The name Dalwhinnie is derived from the Gaelic ‘meeting place’, referring to the meeting of ancient cattle drovers’ routes through the mountains, used by the Jacobites and later adapted by the British Army during the highland Proscription. The Distillery stands in the Cairngorm National Park at the heart of the Scottish Highlands in the village of Dalwhinnie.
Built in 1897 as The Strathspey Distillery Co, it was funded by friends John Grant, Alex Mackenzie and George Sellar. Its location was convenient as it was technically in the Speyside whisky region and has access to abundant clear spring water and peat from the surrounding bogs. It was also conveniently on the highland mainline railway that was under construction at the same time, meaning transporting their whisky to the markets in the south would be easy.
Production started in 1898 but the trio quickly ran into financial troubles and the distillery was sold and renamed Dalwhinnie after the town it sits in. It was also redesigned a highland whisky to stand apart from the crowded Speyside market (although this is contested by whisky aficionados to this day).
The distillery has been much altered over the years. In the early 20th century famous architect Charles Doig extensively remodelled the facility. In February 1934, Dalwhinnie was seriously damaged by a fire and it took another four years to bring the distillery back to life. The maltings were decommissioned in 1968 and another refurbishment in 1986 led to another halt in production. Then in 1992 the distillery was renovated again and a visitor centre and shop was added.
Dalwhinnie is also perhaps the distillery that has changed hands the most. The 1905 sale to American conglomerate Cook & Bernheimer (for the pricey sum of £1250) made Dalwhinnie the first Scottish whisky distillery to be foreign owned. It now belongs to Diageo and is part of their Malts collection, contributing to the Johnnie Walker blend.
At 1165 feet above sea level Dalwhinnie holds the title of highest whisky distillery in Scotland and water for production now comes from the nearby Allt an t’Sluie burn which also makes it one of the shortest ‘source to bottle’ processes in Scotland.
Dalwhinnie’s last claim to fame is that it is one of only 20 or so whisky distilleries that were founded during the ‘whisky boom’ of the late 1800s that has managed to survive bankruptcy, supersession, fire (without refurbishment), fraud or closure.