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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Single Malt Report: Allt-à-Bhainne Batch 1 That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Let's see...
No age statement. Check.
No indication of maturation or casks used. Check.
500mL bottle. Check.
Priced higher than whiskies bottled by more established companies who offer their products with age statements and maturation information and 700mL bottles. Check.
Oh, but the ultra-relevant cheeky labels! Check.

Allt-à-Bhainne Batch 1, bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC), is priced the same as a 1996 Allt-à-Bhainne refill sherry hogshead bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.  TBWC hasn't given me one reason to buy theirs over G&M's.  Yes, the Connoisseur's Choice labels are fugly while TBWC's are very colorful but is that the best reasoning they've got?  It's essentially Mystery Meat in bright packaging, and such small portions.

I'm quite serious.  Look at this product's site; the ratio of words describing the label to those describing the whisky is 4 to 1.  Throw me a friggin' bone here, people (since they're so keen on '90s pop culture references).  Quirky illustrations on a sticker on the outside of a bottle say nothing about the content inside the bottle.  There are several distilleries that I adore irrationally (for instance, Glen Smooches), but if I saw a Glen Smooches Batch 3 I'd ignore it even if it had a witty drawing of Bob Dylan and Paddy Chayefsky playing Twilight Zone Pinball on the front.

So how's the whisky?

Thank you to Tetris for donating this sample to Diving for Pearls Laboratory!
Distillery: Allt-à-Bhainne (pronounced oalt-uh-vain)
Owner: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Age: damfino
Maturation: yes
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Alcohol by Volume: 49.2%
Limited Release: 304 bottles

One note before the notes.  This whisky was originally one half of a Taste Off, but that pairing ended prematurely as I'll note below.  Its partial partner will be reviewed later this week.

The color is a pale light amber.  The bold nose is mostly a burst of pine needles floating in orange juice.  Gradually other citrus-like notes emerge: grapefruit yogurt, lemon zest, and citronella/lemongrass.  Like the nose, the palate isn't shy.  Peaches, apricots, and cocoa powder arrive first.  Tart limes in caramel sauce.  With time, the cocoa develops into more of a mocha note.  After the second sip, something aggressively drying starts to develop on my tongue and in the back of my throat.  The finish has the peaches and limes from the palate and the grapefruit from the nose.  Some pleasant bitterness as well.  Then that harsh drying thing arrives.

At this point I stopped the Taste Off.  The drying sensation was growing into an actual physical, not just sensory, sensation in my mouth and throat.  I've had this experience with a warm possibly-corked red wine, but never with a single malt.  It was altering how I perceived the other whisky.  I set aside the other whisky for another time.  Then I added water to this whisky, waited fifteen minutes then continued, concerned.

In the nose the pine grows (cute!) and the orange juice vanishes.  Lemon zest remains and it's followed by a little bit of jasmine flowers.  The pine now appears in the palate along with the lemons.  A soft note of vanilla creme filling appears.  It all gets hotter, both peppery and ethyl-y.  The finish is tart, citric, and very drying.

I believe I lived to see another day.  There's a dearth of reliable online tasting notes about this whisky, so I don't know if anyone else found that ugly drying problem.  Without that quirk, this is good whisky.  The nose is very good and the palate starts off well.  And I'd like to recommend it to those who like a lot of citrus in their whisky.  But I can't.  That harsh drying note felt borderline toxic, pushing this from a B whisky to a D+ whisky.

Perhaps there was a TCA-like problem with the bottle?  If so, then they bottled 16-ish bad samples from a not bad whisky.  Or perhaps this was, in fact, representative of the whisky's quality.  If anyone (especially bottle owners who have found this post via a search) has confirming or contrasting experiences, please let me know in the comments below.  Thank you.  In the meantime, I can only rate what I've tried.

Availability - Master of Malt
Pricing - Around $60-$65 w/o VAT, before shipping; close to $90 w/shipping
Rating - 69 (without that awful drying issue this would have scored in the 80s)