A’bunadh, pronounced ah-boo-na, means from the origin. This particular expression is a cask-strength, non-chillfiltered yearly release (insert high-school crush sigh). Each year varies slightly, so if you’re talking about this one with a friend it’s important to ask which release you’re talking about. I’ve had a few different batches though, and the ones I’ve had were always inordinately delicious. This one has been out there for a couple years now, Batch #33.
A’bunadh is aged solely in Oloroso casks. Sherried whiskies can have a sulphury note to them, and sulphur is like the cilantro of whisky. If you don’t like it, you probably hate the ever-loving sh@# out of it. There’s so much cilantro hate in the world that people have banded together to make up an imaginary genetic predisposition to hating it. It’s not for everybody, and to balance things, there ARE examples of horrible sulphur notes in the whisky world just as much as you can get bad batches of the herb that actually do taste like soap, but I find the light burned matches in this one to be delightful. And to all the people shaking their fist at me right now for calling their genetic cilantro-angst pipe dream a hoax, I usually like cilantro, too. It’s delicious.
Nose: No age statement but almost all of the cloying pineapple sweetness from the 12 and 16 is gone. There’s still a tiny bit left but it’s buried beneath a much more balanced sweetness; like brown sugar and sweet, burned matchheads. Caramel and vanilla rush to the top notes. Leather and lightly roasted malt with dark, rich spices when you get down into the glass. Pine notes become obvious after a good breathing. Water opens up another world of sweet-end aromas on this one.
Palate: Extremely masculine. Dark brown sugar. Very heady sherry influence with lots of leathery notes and a delicious bitterness. Dank spices waft through the finish. It’s cask strength but still smooth once you get past the numbing first sip. The strength also gives a warm and fuzzy finish that lasts.
It’s as fun to drink as it is to say!
At the time of this writing, there are five official bottlings which Aberlour offers. There’s a 10 year, 12 year, 16 year, 18 year and a no age statement release called A’bunadh. I haven’t seen the 10 or the 18 anywhere local. I’ve heard rumors that the 10 is discontinued for the US market and the 18 only reached American shores a few years ago, so is still catching up… but I never bothered to ask anyone important about it, so don’t quote me on that.
Flavor and aroma profiles often vary expression to expression as the distillers play around with the reagents used to blend their different releases. They might choose different cask types or ratios of casks, changing very significant parts of their whisky and leaving the uninitiated a tad confused as to what exactly age does for a dram. In this case, the jump from Aberlour’s 12 year expression to their 16 year seems rather linear. You’ll find a few new flavors in one or the other, but I suspect it has more to do with noticing different concentrations of flavors that the cask had more time to impart or mute. These are relatively similar whiskies and illustrate well the transformation that takes place in the cask.
Let’s not talk about the caramel coloring, okay? I like these guys.
Nose: More red grapes in the top notes. Ripe fruit syrup when you get your nose in the glass. Sweeter still. More concentrated bananas and pineapple than the 12 year. Leather and men’s cologne in droves. Orange, cinnamon and nutmeg. Apples and sugar toast.
Palate: Lots of honey. Raisins. Spiced cider with a minty finish and a bit of tobacco. Lots more sherry dryness in the finish, too, before black pepper makes an appearance.
Both are very fruity but this one is richer and has lots more spice than the 12. Either way, Aberlour makes some easy drinking Scotch whisky.
According to their webpage, Aberlour, situated on the confluence of Lour Burn and the River Spey, is a Gaelic word that means mouth of the chattering burn. Burns are what we here in the states call streams. I’m going to start calling all streams burns now, and put the word river first, just because it sounds badass. Here, try this on: I live near the confluence of the Farmington Burn and the River Connecticut. If I were a distiller I would make Aberfarmington whisky which would be a Connecticutside malt.
Though most of the official Aberlour bottlings are actually a blend of American white oak and Sherried pundunculate, sherry is the obvious star of the show here. First-fill Sherry casks explode in these easy drinking drams. They’re all very juicy malts and stay true to the Speyside stereotype of being sweet and honeyed. If you were trying to convince a stubborn friend that not all Scotch tastes like “band-aids” this would be a good spirit to offer them.
Nose: A little bit of congac type grapey-ness in the top notes. Bananas and pineapple upfront, with malt, coconut and cumin after a little air gets to it. Fresh and very sweet with just enough leather dashboard from the sherry cask to keep it rounded. There’s more oaky flavor in this release than the 16 year expression.
Palate: Still sweet and rich, but less fruit than the nose. Apples. Nicely balanced wood. That light, sherry bitterness comes forward first and the pineapple follows after a few seconds. Overall a very accesible malt.
Worth mentioning: River Connecticut isn’t exactly a beast you’d want to use to make anything you were planning to drink. I’m not sure all the recreational tubing urine floating down Farmington Burn would make for good drinkin’ whisky either…