Jul 042016
 

Aberlour a’bunadh Batch 52IMG_2382

60.5% abv

Score:  88/100

 

There was a day when each successive batch of a’bunadh used to light me up like a kid at Christmas.  Nowadays…meh.  They’re simply not up to what they used to be.

Let me qualify that:  these Aberlour releases are still better than most of the watered down, colored and filtered expressions from the big brands that are hitting the market, but a’bunadh has lost the edge it once had for its delectable sweet and fruity charm.  Now it’s just another cask strength (occasionally underripe) bruiser.

Even so, when my wife came home a couple months back with a bottle of this and a Kilchoman for me I was tickled pink.  One…because she knows me and was kind and wonderful as always, and two…because I know readers like to hear about these storied batch releases.  In short…I was more excited about writing it up for the site than I was to actually drink it.  Fortunately it was decent enough to be able to enjoy both.

I think the most important thing I can possibly say here is that a’bunadh is not what it once was.  Sorry.  I don’t know if it is a change to sherry-seasoned casks as opposed to proper sherry butts (which I hear many in the industry are doing now)…a shift to younger malts in the batch vattings…or simply a different style the blender is aiming for.  Either way, the deep, sweet, aromatic jamminess that made a’bunadh a thing of legend is now merely a background cello in an orchestra of instruments cranked up to 11.  Sad really.

By no means is this a bad dram.  Marks and notes below should attest to that.  Unfortunately, the benefit of experience allows me to say unequivocally that this malt is on the wane.  The nature of batch releases, however, ensures we’ll be curious to see if the next is a return to form.

One more important thing to say.  Less than two years ago Aberlour a’bunadh was about $77 a bottle locally.  A couple weeks back I saw it at $126.  Shame on you, Aberlour.  No amount of justification (currency exchange, market conditions, barrel shortages, etc) will ever be able to square that circle.  Shameful gouging.  While the wife and I do share a bank account – and ultimately I did end up paying for this ‘gift’ in a roundabout way – it needs to be made clear I would never support that kind of consumer-disrespecting audacity.

Nose:  Dark jammy fruit.  Creamy chocolate.  Leather.  Deep spicy sherry notes.  A slight cherry cola-ness about it.  Not nearly as fruity as old a’bunadh unfortunately.  Dark toffee and a hint of both coffee and tea.  Prunes and figs and such.  A hint of mint.

Palate:  Better.  More fruit now.  Berry jam on slightly burnt toast.  Damp wood.  Mocha.  Candied orange peel.  Walnut.  Maraschino cherry.  Dark, oily vanilla.  Caramel with some fruit.  Better arrival than finish.

Thoughts:  A little too sharp (or too young?).  Is it just me or is a’bunadh getting spicier and meatier over time?  Not bad, but nowhere near its glory days.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:04 pm
Dec 122014
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 49)090

60.1% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

These a’bunadh write-ups are some of the most popular reviews on the site, so while to some it may seem almost like overkill to keep knocking out batch after batch of ’em, we’ll keep doing it as long as people want to read.

It also doesn’t hurt that they’re tasty beverages, and that sitting down for review sessions with these Aberlours is far from ‘homework’.

Each time I settle in to score up a new a’bunadh I generally try to taste at least two or three different batches side by side.  It helps the subtleties take on a more pronounced difference, and ensures that the scores are kept in line with one another to a degree.  Let’s face it: these are very much just tiny variations on a theme.  A point of comparison helps keep the reviews on the up-and-up.

Batch 49 is a little bit of a black sheep from recent versions I’ve tried.  Seems to me to be much softer of a dram.  Perhaps we’re looking at more refill butts vatted into this one.  Not sure.  What I can say, however, is that the rather biting acerbic profile that has characterized the past handful of batches I’ve tried seems to have been softened here.  To great effect.

Hard to believe we’re already at Batch 49, but so seems to be the case.

