There’s something slightly magical about hand filling your own bottle of whisky when visiting a distillery. Straight from the cask into a bottle with your signature on it – it’s not only a memento of what was hopefully a wonderful tour, it’s also a journey into a distillery’s style and character that you can revisit at a later date. Aberlour offers two hand fill expressions, one bourbon, one oloroso sherry. Located at the back of their tasting room, you’ll have the opportunity to try both hand fills as part of their highly generous ‘Aberlour Experience’ tasting session if you visit.
My last trip to Aberlour was on the 14th May of 2016 (it literally says here) as part of a jaunt around the NE Highlands and then down into Speyside. At the time of our visit, the distillery was having a bout of health and safety – you could sign and label the ex-bourbon and ex-sherry bottlings, but you couldn’t physically fill them directly from the cask. This was a real shame as part of the experience of a hand filling, is, well, filling by hand. Indeed, is this not rather the whole point. I do hope that Aberlour have managed to overcome whatever (insurance-related would be my guess) issue was plaguing them at the time, otherwise they’re going to have to change this experience to ‘hand-labelled’ at the distillery.
Nevertheless, the bottlings come in a well-made wooden frame, in the standard shaped Aberlour glassware and cost roughly £65 (In May of 2016) – which is an incredibly reasonable price for a cask strength distillery only expression. I opened my bottle for a sherry-based tasting I ran at the end of last year, so, best get some notes written for it before I drink it all….
Nose: A jam-packed and substantial sherry influence. Coffee, dark chocolate, rum-soaked raisins and some actual rum start us off on our journey into this genuine sherry-bomb. There’s a lot of fruit here, but it’s not fresh, rather heavily stewed, reduced and transformed into jams and preserves – raspberries, redcurrants and plums – Resting for a short time brings additional nuance – some nuttiness (walnuts) and biscuit aromas, along with red apples joining our fruit menagerie but offering a touch more lightness than we had before.. Spicing is noticeable, but generally delicate, favouring cinnamon. The addition of water brings out some of the natural earthiness of the spirit and adds in a sprinkling of black pepper.
Taste: Now we’re talking – a rich but velvety arrival packed full of flavour that is surprisingly drinkable at 56.5%. At the front of the palate, sherry notes – chocolate, cake and raisins are joined by touches of tanned leather and rancio. Development of the whisky then moves into fruit and spice – berries, plums and apples – with some bit cinnamon and pepper, but now also some very interesting aniseed. At the back of the palate, coffee grounds, cough syrup and anise. Water brings out the juicier elements of the fruits, and whilst this is drinkable without dilution, boy does it like some water all the same. Mouthfeel is now silky and an array of new flavours have joined the party – menthol, mint, light soils and some cask influence – vanilla and planked wood.
Finish: Medium in length and quite spicy – cinnamon, pepper and aniseed.
The nose on this hand filled Aberlour, whilst more than pleasant, doesn’t fully hint at the depth of flavour that is about to follow on the palate. It’s obviously going to be sherry bomb, but there’s some interesting shades here – aniseed, menthol and mint all feel slightly unusual for this style, but they all work nicely here. Whilst to my taste dilution is not required, a few drops of water brings benefits all the same. Whilst you might not be able to physically hand fill this at the distillery anymore, the quality of whisky and the price point require your attention whenever you’re in the area.