The dynasty of Dallas

Gavin D Smithlooks at the fascinating history behind Dallas Dhu
By Gavin D. Smith
In the last issue we featured a ‘lost’ distillery that could still be revived, in the shape of Caperdonich, and this time around we are focusing on the story of a unique ‘lost’ distillery that has become Scotland’s only dedicated ‘whisky museum.’ Dallas Dhu is situated just south of the town of Forres,between Inverness and Elgin, and its location was chosen because the area was prime barley-growing country, with good supplies of locally-available peat. It was also conveniently close to the Highland Railway’s line between Forres and Aviemore, an important factor in the days when many of the raw materials required for distilling were transported by rail, with casks of spirit being shipped out from distilleries in the same manner.The name Dallas Dhu is derived from the Gaelic for ‘Black Water Valley,’ and the distillery was originally called Dallasmore for a very brief period. It was designed by that doyen of ‘whisky architects’ Charles Doig,being constructed during 1898 and 99 on the estate of local laird Alexander Edward of Sanquhar.Production commenced in April 1899, and the following year Edward passed the distillery onto the Glasgow blending firm of Wright & Greig Ltd, principally to provide supplies of malt whisky for its Roderick Dhu blend, which was notably popular in Australia,New Zealand and India during the later decades of the 19th century.After a brief period in the hands of JP O’Brien & Co Ltd, from 1919 to 1921,Dallas Dhu was acquired by Benmore Distilleries Ltd in 1921.Benmore also owned Benmore and Lochhead distilleries in Campbeltown and Lochindaal on Islay. In 1929 the company was purchased, like so many other small, independent operators who were struggling in the hostile economic climate of the times,by the Distillers Company Ltd.The following year Dallas Dhu was transferred to DCL’s Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD) subsidiary, but it was silent from 1930 to 1936, and three years later, on 9th April 1939, a fire necessitated reconstruction of the stillhouse, with its single pair of stills.This was re-commissioned just in time for the distillery to be closed down due to the outbreak of the Second World War, after which production did not recommence until 1947.The 1960s and ’70s saw some upgrading work carried out at Dallas Dhu, but expansion was not possible due to the limited water supply provided by the Altyre Burn, and until 1971 a waterwheel, driven by surplus water from the worm tubs, provided part of the distillery’s electricity requirements, operating the rummager in the wash still. Indeed, mains electricity was not installed at Dallas Dhu until 1950.Unsurprisingly, when the time came in the early 1980s for DCL to address the issue of excess whisky stocks by closing plants,Dallas Dhu was on the company’s’ hit list,’and the last casks was filled on 16th March 1983.Dallas Dhu may have been lost to whisky-making, but it was not lost in the same way as many of the other DCL facilities that closed during the 1980s. Historic Scotland was keen to acquire a Victorian distillery and preserve it as a tourist attraction, and Dallas Dhu fitted the bill perfectly. In 1988 the site opened to the public, and the shortage of available process water that helped precipitate the closure of Dallas Dhu can be seen as a positive advantage for the modern-day visitor, as it allows the opportunity to experience a largely unaltered Victorian Scotch whisky distillery.The ‘house’ style of Dallas Dhu is medium-bodied,smooth, elegant and honeyed, with fresh fruits, a hint of chocolate and a whiff of smoke.There have been official releases of Dallas Dhu 1970 and 1975 in Diageo’s Rare Malts series and last year a pair of Dallas Dhu was released by Historic Scotland.Just 261 bottles of 46% Dallas Dhu 23 Years Old were produced, along with 590 bottles of 56.3% Dallas Dhu Cask Strength, which was 24 years old. Dallas Dhu Distillery, Mannachie Road,Forres,Moray IV36 2RR.+44 (0) 1309 676 548 www.historic-scotland.gov.uk