Nose:  We’re back into the more fruity side of a’bunadh here.  The last batch I tried was 47.  That had some more savoury notes.  Here we have deeper red jams and dusty, dunnage warehouse.  More floral notes than normally found in a’bunadh.  Maraschino-rich fruitcake (a bit a tasting note cheat, I know, but true nonetheless).  Cinnamon and a touch of mint.  Well worn leather.  A little almond.  Baked apple.  Dark wine gums.

Palate:  Nice delivery here.  Sweeter than that B47 I mentioned, and lacking all of the bittering notes.  Ooey, gooey fruits sauce or spoonfuls of mixed berry jam.  Ever use your teeth to pull off leather gloves?  Y’know that leathery flavour that lingers?  Yep…that’s what I’m getting at.  Baked apple with rich spices.  Quite plummy and tangy.  Juicy and mouthwatering throughout.

Thoughts:  Gotta be honest.  This is a’bunadh…but it’s not.  The florals are a surprise.  As is the relative softness.  Especially in contrast with the asskicking abv.  More restrained and simple than I’m accustomed to with this malt, but absolutely no less wonderful for it.  And no matter what impression you get here, make no mistake.  This is big fucking whisky.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:55 am
Oct 072014
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 47)010

60.7% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

A’bunadh is my ‘slipper’ malt.  When I’m cold…this is what I curl up with.  When I have a cold…this is what soothes.  When I’ve had a shitty day and am just hoping for comfort and familiarity…this is where I turn.  When I’m simply craving a damn good ‘suits any occasion’ kind of whisky…this is nearly always the one I turn to.  It’s as comfortable and welcome as the best pair of soft worn-in slippers.  Honestly. 

I recall an incident that happened in the dead of winter a  few years back while I was on my way home from work.  My bus had been slipping and sliding all over the roads in an absolutely horrendous blizzard.  It finally gave up the ghost on a hill about eight or ten blocks from my house, slipping back in the slush and muck to rest horizonally across both lanes, effectively blocking the entire street.  It was dinner time, almost dead-of-night dark and the snow was flying in thick sheets; creating a virtual wall of snow.  The driver opened the doors and offered to let us walk if we preferred, so as not to wait for a tow (nice fella, that one).  Indeterminate wait for the possibility of rescue vs the frigid December hoolie.  What would you choose? 

Well…that 15 minute walk in -25C weather…in snow up to my knees…in dress shoes and good clothes…was one of the most miserable experiences of my entire life.  Interestingly enough though, what lingers more than the memory of numb extremities, frozen eyelashes and aching ears, is the thought of finally trudging up my drive, shaking off the snow on the front steps and heading straight for the front of the fire place with a Glencairn glass half full of a’bunadh.  Canadian winters.  Beautiful misery.

By now a’bunadh should be no mystery to most of you.   If it is, however, please browse some of the previous reviews here on the site.  Suffice it to say, this is a big and bruising cask strength Oloroso sherry bomb.  Small-batch released.  Almost always incredible.  And…a personal favorite.  After a less than stellar Batch 46, it’s nice to see Aberlour back on top with this Batch 47.

Nose:  Moist cigar, or maybe a walk-in humidor. Cherry liqueur.  Mincemeat tarts.  Some shortbread behind all of the spices and savoury notes.  Cinnamon bun dough.  A very pleasant toasted (almost burnt) marshmallow note.  The wood is a little louder than expected.  Brings a little more complexity, and ‘seriousness’ than I expect in the rowdy a’bunadh (if that makes sense).  No shoddy casks buried in here.

Palate:  Beautiful sweet, caramel fruity delivery.  Deep, dark dried fruits.  Orange zest.   Dark caramel.  Roman nougat.  Maraschino.  Toasted pie crust.  Baked apples with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Brown sugar.  Fruit cake.  Figs.  Charred woods.  Apple skins.  Leather.  And FRUIT leather.

Thoughts:  Great balance here.  Nice sweet ride all the way through.  There is plenty of this batch still available on the shelves locally (Calgary) for those who are interested.  I’ll be nabbing another, as mine is now down to the bottom half a bottle.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:35 pm
Jun 092014
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 34)004

59.5% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

Fun.  Just found a sample I’d put away of another a’bunadh I had not yet written up. 

