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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Single Malt Report: Aberlour a'bunadh batch 38

And then there was a'bunadh.  Aberlour a'bunadh (Gaelic for "of the origin") first appeared in 1998, small batch, full strength, uncolored, unfiltered, and all ex-oloroso butts.  Each batch was slightly different in character and ABV (though always between 59% and 61%) than the previous and subsequent one.  They're all NAS, except for a 12 year old Silver edition released in 1999 (which sounds awesome).  The first five batches didn't have batch numbers, so the numbering starts with 6 and has reached 54 as of the time of this post.

To me, the a'bunadh and the original Glenlivet Nadurra have been the coolest and most enthusiast-focused whiskies Pernod Ricard have ever released.  While the 16-year-old Nadurra has now mutated into five different underwhelming NAS versions, A'bunadh remains mostly as it was thanks to the fact it was always NAS.  And, from what I've gathered from anoraks who've had many batches, most of the recent a'bunadh editions have maintained a similar quality to the old ones.  Due to my early issues with Aberlour's OBs, I didn't actually try an Aa'b until 2014.

Today I'll be reviewing batch 38, released in 2011, from a sample purchased from Master of Malt in September 2012.  (And for those of you who are emotionally traumatized by my decision to review from MoM samples, please be comforted in knowing this will be the last year of using these samples in my reviews, probably.)

Distillery: Aberlour
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 5 to 25 years (ha! 25 years! That's rich.)
Maturation: ex-oloroso butts
Alcohol by Volume: 60.3%
Batch: 38
Bottled: 2011
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

The nose begins with mixed dried fruit and furniture polish characteristics.  Some Turkish honey (Trader Joe's style) with a hint of orange oil.  Beef gravy and caramel.

The palate is HAWT.  Yeesh.  It has the same dried fruit and polish notes.  Almond extract, lots of salt, and toasted oak spice.  Sugary sweetness mid-palate.

Ethyl, sweet sherry, prunes, and salt in the finish.

The palate seems desperate for water...

WITH WATER (~48%abv)
The nose is quite nice.  The fruit and spice notes seem more European oak-driven than sherried.  Clean laundry, dried cherries, milk chocolate, meyer lemons, and well-aged American rye whiskey.

No more heat in the palate, which is now desserty without being oversweet.  Orange candy, peppery spice, and marzipan/almond cookies.

Some sherry in the mild finish.  Cherry candy, too, though the peppery note shouts loudest.

Let's see what happens with some more water...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Ooh.  Harsh oak notes, roots, dirt, and metal in the nose.  Mild sherry note.  Limes, grain, and Country Time lemonade powder.

The palate is creamy and inoffensive.  Okay maybe not.  There's some green woody bitterness.  Pepper, lemons, and walnuts.

The finish is a little bitter as well.  Some sherry and burnt oak.

While water is a must for this batch, one needs to be careful because the whisky totally collapsed at 40%abv.  It left me wondering if the whisky was super young and/or if there were some bad casks in the mix.

When at full power, the whisky's ethyl content got in the way of the palate.  The nose was fine, though also limited, at that strength.  48%abv was by far the best spot for it on all levels.  It's at its most likable and complex and spicy at that volume.

Still at no point would I take this batch over Glenfarclas 105 nor many of the Macallan CSes.  It's great that this whisky exists and at a price cheaper (at least in 2011) than those other NAS sherry bombs, but I can't give it anything more than a mild recommendation for those who are sherried whisky geeks.

Availability - This batch is probably sold out, but there are many other batches available
Pricing - $60ish in 2011, now $70-$90 in 2016
Rating - 84 (though I recommend adding 1.5 teaspoons of water per 30mL or 1oz pour)