We all have that man or woman on our Christmas list: the person who has more taste and resources than we do, for whom finding the perfect gift is the equivalent of assembling a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded.
More than likely, that person will be a fan of single malt Scotch. If so, it makes the gift-giving process far easier, since there any number of marquee brands that will satisfy and impress. The roll call is seemingly endless: Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, The Macallan, Bowmore, Aberfeldy, Ardbeg. But if you want the person to love you forever, buy them a bottle of The Dalmore 1263 King Alexander III.
Established in 1839 by Alexander Matheson, The Dalmore was owned for a century by Clan Mackenzie (it was purchased in 2001 by the firm of Whyte and Mackay). Legend has it that in 1263, an ancestor of the Clan saved King Alexander III from a rampaging stag on a hunting trip. The King allowed him to display the royal emblem of a twelve-pointed stag on his coat of arms, and this image adorns each bottle of The Dalmore today. The distillery is located north of Inverness on the Cromarty Firth, famed for its water and for the quality of the barley from the coastal soil.
The Dalmore has two secret weapons. The first is third-generation master blender Richard Paterson, a quirky and gifted man who exudes and interesting combination of modesty and self-assurance. He has elaborate theories on every aspect of whisky consumption—including which glass to use, how to hold it and how best to nose the spirit—and is an enlightening and hilarious tasting companion. The other quality factor is barrel treatment. The 12 Year-Old, for example, is made from whiskies matured in either American White Oak Bourbon barrels or Oloroso Sherry casks; the whiskies for King Alexander III are held in a combination of Bourbon barrels, Sherry butts, Port pipes, Marsala barrels, Madeira drums and French wine barriques.
King Alexander III ($230) has a plummy nose with scents of vanilla, cedar and orange. It is both sweet and spicy in the mouth, with great amplitude, complexity and finesse, combining purity of texture with intensity and force. The finish is long and haunting.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.