What say we cuddle up with a glass of Batch 34 from a few years back and jot down a few tasting notes for posterity?  Here we’re heading back into familiar waters, as long time readers will be well aware.  I’ve covered several of these releases over the years (and tasted many others besides).  With a’bunadh, the fact of the matter is that they’re all very similar, but somehow all very unique.  I’ll continue to cover as many of these releases as I can, knowing that there are some die-hard a’bunadh fans out there. 

First things first…I concede there are better sherried malts on the market.  ‘Specially some of the older ones from the storied old Speyside masters.  However…there are times when only a glass of a’bunadh will do.  Honestly.  I find myself returning to this malt time and again because the youth and bombast are simply unparalleled in terms of delivering an over-the-top fruity sherried experience.  This is a whisky for the days when your taste buds don’t want to be made love to…they just want a good, hard…well…y’know where I’m going with this.

Anyway…Batch 34 is a keeper.  A great progression on a theme.  If I come across any more of it on the shelves, I’ll be sure to clean ’em out.  Not likely to happen though, at this stage of the game.

Nose:  Flawless casks.  Big jammy fruits.  Cherry (my favorite fruit!).  None of the drier notes I’ve found in a few of the more recent batches.  Chocolate cake.  Cinnamon and nutmeg.  Some almond or Amaretto.  Pecan pie.  Toasted marshmallow.  A touch of eucalyptus.  Some Demerara.  A unique touch of smoke (from wood charring?).

Palate:  Oh, wow.  Like biting into a juicy handful of grapes.  Chocolate shavings.  Thick dark jam on hot biscuits.  Great spice and a touch of woodiness.  Some cherry and raspberry notes with just a touch of citric freshness.  Almost a Dr. Pepper or cherry cola familiarity.  Beautiful mix of sweet and tart.   The palate is a little different from the nose, but just as good and just as high scoring.  Great long finish.

Thoughts:  This is one of the better batches of a’bunadh I’ve ever doused my taste buds with.  Great release from a distillery that has successfully managed to walk the NAS tightrope.  As long as the malt maintains a profile and quality of about this level I will continue to buy.  Should also note…this is my Christmas dram.  Anyone coming to visit around the holidays can expect one of these while we listen to Dropkick Murphys’ ‘The Season’s Upon Us’.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:05 pm
Apr 142014
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 41)017

59% abv

Score:  84.5/100

 

Let’s check out another batch of Aberlour a’bunadh.

This whisky is always a pleasure  to revisit.  That’s sorta why we come back to it every few months or so.  Well…that and because many folks out there tend to petition the blogs and such for updates on current batches in order to determine whether they’re up to snuff against previous releases, or if they should wait a few months for the next batch.  On that front, we may as well all share the good word, right?

While I don’t pick up every every release of this cask strength behemoth, I do nab one out of every three or four perhaps.  Let’s face it…these are very much just variations on a narrow theme.  Some a tick or two better…some a tick or two worse.  I’ve yet to run across one that I outright didn’t like, but I will concede that there has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride between shimmeringly beautiful and merely mediocre.

You’d think that would be a complaint, right?  Batch variation is a source of considerable frustration for some.  The thing is…that sort of batch variation is part of what makes a’bunadh so much fun for me.  It kinda reminds me of being a young’un and buying trading cards.  I was always happy with whatever I got when I tore into the foil (or waxed wrapper), but if there happened to be a superstar card or a ‘last piece of the puzzle’ number in there I’d be tickled pink.  A’bunadh can have that same thrill when the cork is popped.  It’s always a bit of a crapshoot.

Once more – though we’ve done this several times by now – a’bunadh is Gaelic for ‘origin’.  As in, this whisky is taken back to it’s old school purest form of origination.  Barrel strength, non-chill filtered, non-colored.   It’s bold.  It’s big.  And it is an instant love for many.  It’s not hard to see why as soon as you nose your first dram.

