Given the importance to the whisky trade of the railway line which linked Inverness (and Speyside) with the central belt, it is surprising that it took until 1897 for a distillery to be built close to the settlement nearest its highest point, Dalwhinnie.
There is much made of the fact that, in Gaelic, Dalwhinnie means ‘the meeting place’ and the fact that this was the spot where three major drove roads joined. From here, huge herds of black [Highland] cattle headed south to market at Falkirk in much the same way as whisky would more than 100 years later.
These herds were a perfect cover for whisky smugglers (tales abound of small casks being hidden under the hairy pelts of the beasts), but there is no record of whisky being made at this point. Dalwhinnie, more likely, was a place where it would have been drunk.
Three local businessmen, John Grant, George Sellar and Alexander Mackenzie, joined together to reverse this state of affairs, but their Strathspey distillery [the plant lies close to the river] failed. Its second set of owners fared little better, and in 1905 it was sold, as Dalwhinnie, to American distiller Cook & Bernheimer, making this the first Scotch distillery to be owned by a non-UK company, a relationship which ended 14 years later when blenders Macdonald Greenless took charge.
That firm then merged with DCL [now Diageo] in 1926, with the licence for Dalwhinnie being passed to James Buchanan [of Black & White fame]. In 1988 it was chosen as the Highland representative in the Classic Malts selection.
Though well connected by road and rail, Dalwhinnie’s exposed location means that it is regularly cut off in winter – it holds the dubious distinction of being the coldest settlement in the UK, with an average temperature of 6˚C.