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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Single Malt Report: Aberlour 13 year old 2000 Exclusive Malts (K&L exclusive)

Okay, I've gotta get a review in before this week slips away whiskyless.  What a shame that would be.

Four weeks ago, I posted a life-of-the-bottle report on the K&L exclusive Bowmore 2002 from Exclusive Malts.  It was an odd whisky with its malt overwhelmed by aggressive (and occasionally off-putting) oak.  That whisky wasn't a complete loss.  With lots of air and a little bit of water, it's decent.  But compared to the rest of the often excellent indie ex-bourbon cask Bowmores I've tried, it didn't fare well.

Released last year, that Bowmore is one of four single malts bottled by The Creative Whisky Company and sold exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants.  The other three, all very much in stock, are Fettercairn, "Island Distillery", and Aberlour.  My friend Florin (who also had issues with the Bowmore) sent me a sample of the Aberlour from his own bottle.

Aberlour's official bottlings are well known for a considerable ex-sherry cask influence.  In order to get a clear sense of what their malt tastes like without sherry, one often has to go to independent bottlings.  I'm not the biggest fan of the Aberlour's OBs.  That has its root in an awful awful bottle of the 10 year old, purchased and quickly handed off seven years ago.  But I have tried two indie ex-bourbon cask Aberlours and enjoyed them both.  One of those whiskies was another 2000 vintage from Exclusive Malts, a 12 year old released in the US in 2012.  So, though hesitant to buy my own bottle of the K&L whisky, I looked forward to giving the sample a try.  Thanks, Florin, for this opportunity!

Distillery: Aberlour
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co. Ltd.
Series: The Exclusive Malts
Retailer: K&L only
Age: June 2000 - 2013 (13 years)
Maturation: "Oak Casks" (American oak in this case)
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

The color is a medium gold.  The nose is just loaded with honey.  As a citrus note edges in, it reminds me of orange blossom honey.  But the nose is also very woody, similar to the Bowmore but less punishing.  Sometimes it's a little piney, sometimes it smells a little green (if that makes any sense).  Then there's some cardamom, dried ginger, and Juicy Fruit gum.  After some time, a touch of varnish shows up, then some anise and a hint of papaya.  At times it smells little blend-ish when it doles out a big chunk of lightly-spiced vanilla.  The palate is a little unusual so please pardon these weird notes as I'd tried to capture it.  At first there are nuts (peanuts & almonds), salt water taffy, lots of butter, a chocolate/caramel/tobacco hybrid, and shortbread cookies.  The butteriness mixes with the chocolate/caramel/tobacco thing, then out bursts some very young malt spirit followed by a considerable push of burned oak.  It's not off-putting but it is unbalanced.  The prevalence of butter, caramel, and actual charred wood point towards a cask that's overwhelming the malt.  Lots of oak in the finish as well.  Some of that young spirit too.  Lots of nuts.  Plenty of alcohol sting but narrow in content otherwise.

WITH WATER (approx. 43% ABV)
Honey, barrel char, caramel, and cardamom lead the nose.  Some pine needles and butter.  The papaya hint still sticks around, along with a floral (blossoms, not perfume) note.  The palate is more pleasant.  Very caramelly, nutty, and sugary.  Seems to get maltier too, and has a nice spicy zing.  The finish is briefer, but the malt shows well.  It's sweet and a little grassy.  Some of that spice and vanilla.  And then at the very very end (like 45 minutes into the process) a dried leaves in caramel sauce note appears.  That was my favorite part.

I'll start with the good aspects.  The nose is enjoyable with or without water.  But I definitely recommend adding water here.  While it causes the whisky to lose some complexity, it helps out by making both the nose and palate more pleasant and less oaky.

But there is still so much oak showing up in every corner of this whisky.  It almost seems as if they'd used virgin oak casks.  But at the same time, the whisky releases volleys of very young distillate.  So it's somehow both oaky and young, and usually not in balance.  It made me wonder what the whisky would be like had it been left to age another few years......in a different cask.

The Bowmore had similar issues, but the Aberlour's are easier to navigate and modulate.  The Aberlour makes for easier drinking -- and that comes from someone who usually prefers peated whisky.

The price on the Aberlour is very reasonable in the current market.  In fact, it's 25%-30% cheaper than the Exclusive Malts Aberlour from 2012.  Personally, I have no interest in buying a bottle, but I'd drink it again.  Meanwhile, I'll be on the lookout for other indie ex-bourbon cask Aberlours.