A final note:  Unlike some out there reviewing spirits for masses, I utterly refuse to believe that packaging or appearance has any place in scoring.  To keep it as honest as possible, all that should ever really count are the flavours and aromas in the glass vessel.  Even so, I have to concede an appreciation for good presentation, and this malt has to be the most aesthetically appealing malt on the market in my humble opinion.  I adore the squat bottle with the red wax seal.

Let’s check out Batch 41…

Nose:  A big fruity, sherry monster, of course.  Cinnamon.  Mincemeat and maraschino.  A touch of mint.  Figgy.  Tobacco in a leather pouch.  Pepper.  Kinda meaty and nutty.  Dry bitter cacao.  Deep dark cherry and jammy fruit notes.  Kinda wine-ier than expected.  Just the faintest afterthought of sulphur (took me a while to be certain that’s what the more astringent characteristic was).  Decent.  Not great.

Palate:  Melted chocolate immediately coats the palate.  Damp woody notes.  Purple fruits, fruit skins and grape jammy flavours.  More chocolate (as if poured over fruits).  Raisin and some figgy dryness.  Finding this one more on the savoury side than the sweet side.  Palate is not up to the challenge of the nose.

Thoughts:  I hate to say it, but…a rather middling batch of one of my favorite young malts.  It doesn’t carry the depths of sweet fruits that have characterized the best of the a’bunadh batches.  In all fairness, though…even average a’bunadh is still a treat.  I’m not sure there is a more ‘go-to’ affordable malt in my house at any given time.  Any night I’m not particularly leaning to one malt or another, I always seem to reach for this one.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:14 am
Nov 052013
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 36)002

60.1% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Aberlour a’bunadh is consistently listed in whisky lovers’ ‘top ten’ lists (which are more often that not comprised of twenty or thirty whiskies), so it’s not surprising I get a lot of requests to review more of the batch releases of this expression.

The simple fact of the matter is that this is damn good whisky, and fairly consistent in terms of quality, if not exact flavour profile.  Batch variation is substantial with this dram, and if I’m to be dead honest, that’s a good thing.  Keeps it interesting and shows that there is still some blender’s art happening here, and that these aren’t simply being batched to recipe-like homogeneity.  There’s something intrinsically pure about these releases that wins me over.

As a rule with a’bunadh, one can expect a thick and monolithic sherry monster, redolent in spices, dried fruits and sweetness.  Usually some leather and tobacco as well.  I’ll try to continue knocking out a few more batches here on the site with a bit more regularity in order to show the nuances between releases.  To date…Batch 28 holds a spot in my heart as a favorite.  That was the only release I squirrelled away a couple extra of.  This is a whisky that I simply can’t imagine anyone not appreciating.  More faithful than ol’ Trigger, this is one of my sidekicks.

Batch 36 here, while not my favorite a’bunadh, is still certainly a great dram and better than almost anything in its price range.

By the way…I do take exception to the ignorance on the label (which you can see in the picture above), referring to ‘single cask’.  These batches are in no way ‘single cask’.  Oh well.  Nitpicking now.

Nose:  Rummy raisin and chocolate. Jam covered straw and hay.  Cinnamon raisin toast and bread dough.  Dried fruits, of course, but also some macerated berry notes…with pepper.  Creamy sherry and a touch of eucalyptus.  Light florals too.  Nice clean casks.  Nary a bad butt to be found in this vatting.

Palate:  Thick and syrupy.  Cough syrup too.  Nice fruit notes of plum, blackberry and…dunno…something bold and jammy.  Fudge with black cherry in it.  A little bit of pear or apple skin.  Huge mouthfeel.  Thick and chewy as hell.  Awesome, awesome mouthful of whisky.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:54 am
May 042013
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 37)007

59.6% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

Time to settle in with another batch of our favorite young cask strength sherry bomb.  No sherried malt out there packs anything near the pound-for-pound punch power of a’bunadh.

