Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 53)

Aberlour A'Bunadh reviewDistillery: Aberlour
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 59.7%

The story of A’bunadh (meaning The Origin in Gaelic) is an interesting one. How much of it is marketing and how much is truth is hard to say, but the tale goes as follows.

Business was booming in the 1970s, so Aberlour decided to put in a new pair of stills in 1975. When installing the stills, workmen had to remove a name plate, behind which they discovered a time capsule. It was a bottle of Aberlour wrapped in a newspaper from 1892, containing an article about the fire that destroyed the original Aberlour distillery. Although the workmen reportedly emptied out almost the whole bottle, the leftovers were duly handed to the distillery manager, who sent the sample to the lab to be evaluated. The lab results showed that the dram was a marriage of whiskies of different ages, all matured in European oak and bottled at cask strength.

Aberlour A’bunadh is an attempt to recreate this whisky and celebrate the origins of Aberlour. Since only a handful of people ever tasted the original I can’t say whether they succeeded, but oh my have Aberlour created a wonderful dram! A’bunadh is bottled in different batches, each very similar but subtly different. All batches are a vatting of different Aberlours, ranging in age from 3 to 30 years. With the exclusive maturation in European oak, A’bunadh is the ultimate sherry aged whisky, positively exploding with sweet, spicy flavours. Add the high alcohol content (this batch is one of only a few to fall short of 60%) and you have a truly special whisky that is unquestionably the crown jewel in Aberlour’s range.

Colour: Mahogany. The deep burgundy hue is amazing given the fact no artificial colouring was used. This already gives an indication of what a sherry bomb this whisky is.

Nose: Deep, oaky aromas dominate, much like a VSOP cognac or a very old tawny port. The sherry smell is so heavy I’m surprised it doesn’t sink right through the glass. The nose is fruity, but not fresh, with lots of raisins and dried red fruit. A somewhat musty scent gives way to a nuttier profile, with notes of walnut, caramel and sandalwood. These slowly dissipate into dark chocolate and strawberry jam.

Add a few drops of water and the nose opens up, increasing in sweetness and producing aromas of honey and marzipan. There is more of a citric character too, as notes of orange peel give way to barley and cloves.

Palate: Cloyingly sweet, with a large, creamy body that is nonetheless very sharp. And how could it not be, with such a high alcohol content? This dram feels like you’re drinking liquid oak that’s on fire, a sherry B-52 cocktail of Christmas cake mixed with butterscotch.

With water, the palate is less prickly, allowing you to enjoy the sherry character a bit more. Unwatered, the alcohol doesn’t quite drown out the flavours, but it is easier to explore this whisky with a splash of water.  Adding just a few drops really allows the nuttier, barley-flavoured side of this whisky to shine through.

Finish: Intensely warming, sharp, spicy and deliciously long. Again, there are massive sherry notes, with a nutty, oaky aftertaste that lingers long at the back of the throat. A’bunadh is a superb whisky that Aberlour can be extremely proud of. It’s like no other whisky out there, truly ground-breaking stuff. With water, the aftertaste remains the same, but the finish has less of that warming, explosive impact.

Verdict: What a dram this is! Aberlour A’bunadh is a bold statement that takes sherry matured whisky to new extremes. As such, it is the perfect whisky to finish off a sherry themed tasting, as it’s almost impossible to find anything that will top this for sheer taste and intensity. A’bunadh is one of those whiskies (like some of the heavily peated Islays) where you can still enjoy the glow and the aftertaste long after you’ve finished your drink. The fact that it’s one of the very few Speysides of which I can say this, illustrates how special this dram is. By now, A’bunadh is becoming a true classic, and a bottle that will always have a place in my whisky collection.  All thanks to someone with the brilliant foresight to hide a time capsule all those years ago…

Aberlour A'Bunadh review

BenRiach 15 year old Dark Rum Wood Finish

BenRiach Dark Rum Wood Finish ReviewDistillery: BenRiach
Region: Speyside
Age: 15 years old
abv: 46%

There are not so many rum finished whiskies on the market, but luckily BenRiach is always willing to experiment with different casks. This 15 year old Dark Rum Wood Finish was part of BenRiach’s first Wood Finish Series, released in 2006. Since then, the series has undergone periodic changes, as whiskies have come and gone. The Dark Rum Finish now falls in the ‘gone’ category, as it is no longer being produced. This perhaps reflects a lack of popularity when compared to its sherry, port or Moscatel finished siblings.

After an initial period of maturation in American bourbon barrels, this whisky was finished in casks that previously held dark rum from Jamaica. The result is rather typical, with notes of brown sugar, vanilla and toffee.

Colour: Blonde

Nose: The nose is a greeting straight from the Caribbean, but almost overwhelmingly sweet. Massive, massive vanilla mixes with aromas of coconut and overripe pear. These give way to notes of butterscotch and crème caramel, which slowly fade to reveal toasted barley and buttered corn.

