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Dallas Dhu is a rarity in Scotland, being a closed distillery that was gifted to the nation. Today, it’s a distillery that you can visit and explore to your hearts content, engaging with a bygone age. The distillery was founded in 1898 at the height of the then whisky boom, and just prior to the infamous Pattison Crash. It is situated in the Speyside region, 2 miles south of Forres, and like so many distilleries within this catchment area, was primarily built to provide stock for blended whiskies.
The distillery was originally to be called Dallasmore having been founded and designed by Alexander Edward who already owned several distilleries including Aultmore, Benromach and Oban. His period of ownership was relatively brief with Glasgow blending firm Wright & Greig taking over and financing the remaining building costs. Dallas Dhu then provided content for its popular Roderick Dhu blend and remains associated with this old whisky, with replica bottlings available at the distillery. It changed hands again in 1919, before being snapped up by Benmore Distilleries Limited who owned a trio of distilleries (Benmore, Lochhead, Lochindaal) that have been lost to time. This company itself was acquired by DCL in 1929 and this was the first step in the journey towards United Distillers who gifted Dallas Dhu to the nation in 1986, as a living museum and in the condition it was left in upon its closure in 1983. The name itself has Gaelic roots and means the field by the dark waterfall.
The donation was a remarkable gesture as under the mentorship of Historic Scotland today, you can wander through the buildings and take in the more manual style of distilling that was practiced at Dallas Dhu and other distilleries that were closed in the early 1980’s. This spate of closures was due to over production and a decline in global whisky demand. Owners revisited their portfolios of distilleries and several were closed for a variety of reasons including the pending outlay in costs to bring them into line with modern, more efficient, distilling practices. This was partially responsible for Dallas Dhu being selected along with its lack of a single malt presence and being a small scale distillery, as it would have required extensive modernisation and expansion to bring it in line with the then generation of distilleries.
Exploring the Dallas Dhu buildings and taking in the exhibits and photographs, you can truly appreciate the intensive manual labour involved in many of these distilleries from a bygone age. Dallas Dhu being gifted has survived, but many others were converted into residential accommodation such as Glenlochy and Linlithgow, or others demolished and lost completely including Glen Mhor and Banff. Whisky is an important part of Scotland’s identity so as a nation we should strive to protect as much of this history as we can. Unfortunately, Dallas Dhu is the only such museum currently in existence. What helps Dallas Dhu as a tourist attraction is its classical looks with weathered stone buildings, white washed exteriors and the distinctive pagoda roof. It in effect ticks all the boxes about what a distillery is expected to display for visitors and being set in a picturesque part of Speyside, it’s an enjoyable day out.
It’s history prior to this donation is fairly unremarkable; there’s a period of closure in the 1930’s and the still house was rebuilt after a fire in 1939. Interestingly, the opportunity to expand or modernise was not undertaken and just the 2 stills reinserted. At the time many distilleries were preparing to increase their production by adding more stills, but not Dallas Dhu, which remained faithful to its original modest size. Another interesting aspect given the recent whisky boom, is that in 2013 Historic Scotland undertook a feasibility study about reviving Dallas Dhu as a working distillery. As recently as 2015, a business plan was being developed to confirm whether the idea was financially viable.
Today, Dallas Dhu is a very rare whisky with the only occasional release from independent bottlers such as Cadenheads or Gordon & MacPhail. The whisky itself is very characterful and harks back to an older style with a detailed palate and hint of peat from older bottlings. The nose also displays a subtleness with floral and fruit notes with a dry finish. Upon tasting a Dallas Dhu, you’ll question why the distillery has not received the same attention as other Speyside producers.
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