(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.”

2014 Year in Review

It’s that time of year again where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2013 journeys. A banner year for my whisky cabinet has made deciding this year’s favourites very difficult! Some of the same categories as last year, some new ones. Because I was able to try so many great whiskies this year, I’ve given suggestions for Gold, Silver and Bronze instead of winner and runner-up.

Eligible Whiskies:

Highland Park 18
Glenfarclas 15
Glenfiddich 15 Distillery Edition
Ardmore Traditional Cask
Glenfarclas ‘105’
The Arran Malt 12yo CS
Bowmore 12
Amrut Fusion
Auchentoshan 12
Laphroaig 10
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 (Dunlossit)
Bruichladdich 12yo (2nd ed.)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas
Lagavulin 12yo CS (2012)
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)
Bunnahabhain 12
Caol Ila 12
Tobermory 10
1998 Caol Ila Distillers Edition
Glendronach 12
Macallan Cask Strength
Highland Park 10
Port Charlotte 10yo
Caol Ila 19yo TWE

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2013, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.*

Favourite “Daily Dram” (cost effective @ Ontario prices, non-cask-strength)
BenRiach 10 Curiositas
: Highland Park 10yo
Gold: Bunnahabhain 12yo

Favourite Cask-Strength/Overproofed
Bronze: Macallan Cask Strength
Silver: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Peated
Lagavulin 12 CS (2012)
: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Unpeated
Bronze: Highland Park 18
: Glenfarclas 10yo `105′
Gold: Macallan Cask-Strength

Favourite No Age Statement
Bronze: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 39)
: Macallan Cask-Strength
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Overall
Bronze: Bunnahabhain 12yo
: Macallan Cask Strength
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

After arriving too late in Montreal to grab the Cairdeas there this summer, a stroke of luck would have it that the LCBO stocked several cases in the late summer. Turned out to be my favourite whisky of the year. Sadly, the Cairdeas is a limited edition, but I’ve got 2 bottles in my inventory, one of which is ear-marked for my bachelor party in late summer. This year wasn’t without its unfortunate whisky news, with the Macallan Cask Strength being discontinued this year. It may be the last affordable Macallan of that level of quality we may see here in Ontario… or anywhere. Even with its dwindling worldwide stocks, it’s still worthy of this year’s Silver. Lastly, I’m excited by what Burn Stewart has done with the Bunnahabhain line, and I was thoroughly impressed by the 12yo, which is why it earns the Bronze spot for 2013, earning points for a combination of deliciousness, affordability and availability. While the 19yo TWE Caol Ila is better, it’s also considerably more expensive, and limited edition. I don’t know what the 12yo was like at 43% personally, but the 46.3% bottling has earned relatively more praise in the whisky community, and gets thumbs up from me. My hope is to try their 18yo before the year is out.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #100. I’m about 15 drams shy of that at the moment. I have also recently tried the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, which will give any other whisky a fight for top spot in 2014… and we’re only a week in. Perhaps a worth contender, we will also finally get a review of my 1991 Mortlach Signatory from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up in November 2011. I have been saving it for the next meeting of the Scotch Lads, who have sadly been cities apart all year. With luck, we’ll remedy that this month.

Because each batch truly is different: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 39)

I had intended to have my reviews all wrapped up for the next few months because the LCBO claimed they still had a couple packs of the “Classic Malts Gentle Collection” (Oban 14, Glenkinchie 12, Dalwhinnie 15)  but alas, their website lies. Instead, having run out of my a’Bunadh 36, I’ve decided to review my newly acquired Batch 39.

Perhaps the big question is, “For batches so close together, are they any different?” This review attempts to add some (subjective) evidence towards answering this question.

Color: Worth noting that this one is much darker than batch 36.

Some Quick Undiluted notes: The absence of heat on the nose is immediately striking. It is only 0.3% ABV lower than batch 36, but it’s gentler on the nose. It is also notably sweeter. The palate is thick and almost sticky, like a mouth full caramel. It coats your mouth and stays there for an extended period of time, long after the alcohol has evaporated. Sherry all over the place, yes, and in that sense it’s mostly one-dimensional in that sense (with hints of other notes that will be augmented by water) but damn if it isn’t fantastic. Other cask-strengths will burn like hellfire without water, but this one just hits you. Much like the ’97 Glenfarclas Family Cask. In that way, they are quite similar.

