A stag and the king of the castle

The Dalmore Castle Leod

Highland distillery The Dalmore has launched a brand new whisky to help raise funds for the repair of a castle near Inverness.
Castle Leod, the spiritual home of the Clan Mackenzie, has stood for more than 400 years but is now in desperate need of repairs to the upper floors and the roof. Built in 1606, it is one of just a handful which is still occupied by descendants of the original owners.

The distillery’s historical connection to the clan is a long one. It was once owned by the Mackenzies, so the bottle bears the clan coat-of-arms, a stag’s head. The moment which inspired the adoption of this symbol is immortalised in the painting ‘The Death of the Stag’ by Benjamin West, completed in 1786 to commemorate a member of Clan Mackenzie saving King Alexander III of Scotland from a charging stag in 1263.

There are just 5000 bottles of The Dalmore: Castle Leod, costing around £100 each, and a percentage from the sale of each bottle will be added to the restoration fund. It is a vintage whisky from 1995 which spent the last year-and-a-half of its maturation in a Chateau Lafite red wine casks.

Its creator, Master Blender Richard Paterson says that the quality of the whisky married with the former wine cask brings out something unique and luxurious: “Castle Leod is an exceptional single malt. It’s the first time we have released a whisky matured in barriques from one of the most revered and iconic Bordeaux houses in France.”

Adding: “Having spent its initial maturation in American white oak and Spanish sherry wood, this whisky still retains The Dalmore’s ‘house style’ of orange marmalade, vanilla and spice. But its final 18 months in Bordeaux adds an extra level of pure luxury.”

John Cromartie,  Caberfeidh  – a title meaning clan chief specifically of Clan Mackenzie – is delighted by the distillery’s latest efforts to save the historic building: “I’m honoured that Richard Paterson has created this extraordinary single malt in tribute to Castle Leod, which is both my home and the spiritual home of the Mackenzie clan. We regularly have gatherings for our members at the Castle as this has been the seat of the clan since it was built by Roderick Mackenzie in the 17th century. The castle is filled with rich heritage and history, but more importantly, it has stood the test of time.”

This is the second release with such close ties to the clan. Last year 3000 bottles of The Dalmore Mackenzie sold out in less than nine months, raising more than £20,000 for the castle and other clan projects.

There has already been online criticism of the Castle Leod expression, that the £100 price tag is too high, and that with 2000 more bottles than the Mackenzie, its rarity is questionable. Only time will tell how successful it will be. Personally, having visited the castle, I think it would be a shame for it to fall into further disrepair.

Its charitable origins alone should get people reaching into their pockets, and there’s no denying that it’s a damn good whisky, so fans of The Dalmore should at least  enjoy it for the reason any whisky is created – for drinking!

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