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Dalmore Distillery | The Mackenzies and The Stag

Last Updated: May 15, 2024

Dalmore Distillery are undergoing renovations and are closed to visitors until late 2024.

History of The Dalmore Distillery

In 1839 The Dalmore Distillery was established by Alexander Matheson, a partner in the Hong Kong trading house of Jardine, Matheson & Co, the trading firm which took over from the East India Company and oversaw much of the trade (including opium) in and around China. Matheson leased the distillery to the Sutherland family, but with limited success.

The 12 pointed stag horn crest synonymous with The Dalmore was granted to the Mackenzie clan in 1263 when Clan Chief Colin of Kintail rescued King Alexander III from a raging stag. The Mackenzie's first leased, then owned Dalmore from 1867 to the mid-1960s

The 12 pointed stag horn crest synonymous with The Dalmore was granted to the Mackenzie clan in 1263 when Clan Chief Colin of Kintail rescued King Alexander III from a raging stag. The Mackenzie's first leased, then owned Dalmore from 1867 to the mid-1960s

The Mackenzie Brothers

In 1878 the lease was transferred to Andrew and Charles Mackenzie (forming Mackenzie Brothers), and it’s at this point that the Dalmore also acquired its signature 12-pointed stag crest.

The Mackenzie family received the royal crest as a reward in 1263 after Clan Chief Colin of Kintail saved King Alexander III’s life from a raging stag.

The Mackenzie Brothers expanded and upgraded the distillery. They worked closely with Matheson to increase the available market for their whisky and became the first malt whisky to be exported to Australia.

They did not overhaul the distillery entirely though, as they believed that small stills were best for distillation, and continued using the two original pot-style stills.  A second still house was added in 1874, doubling the number of pot stills to four.

A third brother, William Mackenzie came on board in 1877 after a three year period of weak sales hit the industry and the distillery hard. There was a further downturn from 1884 to 1886, and an issue with their Australian distributor in 1887-88 proved costly.

According to Alfred Barnard, annual output was 80,000 gallons / 363,687 litres when he visited around 1887. Barnard states “the product of the Dalmore Stills [is] so highly prized … on account of its delicate, refined flavour and purity … [it is] used largely as a ‘self’ whisky without any admixture of the product of other Distilleries’. (1)

Uncommon for the time, The Dalmore was predominantly a single distillery malt, rather than blended with other distilleries’ whiskies. Barnard puts The Dalmore’s popularity down to its high-quality barley, peat and water, much of it sourced from the surrounding area.

Barnard notes that there were six bonded warehouses and three malt houses. One malt house was three stories high, with the top two floors used for storing barley and the bottom floor for malting. A second had only two floors, both used for malting, and the third malt house was four stories high, with three levels of storage and 1 for malting. Each malt floor had it’s own Steep, capable of wetting between 50 and 52 quarters of grain (1 quarter ~ 12.7 kg). The single peat-fired kiln was 40 ft by 30 ft and capable of drying “50 quarters every 48 hours” – this equates to roughly 635 kg. The mash tun was 16.5 ft in diameter and 5.5 ft deep, holding 2,700 gallons / 12,274 litres. (1)

In 1891 the Mackenzie Brothers purchased the distillery, and the surrounding 500 acres from Sir Kenneth Matheson, his father Alexander having died in 1886.

The Dalmore fortuitously had access to both rail and sea making it easy to receive and distribute goods. Rail track connected the distillery to the Alness station on the main line, which permitted the direct delivery of barley and coals and removal of finished whisky. The estate also contained the Belleport Pier, which stretched out into the Cromarty Firth, permitting the landing of steamers carrying further supplies of barley, coal and other goods such as casks.

Scotland Distillery Map Framed above fireplace

Scotland Whisky Maps and Photographic Prints

Whisky Gifts, Wall Art and Man Cave Decor. Made By Whisky Lovers For Whisky Lovers

From Boom to Bust

In 1892 the Mackenzie Brothers commenced additional works to expand further and upgrade the distillery. The works would take almost eight years to complete, but by 1892-1893 enough had been done to see Dalmore produce 100,000 gallons / 454,609 litres for the first time. Output climbed to 271,694 gallons / 1,235,145 litres in 1895. Whisky was a booming industry! However, anyone familiar with Scotch whisky history will know this doesn’t end well. By 1900 the works were finally completed, and the market had collapsed under an oversupply of whisky. The Dalmore had been operating at half capacity for two years.