On to the water… (not much though… I like this one too much the way it is)

Nose:  Cookies. Caramel, loads of sherry (of course), cinnamon, nutmeg, and maraschino cherries. Raisins. Apricots, grapes, and white pepper. Hints of smoke, but not the dark smoke that you get from batch 36. It’s also brighter Christmas-y flavour than batch 36.

Palate: Slightly less chewy, but still thick. Sherry, dark chocolate, maraschino cherries and caramel. Brandy. Ever so slightly smoky. A basket of fresh fruit, much as advertised by the nose.

Finish: Long, comfortably warming, and progressively drying. Musty sherry, hints 0f fresh tobacco and a light smokiness.

Grade: B+

Well, to my palate, the batches are clearly different. Still, this is another excellent a’Bunadh. It’s noticeably sweeter, with a larger basket of fruit than batch 36, but it still has all the great dark chocolate, cinnamon and sherry-bomb oomph you’d expect from an a’Bunadh. It was initially hard to pick a favourite, but the sweeter, gentler nose that’s just so spectacular, leads batch 39 ahead by a nose. (Haha…haha… oh that was terrible). It reminds me a lot of the Glenfarclas 15yo, but with a palate to back up what the nose promises. A bit more mature than the ‘farclas 105, too.

As the cold grows nearer, the a’Bunadh would be an excellent (unpeated) addition to anyone’s winter cabinet. With this, and my Uigeadail, the winter ahead looks plenty warm in these parts.

Aberlour 10

Aberlour 10 is an Aberlour a’Bunadh light. A very similar sherried, Christmas-cake whisky, but not as bold, not as cool, and just not as complex. But is it only half as good as the price discrepency would suggest? No. It’s a bit better than that.

Nose: Smooth, buttery sherry is the name of the game here. Christmas cake. Fruity, baked notes. Vanilla. A platter of desserts in a glass.

Palate: Some level of coolness, like the a’Bunadh. Syrupy sweet and fruity, but not as chewy as the a’Bunadh.

Finish: Dry, medium long, sweet sherry, with vanilla and tobacco notes.

Grade: B-

Of course, I didn’t initially intend this review to be a direct comparison to the a’Bunadh, but these whiskies are close enough that it just makes sense.  If you want a complex, rich, cask-strength sherry-bomb, the a’Bunadh is your dram. If you’re on a budget, and/or you’re looking for an  everyday sherried dram that doesn’t pack the same contemplative punch, then the 10 year will do you just fine. (To be entirely fair to the a’Bunadh, the water you would add makes the bottle go a heck of a lot further…)


Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 36)

Given that the Aberlour a’Bunadh is a whisky that I keep referring to in my reviews, it’s probably a good idea that I put up a review so that you can get a sense for what all the fuss is about. The Aberlour a’Bunadh is another example of a great ‘no age statement’ whisky, showing once again the truth in Jim Murray’s wise words, “age does not a good whisky make”. To me, it shares a number of characteristics with the Springbank 12 CW, but mostly in the richness, the colour, and the “christmas-y” nose and finish.

Nose: Apples and caramel, hints of raisins, and of course, sherry. Spices that would be discernable to a more experienced connisseur.

Palate: Rich, warm, buttery sherried caramel. Dark chocolate. Warm and anesthetic. It almost has the texture of melted butter to match the flavours. A truly spectacular winter dram

Finish: Long, warm, “christmas”, some residual ashes–a lovely touch.

Grade: B+

Sure, this review will be short, but that’s not for a lack of great things to say. There isn’t much qualification needed for this whisky. It fills one of my 5 permanent spots in my cabinet, satisfying my cravings for speyside, a sherry-bomb, viscosity, or a dessert (in winter). A whisky that serves so many purposes is worthy of such a spot.