(Mis)fortune Favours the Brave: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 46)

Music: Gentle Giant, “A Reunion”

Not sure if I’m alone here, but there is something exciting about taking chances with whisky. I had recently decided to revisit the a’Bunadh to see what had changed since batch 39, and, having read the praises lavished on batch 45, I thought it would be worth a go. I found nothing but batch 46, with Ontario having recently run out of batch 45. Fine, I thought. a’Bunadh is a’Bunadh, roughly speaking. If 45 is great, 46 can’t be far off! Much to my chagrin, when I read the (lack of) reviews on 46, it seemed as if the 4 reviews were mixed: 2 really positive reviews, two negative ones. Herein lies the excitement: I can, to the best of my abilities, be an informative reviewer on this dram, earning 20% of the opinion space on this dram. I may be one of the first to find a gem, or I could have wasted good money on something not so good. Excitement doesn’t come without some element of risk, and in that way, fear. What can be said comparatively of batch 46? As luck would have it, I have saved a sample bottle of batch 39 (early 2012), so cross-batch comparisons can be done. First off, the colour is a much deeper red. On a note of water, this one holds up pretty well and is not too fragile. In fact, it doesn’t need much water to be enjoyable (maybe half a teaspoon?), but you can win yourself two separate experiences with the amount of water. A little, and it’s dark, rich, powerful and more on the sherry side of things. If you add 2 to 3 teaspoons of water, (not quite doubling the volume of water, as Ralfy does in his review of batch 42) then you get the soft, light, bourbon vanilla side of this dram. While the former is more complex, both are reasonably enjoyable in their own right.

One last note: while it’s only about half a percent, this batch is starting to reach for the stars in ABV. 60.4%, wow!

Nose: Can you nose this one straight out of the bottle? Yes, provided that the bottle has been open for a week, and you’ve had a couple drams so as to let the bottle oxidize a bit. Can’t say that for many sherry monsters. Vanilla and freshly baked rum-soaked Christmas pudding (that is, not fruitcake). Marmalade on toast. Evergreen. Maraschino Cherries. Some full-bodied, spicy red wine on the tail. Softer than the 39. In some ways, I want to say very “Springbank-y”. Wood-fired oak on this one is a constant backdrop, and instead of being (at least to me) an over-oaked mess, it just makes me envision drinking this in a distillery warehouse, surrounded by casks. That is, of course, the ideal place to enjoy this, no? Of course, some light sulphur overall, but in a good, smoky way. Think matchstick fire rather than bad eggs.

Palate: Much less “winey” than batch 39, but the palate is a bit sour. A touch of sulphur. Rum-raisin (Jean-Luc Picard’s favourite ice cream flavour) and sherry. Adding some water, chocolate, brown sugar, molasses, and a touch of sherry. This is the un-sherry-iest sherry bomb I’ve had to date. Creamy vanilla and coffee, like a vanilla latte, almost.  Some of those maraschino cherries I found in the Glenfarclas ‘105’. Sour again on the end. A shame, really.

Finish: As long as the day. This is where the sherry comes out. Sweet, and mouth-watering. Not a drying whisky in the least. This is, in part, what makes it a great winter dram. When the air in your house is dried out by the cold and your heater, the last thing you need is a drying whisky. Honey and marmalade on fresh bread.

Grade: B

Not as bad as I’d feared, but not as good as the earlier batches. In all aspects, the batch 39 is brighter, more tangy, and much more sherried than the 46, despite coming across much less redder in colour. That said, it’s not as bad to my palate as the reviews it has been getting: Misty at connosr had bad luck with batch 46, but they call it “Full Gold”, whereas this looks distinctly burgundy to me, so maybe their sherry butt was different? (Hehe, butt! [SFW]). Willie JJ at whiskybase calls it “sulphured”, but I don’t get the tire-fire and rubber notes. Perhaps this is a tempermental whisky, like the Springbank 12 Claret Wood, in that you need to find it’s best lighting. For me, this one handles water better than most cask-strengths, and is all the better for it. A full teaspoon will wash the bad sulphur notes away and soften everything nicely. It’s not bad, but nothing I’d rush out for when you could wait for the next batch to come along.

“Fate design playing natures mime, and today by chance we meet again after all this time; meeting in this way, no one could have known.”

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