Andrew Mackenzie attempted to get into the blending and bottling business via his son Thomas, forming T M Mackenzie & Co at Invergordon, but it was to little avail. A costly legal battle saw the Mackenzie’s and Dalmore in financial strife by 1908. They were forced to offload the bulk of their stock, and although they found a willing buyer in John Dewar & Sons, the fortunes of the Mackenzies did not improve.

After a distillery fire in 1911, and mounting debts, Andrew Mackenzie was forced to sell the estate in 1913 to keep the distillery alive. The distillery and the industry had just started to recover when war broke out.

Commandeered by the US Navy

Not only was the use of barley prohibited due to rationing, but the distillery’s convenient proximity to the Cromarty Firth and the nearby port of Invergordon saw it commandeered by the US Navy from 1917-1920. Transformed into Navy HQ, the site was used to assemble mines. The completed mines were sent by rail to Invergordon for loading onto Naval ships which would then unload them into the North Sea, forming an impenetrable line from Norway to Orkney.

The Naval operations had severely damaged the distillery (including a fire in the peat store, which destroyed other buildings) and it required substantial restorations to get it running again. Andrew’s son William Farquharson Mackenzie attempted to get compensation from the Admiralty.  Andrew Mackenzie died in 1923.

Empty The Dalmore Distillery Casks

Empty Dalmore Distillery Casks

A New Company and Another War

William F was forced to close the distillery in 1926. He opened it again under a new company, Mackenzie Bros, Dalmore Ltd in 1927 with a capital of £70,000 and the intention of selling it.  Distilling commenced, but they could not find a new buyer. The distillery ran at a loss in its first year and continued to limp along until 1933, when the USA finally lifted prohibition, ushering in increased production and the construction of new warehouses.

Just in time for World War 2.

The Dalmore ceased production from 1939 until 1945. William F Mackenzie died in 1946, and his son Hector Mackenzie took over.

Whyte & Mackay

From 1955 to 1958 Hector added three new warehouses, introduced a new stacking system, and in 1957 had the stills upgraded to mechanical stoking.  Since the early 1900s, The Dalmore was sold predominantly for use in blends, and in 1960 Hector merged Mackenzie Bros. Dalmore Ltd with its long-standing customer Whyte & Mackay Ltd, forming Dalmore, Whyte & Mackay Ltd. In 1966 the number of stills was increased to 8.

Whyte & Mackay has seen a few corporate changes in the last couple of decades. The present overseers of Whyte & Mackay and the Dalmore distillery are Emperador, part of Alliance Global Group (Philipines).

Where Is Dalmore Distillery?

The Dalmore Distillery is in Alness, Ross-shire, Scotland IV17 0UT, an easy 21 miles / 34 km drive from Inverness along the A9.

Public Transport

The 25X bus Inverness-Invergordon can drop you at the nearby Morrisons, a 750-metre walk from the distillery. See for more information

Scotrail runs trains from Inverness to Alness station, a 1.1 km walk from the distillery. See for more information

screenshot of dalmore distillery google map

Dalmore Distillery Tours

Dalmore Distillery are undergoing renovations and are closed to visitors until approximately 2024.

Accommodation Near Dalmore Distillery

There are a large number of accommodation options in nearby Inverness. The following hotels are recommended for their proximity to whisky bars:

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Located on the banks of the River Ness, a short walk from the city centre of Inverness; the 4-star Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel is an ideal base for your whisky adventures. Rooms include free wifi and parking, and some have a view over the River Ness. The on-site Piano Bar boasts Inverness’s most extensive whisky collection. Their Whisky Ambassadors will help you choose from over 260 rare and unusual malts.