Availability - K&L Wines
Pricing - $64.99
Rating - 82


  1. I struggled to remember when did I give you this sample - then I remembered our meeting in Hi-time Wines...
    Very nice review! What you call papaya I call peaches, but other than that you pinpoint very nicely the conundrum of hot, new-makey, yet oaky whisky. I liked the honey+freshly cut pine aspects, although they are kind of rough/hot, not nicely integrated like in a *good* Balvenie 15yo SB. They reminded me of the room where my grandfather stored his empty bee hives. I gave this whisky *** which is pretty good (but doesn't warrant a repeat purchase). I didn't hate the Bowmore, it's just that it didn't taste like what I expected at all, it was unrecognizable as Bowmore. Plus the same issue of pulling in several different directions, none of which were terribly interesting. I wish I could be positive, without qualifications.
    But I can't.

    1. Thanks, Florin. Yep, this sample came from our Hi Time meet-up.

      I'll revise my wording regarding your opinion of the Bowmore. I've been qualifying everything I've been saying about the two K&Ls as well. They're not terrible, but I can't recommend either of them. I find it very curious that they have similar oak issues.

  2. Well, the good news is Aberlour 10 is no longer part of the range (Aberlour seems to have taken a page from Balvenie by having two 12 year olds in the line-up). However my favorite Aberlour will always be A'bunadh.

    1. If I do do an Aberlour OB review, it'll be an A'bunadh. I'm sure the 48% ABV unchillfiltered 12yo isn't bad, but I still need to work through my Aberlour issues before giving it try.

    2. By the way I could have sworn K&L got a refill sherry hogshead but I must have misread Driscoll's notes because I can't find the reference now. From your notes this definitely sounds like ex-bourbon maturation. I might need to open my bottle for a comparison against A'bunadh.

    3. Found a post from spiritsjournal: http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/klwinescom-spirits-blog/2013/10/2/a-guide-to-the-new-exclusive-malts.html

      "Those who enjoyed last year's Faultline 10 year North Highland malt should like this Aberlour 13 as well. It's a similar oak cask flavor (sans that bit of refill sherry) with a fresh fruit character on the nose. Water really helps this whisky open up and release more fruit and vanilla. Consider this whisky the un-sherried version of A'bunadh."

      You'll find it was definitely American oak, very new oak-ish. Personally, I find it has very little in common with the Faultline North Highland malt.

    4. Yeah, I misread that part. Incidentally, the only way to get an OB ex-bourbon cask Aberlour is to visit the distillery where you can fill your own bottle.

      On a related note, having a bottle of A'bunadh and this K&L bottling can have some fun with blending.

    5. Did you get a chance to try the other two K&L exclusives? The K&L Fettercairn is rather interesting because the Exclusive Malts didn't filter that one very much so I noticed some barrel char floating around in my bottle. It isn't the cork deteriorating because all the Exclusive Malts us synthetic corks.

    6. Interesting, that's the first I've heard about barrel char in an Exclusive Malts bottle. And call me heretical, but I kinda like the synthetic cork they used. I recently had a broken cork casualty (with an actual cork) and I was left unamused.

      I have not yet tried the other two K&L EM exclusives, if I do I'm definitely posting the notes because I don't think anyone else is doing so.

    7. Come visit and we'll open the other two.

  3. I'm retasting the Aberlour tonight, with water - following your advice. It feels much better integrated - unless it's the additional time in the bottle. Not stratospheric, but this is good whisky. At its best, it evokes a Binny's Royal Brackla G&M CS I had recently. Good call on the water!

    I'm with you with the Aberlour OBs - not a fan. It's the ex-sherry + ex-bourbon combo that I just can't get to enjoy - similar to Balvenie Double Barrel, Macallan 12yo, and a host of other whiskies. I find it sweet, simple and - well - boring. At least this Exclusive Malts bottle doesn't suffer of any of these faults.

    1. Good to hear that the water helped it out. I know they wouldn't have done this, but had they bottled it at 46% or so and sold it at $40-$45 it would have been a decent alternative to the Aberlour OBs. But you're right, as it stands this EM bottle isn't boring.

  4. I'm revisiting this old post and I noticed that Aberlour is listed in your "Labels" index on the right. Perhaps it was overlooked? Thanks.

    1. Yep, you're right. There are a couple additional new labels that need to be added to the list too. Thanks for calling this one out. I'll update it today. Thanks!