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Friday, April 18, 2014

Single Malt Report: Aberlour 22 year old 1990 Exclusive Malts

Welcome to the fourth Friday of simultaneous whisky reviews between Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.  The first three Fridays reviews were of bottles we had split.  Today's whisky is from a bottle that MAO owns and shared with me in a sample swap.  Thanks, MAO!  (And here's the direct link to his review.)

It's a first-fill bourbon barrel Aberlour from Exclusive Malts.  If you're a fan of Aberlour's official sherried releases, I encourage you to seek out a taste of an indie ex-bourbon release of their malt.  They're usually very honeyed.  Before this one, I'd had three ex-bourbon Aberlours.  I loved two, the other (reviewed here) was so-so.  So this is my fourth, the first of which is confirmed to be from a first fill cask.

Information and reviews on this bottling are difficult to find online.  The crowd-sourced Whiskybase folks love it, but that's all I've really been able to glean.  With a mere 129 bottles from this barrel (probably having lost half the original contents to the angels), there might not have been much to go around.  In any case, hopefully MAO and I can contribute a little more to the Internetwhiskysphere.

Distillery: Aberlour
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co. Ltd.
Series: Exclusive Malts
Age: 22 years (distilled on October 30, 1990)
Maturation: First Fill Bourbon (probably) Barrel
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Cask #: 16972
Bottles: 129
Alcohol by Volume: 51.5%

The color is a deep, almost brownish, gold.  The nose is a bakery.  Vanilla extract, lemon peel, butter cookies, and angel food cake first.  It's still a bit hot at its age.  With some more air, the whisky releases notes of fresh flowers, cookie batter, orange peel, and cream of wheat.  There's also a bourbony woodiness, think barrel char and hot spices.  The palate is very creamy in texture and flavor.  A dark brown paste made of brown sugar and honey.  A lime tartness and some cracked pepper to go with the barley.  After some air, subtle peach notes develop, as does a pinch of cinnamon and cardamom.  That little bit of peach continues into the finish, along with the pepper and tartness.  Some vanilla from the oak.  Still there's a lot of barley singing through it.

Now there's peach yogurt, orange Pixie Stix, hay, and a minerally champagne in the nose.  The palate is much saltier.  The sweetness picks up after a moment.  More citrus now too.  The finish gets milder.  Tangy oranges and a hint of wood smoke.

The nose is gorgeous.  The palate is fine, but let's get back to the nose.  It is at turns pretty, comforting, and makes one want cake ahora mismo.  The whole package still has a youthful nip to it which isn't necessarily bad, it just needs to be aired out.  With water, the nose changes but remains entertaining.  The palate thins out.  So, I recommend it neat.  Sometimes it seems like the perfect single malt for bourbon fans with its big American oak notes, but at other times the malt spirit stands in front.

Even though the palate doesn't knock me out the way the nose does, this proves to be another fun ex-bourbon Aberlour.  The folks who rated it on Whiskybase think it's the bee's knees, with my score being the lowest, so this was definitely a beloved barrel.

Availability - Here, and that's about it
Pricing - At least $120, with shipping
Rating - 86 (but the nose is super!)


  1. I bring this up on MAO's review but I think it's worth mentioning here. Aberlour has an ex-bourbon cask at their distillery store that visitors can bottle from (you still need to pay for though). It's rather annoying that they keep the ex-bourbon cask a distillery exclusive but I suppose we all need some incentive to visit the place.

    1. Yeah, as Mr. Tattie Heid says in the comments, bourbon-cask Aberlour is fun stuff. For some reason, Aberlour has positioned its brand as sherry-full. Even their mixed cask releases are strongly sherried. A bourbon cask-only release might seem counter-brand, but I think it would expand their brand. Especially since it's often very good whisky.

      Of course, as you and I have discussed before, Macallan's bourbon cask whisky is also good but is limited to the independents. Their company would rather release color-coded NAS labels backed by blatantly questionable logic than broaden their range and their appeal.

    2. As is Highland Park. Since HP uses ex-sherry American oak casks, the sherry profile isn't as strong as Macallan but the brand does trumpet the sherry aspect in marketing (must be an Edrington thing). I'd love to taste some ex-bourbon Highland Park but all the independents I've seen don't exactly mention the wood type on the label.

    3. Aberlour clearly makes really good whisky, with a signature fat, rich profile, with bakery, hay, honeycomb and peaches - since they are literally next door to Walker's shortbread factory, probably all those aromas seep in through the casks. However, the standard Aberlour 12yo that I had I found very boring, precisely due to the blending in of ex-sherry casks. It's the same recipe, pretty much, as in Macallan 12yo and Balvenie 12yo Double Barrel. It's obviously very popular, and people like us who turn their noses up at sweet whisky are in minority.

    4. @Eric, I never received an official yes about this, but my theory is that HP must be getting a lot of Macallan's used sherry casks. That European oak that Macallan likes to brag about isn't cheap to come by. The sherry element in the HP18 much mellower and thus lets the malt shine better (in my opinion) than in the Mac 18.

      The ex-bourbon HPs are interesting. No matter what the age some are peaty while some seem totally devoid of peat. I'm assembling a little stash of bourbon HP samples to do a Taste Off some day.

    5. @Florin, I'll take Walker's shortbread cookies any day of the week over the official Aberlours! I've also found the Aberlour 12 to be a bit of a shrug-inducing whisky. I'm curious about the newer unchillfiltered 48% version, but if it's the same cask mix as the regular 12 then I'm in nooooooo hurry.

    6. I wasn't aware that Walker's Shortbread are neighbors to Aberlour. Those cookies are addicting. I think Ralfy has either mentioned the cookies as a good pairing with whisky or brought up the flavor as a tasting note.

      I haven't tasted the Aberlour 12 48% yet but popular consensus on the Scotch Whisky Reddit is that it is better than the standard 12. However A'bunadh seems to be the more popular Aberlour on that site.

    7. Walker's shortbread cookies are awesome with whisky! Is Aberlour still releasing A'bunadh batches? Haven't heard of or seen a new one in a while.