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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Single Malt Report: Allt-à-Bhainne 16 year old 1995 Berry Bros & Rudd

Allt-à-Bhainne gets no love.  Hell, it barely gets any notice.  Whiskysponge dished it a pretty sweet burn in one of my favorite bits of whisky (actual) satire last year.  Serge Valentin ranked the distillery in his second lowest tier (1/2 star, Non classé B).  Johannes at Malt Madness gave it his lowest ranking level (1 star).  And when was the last time you heard this distillery brought up in geek conversation?  And does anyone outside of Banffshire know how to pronounce it?  I've seen and heard more variations for Allt-à-Bhainne than Ledaig or Cairdeas, and that from relatively reliable sources.

It's a big distillery, cranking out 4 million liters of alcohol for Pernod Ricard.  99.99(9999999?) percent of it winds up in blends (especially 100 Pipers).  According to the Whisky Yearbook, because Pernod's distilleries are almost entirely peat-less, the company changed Allt-à-Bhainne's production so that half of its output would be peated (10ppm at malting).  It's a newer facility, built in 1975 by Seagrams.  Pernod took over in 2001 and then mothballed the place until 2005.

There have been no official bottlings ever according to whiskybase.  And because The Blend Machine needs liquid, there haven't been too many Allt-à-Bhainne indies either.  The 12 year old Deerstalker is one (46%abv, UCF).  I panned another on Tuesday.  And then, there is this Berry Brothers & Rudd release from 2011.  Florin (a prince) bought a bottle of it, shared a dram with me back in August, and provided a sample for this review as well.  Thank you, sir.

Distillery: Allt-à-Bhainne
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Age: 16 years (1995 - 2011)
Maturation: likely in American oak
Cask number125284
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Alcohol by Volume: 53.4%

It has a light amber color with maybe a little bit of golden glow.  The nose is very soft and clean.  Peach candy, ocean air, pool air, and a tiny bit of caramel candy at first.  Then black licorice, lemongrass, rose blossoms, cotton shirts, and papaya.  Barley always lingers in the background.  The palate is actually louder than the nose.  Ripe peaches, watermelon, lemon, and mint.  There's some citric tartness, subtle bitterness, and sugary sweetness (but not too much).  There's also some dry grass and wheat.  Sea salt flakes too.  The moderate length finish has peach schnapps, cayenne pepper (just a peep), orange peel, malt, and caramel.

WITH WATER (approx. 46%abv)
The nose nearly vanishes at first.  Then the lemongrass and roses show up, followed by caramel, orange peel, yeast, and dried barleycorns.  The palate gets drier and grassier.  The fruits and sweetness have vanished.  That bready wheat note remains.  Orange peel, vanilla, and caramel show up.  The finish grows drier as well.  The pepper and malt remain.  Maybe some lime and vanilla too.

This bottling demonstrates how this malt is perfect for blends.  Nothing challenging nor fantastic about it.  It's just perfectly good.  (Water does it no favors, in fact it brings out unwelcome oak notes that are sparse when the whisky is enjoyed neatly.)  It would be an excellent malt for those who get turned off by challenging drinks.  Due to the comfy fruit and denser texture, it's a half step up from Glenfiddich 12.  And it actually has me interested in trying another Allt-à-Bhainne someday.

Serge reviewed it two years ago and found it uninspiring though okay, and seemed to detect much more vanilla than I did.  Meanwhile, whiskybase members give it very high scores but provide no reviews.  Considering that it's a single cask, its original price wasn't half bad.  There doesn't seem to be any more bottles of this around, though BB&R has a new 1995 single cask out at almost twice the price.  So it goes.

Availability - Not?
Pricing - was originally around 65EUR
Rating - 84