going to need some convincing on this one.
Switching to the unfrozen version is like entering a florist’s shop on a cold winter day. Add some warmth to Winter’s Gold and it melts into a fragrant, fruity dram. Scents of apple crumble mix with soft, creamy caramel notes, much like a flan de leche.
Palate: While so far I questioned the wisdom of serving this straight from the freezer, now I see what all the fuss is about. Chilled, the texture is thick and creamy, with the whisky looking almost syrupy in the glass. The flavours arrive slowly as the whisky warms in your mouth, like a bowl of cereal to which we’re gradually adding fruits and spices. As it becomes more flavourful, the whisky turns thinner, mellower perhaps. Ginger and nutmeg lead the way, with white pepper straggling not far behind. There’s the tart taste of slightly unripe pear and a dash of lime, giving way to a more earthy profile that’s sweetened by a few drops of honey. It’s been very refreshing (pun intended) to mark the change in this whisky as it slowly warms up. Along the way, we sort of get the best of both worlds: the initial creamy smoothness of the cold version, and the more exuberant flavour profile of the Winter’s Gold at room temperature.
Finish: Not overly warming, so best bring something else against the cold. The aftertaste does linger for a good amount of time, with notes of peppercorn, honeyed barley and the faintest trace of smoke.
Verdict: This has been a challenging review to write, which is perhaps a good indication of how different Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold is, at least in frozen form. Although the nose had me wonder the wisdom of drinking this dram chilled, the palate has me think otherwise. The cold gives this whisky an extra smoothness and a texture that you simply do not find otherwise. Winter’s Gold is a whisky that’s constantly changing, meaning that you get to discover new flavours every time you take a sip. Is this a great dram? I’d have to say no, but it is a fun drinking experience. Winter’s Gold is an unconventional way of sipping Scotch, and it’s somehow rewarding to drink a whisky that gets better over time. Having said that, you may rightfully wonder why you shouldn’t just start drinking at room temperature in the first place, as this produces the most flavourful dram.
Dalwhinnie’s 15 year old expression is softer and more sophisticated when compared to Winter’s Gold, which is spicier, sharper and slightly less refined. Although the 15 year old is excellently priced for a whisky of that age, I have to say that, all in all, I probably prefer the livelier character of Winter’s Gold. Does this mean I will I be putting my whiskies in the freezer from now on? I very much doubt so; my pizzas and ice cream will have to do without Caledonian company. Even so, fans of Dalwhinnie ought to give Winter’s Gold a try, as it’s a fun, novel way of enjoying this characteristically smooth Highland whisky.