This whisky, for those not in the know, is Aberlour’s small batch (but likely not as small as in early days, I imagine) beefcake.  The distillery releases a few editions each year, of slightly varying strength and quality.  The quality variance, in my experience, is relatively small however.  I’ve tried many batches, from the early teens through the mid forties, and found them to be remarkably consistent.  Yes, there are flavour differences, but those nuances and subtleties are what make the malt beautiful and keep us coming back.

Gaelic for ‘the origin’, a’bunadh is Aberlour’s attempt at producing an old school style malt similar to that which would have been produced in early days.  Hence…the origin.

For the newbies out there…this is not liable to be one of the first whiskies you reach for at your local retailer – unless you’ve been doing your homework, that is – but I promise you it will be a game-changer when you do finally grab a bottle.  It is immense enough to open up an entire world of possibilities in the whisky world, but also approachable enough that nearly anyone should be able appreciate its sweet, sweet depths.

So let’s check in on a’bunadh.  Last batch reviewed was 28.  This is 37.  Most recent I’ve seen on local shelves is 44.  Though I’ve tried many of the other batches, they haven’t been in the right controlled setting suitable for review.  No fear though.  Many more to come in the future.

Oh yeah…did I mention…at a whopping 60% (give or take) this whisky is always an asskicking heavyweight.

Nose:  Gooey, stringy toffee or caramel.  Coffee…much like a Caramel Macchiato or something.  Figgy.  Touch o’ brimstone, if you get my drift.  Fudge with a touch of cherry.  Oranges.  Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Oak and honey.

Palate:  Unmistakeable.  Spicy.  Caramelized sugars and deep threads of caramel.  Plump figs and other mixed dried fruits.  Again a bit of cherry.  Alcohol-soaked cherry, that is.  Very syrupy.  Almost cough syrup heavy.  Brazil nut…walnut…hazelnut…or some mix thereof.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:44 pm
Oct 202012
 

Aberlour 10 y.o.

40% abv

Score:  84.5/100

 

Wow.  How does a whisky this good sneak under the radar at $30-35 a bottle?  Truly astounding.  While not a stunner by any means,  when one considers the alternatives in this price range, this is really quite a find.

Relativity is key to many things in life.  This whisky is one.  In its own way, it is nearly as astounding as the a’bunadh (which, of course, I am a fan of).  The 10 year old is a beautifully balanced sherried Speysider, full of character and individuality.

So…let this fine young Aberlour be a lesson to the snob in all of us.  Though I generally do not shop based on age statement, price point or region…I will confess to never having found a whisky this good in this price point.  And for this very reason, I simply stopped looking.  Many moons ago, for one of our club gatherings, one of the lads had a few dollars of his whisky budget remaining and saw this on the shelf.  We’d yet to have a go at it so he nabbed it blindly and threw it out to the rest of us.  The reception to such a young and unassuming malt was quite incredible.  At least three in my immediate dramming circles have been swayed to keeping this as one of their ‘house’ bottles for daily dramming.

Nose:  Fresh baking cookies, rich in vanilla and cinnamon.  Light spiced rum.  Possibly some walnut.  Orange rind and dried apricot and sultana.  Nice balance.  Nothing too out of character yet, but the potential for greatness is already showing its face (i.e. Give this another 8 or 10 years in oak and bottle at natural strength…wow!)

Palate:  Doesn’t diverge much from the nose.  Dried fruits, sweet sherry and slightly syrupy, even at this rather neutered abv.  Still somewhat fruity, with a smooth vanilla richness.  Typically, it fades into sodden woody notes and wine-like tartness.  Not bad at all.

Great entry level malt for anyone reluctant to take on the buckings of peat or the added price point of some of the older, more storied malts.  At this price…highly recommended.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:54 pm
Aug 012012
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 21)

59.5% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

At the time of writing*, ATW’s review of Aberlour a’bunadh Batch 28 is the most viewed review on the site.  First thought…folks out there are looking into the right whiskies.  Second thought…time to get around to writing up a few of the other batches.

Batch 28 was such a revelation (sadly I missed 23 and 26 which were said to be the measure against which others were held) that I knocked off a bottle, then hunted for a couple more to shelve for that fabled ‘rainy day’.  I’ve gone out of my way to try many batches now, and those which I have access to will be reviewed.  For now…Batch 21.