Palate: Sharp and spicy, with a dominant sweetness that’s transferred over from the nose. Notes of black pepper and gingerbread make way for nutmeg and hazelnut praline. Underneath it all is a slight hint of burnt toast.

Finish: Sweet and warming, with honeyed barley coming to the fore. A short burst of spices leaves a tangy, fiery aftertaste.

Verdict: The dark rum finish advertised on the bottle is no word of a lie. However, you can have too much of a good thing, and that’s unfortunately what’s happened here. There is nothing balanced about this whisky, as the rum influence completely overwhelms the BenRiach distillery character. The result is certainly not a bad dram, but also not one that compares favourably to some other rum finishes on the market. I won’t be revisiting BenRiach Dark Rum Finish any time soon, but given that my bottle is empty and this whisky is no longer sold, that’s not much of a statement.

BenRiach Dark Rum Wood Finish Review

Glenfiddich 18 year old

Glenfiddich 18 year old 01Distillery: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Age: 18 years old
abv: 40%

Part of Glenfiddich’s core range, the 18 year old has received a double maturation in bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks. Since this whisky is aged in small batches, one bottle may taste slightly different from another. Each however is a definite step up from the rather bland 12 year old and the overly sweet 15 year old. The extra years of maturation, along with the sherry influence, give this whisky much more character, resulting in a complex, distinguished dram. While this is perhaps not the most exciting of whiskies, it never fails to put a satisfied smile on my face.

Colour: Harvest gold

Nose: Light and flowery, like a fresh spring day. There’s some very fruity, almost tropical aromas, with pineapple and perhaps a pinch of coconut. These give way to sweet, spicy scents, with notes of aniseed, pepper and a hint of caramel. On the whole, the nose seems to hold the midst between a florist shop and a spice market.

Palate: Smooooth and oh so silky. This is a very well-balanced whisky, bursting with flavour yet also delicate and elegant. A creamy, nutty profile dominates (almonds and macadamia), with some spices shining through later on (cloves and cinnamon). These dissipate into notes of caramelised apple.

Finish: Rather disappointing. The finish is short, soft, and altogether too mellow. The aftertaste fades quickly and immediately makes you want to reach for the glass again for more of that good stuff on the palate.

Verdict: This is a good whisky, depending on the mood you’re in. It won’t give you that great warming feeling, but Glenfiddich 18 is dangerously drinkable, with oceans of depth to explore. Rich, complex and sophisticated, this is a great dram for leaning back, relaxing and just mulling things over. With a very reasonable price tag for an 18 year old, this Glenfiddich is definitely worth a try.

Glenfiddich 18 year old 02

Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve

Glenlivet Master Distiller's Reserve 01Distillery: The Glenlivet
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Part of Glenlivet’s Travel Exclusives range, the Master Distiller’s reserve pays homage to Alan Winchester, Master Distiller at Glenlivet since 2009. He decided to craft a triple cask matured whisky, which was first aged in traditional American oak (used as the standard cask for most Glenlivet expressions), followed by a first-fil bourbon barrel and ex-sherry European oak. The result is a whisky with a wide-ranging flavour palette that’s very easily drinkable. Nevertheless, as a NAS bottling, this dram has likely not aged for very long, and this youthfulness means that the sophistication found in more mature Glenlivet expressions is sadly lacking.

Colour: Old gold

Nose: The aroma of vanilla dominates the nose, but is balanced out by fruity notes of fresh pears and dried plums. These are followed by hints of hazelnut and cream caramel.

Palate: Light bodied and fairly sweet, with plenty of honey flavour. White chocolate and vanilla give way to a nuttier profile. Underneath it all is a whiff of raw spirit, as I suspect this whisky is fairly young. Lastly, notes of (over)ripe apples take over.

Finish: Medium-short, as sweet notes fade into a more bitter aftertaste. The finish doesn’t quite deliver, and leaves you wanting more.

Verdict: This is a fairly flat, easy going whisky. Not a dram for in front of the hearth fire, but best enjoyed on a sunny spring afternoon. As another NAS whisky that relies more on marketing than on quality, the Master Distiller’s Reserve is no match for the 12 year old in my opinion. Nevertheless, at this price point, it cannot hurt to give this Glenlivet a try.

Glenlivet Master Distiller's Reserve 02

Glenrothes Select Reserve

Glenrothes Select Reserve ReviewDistillery: Glenrothes
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Glenrothes distillery is located in the Speyside and is known for its creamy, smooth, sweet whiskies. Their spirit matures rather quickly, and is very drinkable from a young age. As such, it has traditionally been very popular with blending houses, and forms the heart of such notable blends as Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse. The former is owned by one of London’s fanciest wine and spirit merchants – Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd – which has made Glenrothes its house whisky. These bottlings were initially vintages only, each with their own handwritten label. Therefore it was something of a breach of protocol when Glenrothes Select Reserve was released, as this is a vatting of casks from different ages. The result is a very drinkable whisky at a much more affordable price. While vatting was somewhat of an experiment for Glenrothes, the Select Reserve has turned out well and is thankfully here to stay.