Centrally located, Highland Apartments by Manlsey offer the ultimate in modern luxury and comfort, with lifts (elevators) to all floors, secure private parking and free wi-fi internet access. Most apartments have balconies overlooking the town or the river, with Inverness Castle in the background. There are stunning views towards Loch Ness to the south and mountains to the north and west. It is an ideal location to enjoy Inverness' nightlife, including a short walk to The Malt Room, where you'll find over 200 whiskies and friendly staff to help you with a tasting.

If you're planning to travel with family or a small group of friends, Butter Shortbread is located in the heart of Inverness, and not far from The Malt Room:

This three-bedroom two-bathroom home has been featured by the BBC and is a shining example of Scottish hospitality in the city of Inverness. Step inside, and you'll find a cosy space with plenty of seating, ideal for flopping down with a glass of whisky at the end of a long day of exploring. The hosts have put great thought into every aspect of this home, from the luxury toiletries to the Bose speaker systems in every bedroom and the extra-large bathtub where you can soak in perfect peace. You're just a few steps away from the banks of the River Ness, and Inverness Castle is less than five minutes away from your front door, along with a range of shops and restaurants in the city centre.

And for something extra special, only a short drive from Dalmore Distillery (which would be a fabulous choice if you're a large group as it sleeps up to 14 people), why not rent a Georgian Mansion for the night:

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Grade-II listed seven-bedroom seven-bathroom Georgian mansion that played host to President Franklin D.Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor on their honeymoon tour of Scotland. Surrounded by six acres of woodland and gardens — it's not uncommon to see a couple of deer in the morning mist and sheep grazing on the hillside — guests will taste the air of seclusion the moment they drive up to the front door. Inside, it's a mix of handsome wood panelling, roaring fireplaces and lots of comfy furnishings — whatever the weather outside, we can ensure you that you'll never be anything but cosy here. There's a complimentary daily housekeeping service, along with lots of extra options, including full catering, a welcome greeting with the sound of bagpipes, and a local guide who will show you the best this area has to offer, as well as booking tee times or spa treatments if you so wish.

Scotland Distillery Map Framed above fireplace

Scotland Whisky Maps and Photographic Prints

Whisky Gifts, Wall Art and Man Cave Decor. Made By Whisky Lovers For Whisky Lovers

Dalmore Distillery Whisky

This is an affiliate link: if you click this link and make a purchase we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

photograph of bottle of dalmore 15yo next to box of dalmore 15yo

A favourite expression in the Dalmore stable, this 15-year-old is elegant and smooth, with lipsmacking texture and the flawless balance one would expect from blending maestro Richard Paterson.

Dalmore Distillery Photo Gallery

The Dalmore Distillery Visitor's Centre

The Dalmore Distillery Visitor's Centre. The Dalmore was established in 1839 but didn't acquire its 12 pointed Royal Stag horn Crest until 1878 when the Makenzie family took over. The Mackenzies were granted the Crest in 1263 when Clan Chief Colin of Kintail rescued King Alexander III from a raging stag.

The Dalmore Distillery visitor's centre

The Dalmore Distillery visitor's centre

Cromarty Firth and the Black Isle, from The Dalmore Distillery

Cromarty Firth and the Black Isle, from The Dalmore Distillery, Alness, Scotland

The Dalmore Distillery Empty Casks including 2005 and 2003

The Dalmore Distillery Empty Casks including 2005 and 2003

What Else Is Nearby?

References & Further Reading

picture of the front cover of book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard

One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries, including many of the now 'lost' distilleries of Campbeltown.

book cover of Charle's macleans spirit of place showing black and white phograph of whisky barrels in front of twin pagoda roofed kiln houses

Spirit of Place by Charles MacLean, with photographs by Lara Platman and Allan Macdonald, is a unique addition to the literature on Scotch whisky, from the world's greatest expert on the subject. The perfect gift for anyone planning a tour of Scotland's distilleries, a souvenir for anyone who has visited them, and simply the perfect companion to a dram at home. Campbeltown is overlooked as a region, but Spirit of Place does feature Springbank as part of the 'West Highlands' distillery profiles.

About the author


Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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