My jaded palate is somewhat overcritical of the a’bunadh bottlings now.  When I say that, what I really mean is that the average soul out there could likely add a mark or two to most of my reviews in this line-up.  This all comes down to knowing just what heights these can reach.  Even the lesser bottlings are head and shoulders above the average dram out there.  If you’ve not had your socks knocked off by one of these cask strength sherry bombs…get shopping.

Right off the the bat…you gotta know you’re going to get your tastebuds knocked around a bit.  This is an immense and intense heavily-sherried whisky at a cask strength of no less than 59.5% abv.  I’ll concede I am not generally a water-in-whisky guy (and certainly not when reviewing!), but in all fairness…this one can handle a few drops.  Oft-times a sherried whisky will fall apart when water is added, but this one should be safe.

The nose carries amplified notes of densely-soaked oak, rum, caramel, sweet and sharp raisin and buckets of nutmeg and strong cinnamon.  I got tantalizing hints of dark cherry and a touch of slightly over-baked hot fresh bread.  Butter-drizzled bread.  And finally…somehow amid this dark forest of sherry, a hint of sparkling barley still manages to peek through.  Sadly…and maybe this is just me…in the tangle of all of these glorious bits and pieces I still find one or two…off…somewhat jagged notes.  Just a little off-kilter, mind you.  While still a great dram…this is not the best of the a’bunadh line I’ve met.

Sitting atop the aforementioned notes, I got a touch of anise and a hefty dollop of molasses on arrival.  Gorgeously mouthcoating (as they all are), these flavors will cling to the backs of your teeth.  The oak and a mild tartness were the hangers-on for me.

One caution.  In embarassment I just want to add a brief tip.  Do NOT spill this stuff.  A ruined slip cover for my couch attests.

If out hunting for your first a’bunadh, and fence-sitting due to mention of batch discrepency, rest easy…these are damn fine drams.  As I mentioned above…the worst a’bunadh will often kick the hell out of the best another distillery might offer.

*(over a year ago now, as of Aug 2012)

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:00 pm
Aug 012012
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 27)015

60.1% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

By this point we all know what we’re going to get from a batch of a’bunadh. Enormous mountains of sherry sweetness…cask strength bottling nearly big enough to melt the glass it is decanted into (60.1% abv)…bold fruitcake pungency and cloying winter spice…hints of a few other dark and seductive nuances. These nuances are what make each batch magical. Some are exceptional. Others merely great. Saying something, isn’t it?

Though the batch release idea implies variation, consistency of quality is a forte of the a’bunadh line. There is variation, to be sure, but such is the spice of life, isn’t it? I don’t shy away from picking up each successive bottling, as I am almost guaranteed to like it.

A’bunadh is Gaelic for ‘origin’, as in this is an attempt to replicate the whisky of days past. Just like others that have done this, we’ll simply never know how close they’ve come to cloning these dearly departed drams, but we can appreciate the thought and historical bent that drives these creations, and simply be content in the proffered bounty.

So back to those subtleties and nuances we spoke of, and what defines this batch. There are some domineering tobacco notes banging drums amidst the sweet cacophony of rum, chocolate and treacle. Dates and figs provide a big bottom end while defined and rigid spices (clove, nutmeg, cinnamon) come in sharp and high. The sherry is the melody that brings this all together, imparting these flavors to the Aberlour spirit. I find this batch slightly more ‘green’ than others I’ve tried. More of the Speyside fruity profile shows through here as well.

Splashed across the taste buds are chocolate, dried fruits, sherry and oak. The finish is long and rich. One would expect nothing less from this expression. Something a little tangy and tart toward the back though.

To be honest, this one is simply not as cohesive on the nose as some of the other batches. This serves to make it easier to dissect for the purpose of reviewing and taking tasting notes, but it makes it a somewhat less engaging and whole experience. This does not a bad whisky make, however.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:46 pm