Colour: Straw

Nose: Distinctly winey, mixed with the deep, musty fragrance of aged oak. Notes of caramelised pear evolve into dark chocolate pralines, sprinkled with a dash of maple syrup.

Palate: The body is oily and silky, and the palate bursts with complexity. Zesty citrus flavours intertwine with the oaky profile, and slowly give way to walnuts and honeyed apricot.  Notes of barley and dried hops guide this whisky towards the finish.

Finish: Deep and sweet. The spices develop in full force, with cloves and white pepper coming to the fore, suffusing into a pleasant bitterness towards the end.

Verdict: Glenrothes Select Reserve is a very easily drinkable expression, and positions itself snugly in between a simple, uncomplicated whisky and older, more complex drams. As such it is a great introduction to a tasting that’s building up to its more mature, flavourful crescendo. But even by itself, Glenrothes Select Reserve is suitable for any mood and always bound to please.

Glenrothes Select Reserve Review

Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak

Macallan Sherry Oak ReviewDistillery: Macallan
Region: Speyside/Highland
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

Obtaining a license to distil legally in 1824, the Macallan distillery is located in a beautiful manor house right on the banks of the river Spey. However, due to a set of regulatory changes in 2009, the Macallan is officially no longer a Speyside distillery and its bottles are now labelled as a Highland malt. Unburdened by legal wrangling, whisky experts nonetheless continue to consider Macallan as a Speyside malt. Being located only a mile away from Aberlour distillery, which is a Speyside whisky, this seems to make sense to me.

Either way, the Speyside/Highland debate is somewhat irrelevant, as Macallan stands out in whichever category you place it. It is praised by experts as one of the finest malts in production, and often sells for record prices at auctions. Macallan can even boast the likes of James Bond and Harvey Specter among its fans. Such marketing has paid off: Macallan is now the third best selling single malt in the world by volume. While I never ranked Macallan as one of my favourite whiskies, I recently tried the Macallan 12 years old Sherry Oak in a blind tasting and placed it head and shoulders above the other drams on offer that night.  Where other whiskies might receive an additional few months in sherry casks, Macallan 12 years old was matured exclusively in sherry casks, and it shows. This is an exquisitely smooth and luxurious dram, to be savoured in front of a hearth fire on a cold winter’s day.

Colour: Burnished amber

Nose: The sherry maturation immediately leaves an impression. The nose has a deep, complex, oaky  character and could easily belong to a much older whisky. Once the initial burst of sherry fades, scents of dried fruit and walnuts swirl in. Reminiscent of an underground bodega.

Palate: The body is oily and exceptionally smooth. Rich sherry flavours also dominate here, supported by notes of caramel, Christmas pudding and more dried fruit. Then a complex layer of oaky notes opens up, with toasted vanilla and the slightest hint of nutmeg.

Finish: Silky smooth and medium in length. Sweet fruity tones give way to a pleasantly bitter aftertaste of aged wood.

Verdict: Wow, this has to be one of the best 12 year old whiskies on the market. It displays a complexity usually only found in whiskies of much more advanced maturation. Beautifully balanced, the intense sherry flavours somehow do not drown out the oaky influences. Although this is a very pricey 12 year old, it is also an exceptional whisky for this age group. Much like the Macallan 12 year old itself then, the price-quality ratio is well-balanced.

Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak Review


The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 year old

Balvenie 14 Caribbean CaskDistillery: The Balvenie
Region: Speyside
Age: 14 years old
abv: 43%

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask has been around for some time, but was
previously branded as the Cuban Cask (shh don’t let anyone know the Commies might have had anything to do with it) and Golden Cask (too nondescript). What all these different names point at is that the whisky has received an extra maturation in casks that previously held rum, giving it a sweet, spicy character. There are not too many rum finishes out there, so be sure to give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed!

Colour: Treasure gold

Nose: Honey gives way to oriental spices such as cloves, nutmeg and vanilla. Caramelised pear and tropical fruits.

Palate: Powerful honey fills the sails, with the Balvenie’s heathery malty notes also boarding ship.  Intensely sweet and fruity in character, before the spices explode like a symphony of cannon fire. Belatedly the rum notes come swashbuckling in, leaving quite the impression. Layer upon layer of complexity.

Finish: Arrrrr! The finish is long and intense, with the sweet notes dissipating into the lingering bittersweet sensation of Caledonia meeting Caribbean.

Verdict: This is an exceptional whisky, and well worth having in your collection at this price point. The traditional whisky flavours are exquisitely balanced with the rum influences and provide an excellent example of the added complexity that finishes can provide. Warmly recommended.

Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask