The Singleton of Dufftown

A Belter, Lads

Single malt Scotch has become wildly popular in the last 30 years. Prices are now much higher than even 10-15 years ago, and I buy much less of it as a result, ditto Irish whiskeys (the single pot still is the only one of interest to me, Redbreast and the like).

I look for values, and the availability in Ontario of Singleton 12 years old from Dufftown (in Banffshire) delivers traditional aged quality at a very attractive price.

Age statements are much less common now due to pressure on inventories, as for bourbon and straight rye. In and of itself this is not objectionable provided traditional profiles are maintained, which can be done through skilful mingling and batching, or close enough anyway.

Still, it is nice to see an old-fashioned age statement, especially in the range of 12-18 where the real quality lies.

When tasting almost any whisky, I try to forget the distillery narrative and just get on with the tasting and assessment. Knowing too much of the backstory can colour your judgement, for good and bad.

When you read too much of the legendary this and that, you can be inhibited, quite unconsciously, from stating your instinctive view.

Conversely, knowing that a whisky typically secures a low or average score can influence you to do the same when objectively the spirit deserves better.

At $59 in Ontario, The Singleton Dufftown is an outstanding value. It is creamy, malty, lightly phenolic, glycerine-smooth – mild as mother’s milk, as an old tribute (early 1800s) to good malt put it. What more can be asked of a whisky?

Mighty Diageo, owner of the distillery, also markets a Glen Ord and a Glendullan under the Singleton name. In a typically lush website spread it burbles how these whiskies are balanced and approachable.

It’s an old idea, probably started by Michael Jackson, of a bridge or “entry level” to more complex flavours.

More complex would mean the hair-raising quality of many Islay whiskies, or the sherry cavalcade some Highlands offer, that kind of thing.

Jackson used to rate Dufftown malt under or around 80 out of 100. The modulated, well-expressed formulae of the Singleton website, e.g. “symphony in oak”, conveys the idea well, so Diageo probably absorbed the notion finally.

But guvs, its whisky. Is it good, crawish, great, what? It’s very good, trust me. The price is just a bonus.

Yet, online reviews seem rather ho-hum about Singleton Dufftown. The scorings I’ve seen are similar to what Jackson gave the brand or the earlier Dufftown 12 years old.

Some don’t like the malty quality (Scotch is from a barley mash – malt is good), some detect a chemical note (it signals some distillation character- that’s good), and so on.

The general line seems to be “unoffending”, as if offensive whisky is good…?

We used to get Singleton Glendullan in Ontario and it was not nearly as good IMO: appley, coarse, a little edgy. The Dufftown is deeper, stylish, brandy-like, closer to the very first Singleton from 1986 (see below).

While the label vaunts oak, the wood effect is quite restrained for the age: a good primer in relation to bourbon, doubly woody at half the age. We think whisky should taste at least as much of whisky as wood; this one does.

I haven’t tried the Glen Ord but this Dufftown is hard to beat, indeed this bottling in particular. I say that because no two bottles of almost any decent whisky are really alike. Sometimes small differences can alter the next experience.

The current Singleton Dufftown reminds me of Highland Park 12 years old – I hope that classic expression is still available, at any rate. Singleton Dufftown is not “the same” but offers a similarly good-tasting set of malt whisky attributes.

The first Singleton was from Auchroisk in 1986, a relatively new distillery built to supply malt for big-selling blends. Its Singleton, at the same 12 years as the current line, was older than what went into the blends: soft, elegant, a touch oily, as close to brandy as one might imagine.

When the Glendullan Singleton was first available I recall keen disappointment as it was nothing like that whisky.

The Dufftown is much closer yet if anything is better, with more subtleties and Highland character. The Victorian whisky connoisseurs Alfred Barnard and George Saintsbury would have swooned for this dram. And they weren’t lads.