Aberlour A'bunadh was first released in 1997. Ten years later and we're not far off seeing batch number 60 roll out. Such is the perennial popularity of this whisky. As a ‘batch’ produced bottling each release varies, being a marriage of whiskies aged between five and twenty five years of age and clocking in an impressive 59-61% ABV. But, not everything changes – A’bunadh is always constructed from first fill oloroso sherry butts and is never coloured nor chill filtered.
The Gaelic term ‘A’bunadh’ means ‘the origin’. The story goes that in 1975 when installing a pair of new stills, workmen at Aberlour found a time capsule which contained a bottle of Aberlour from 1898. Four fifths of the discovered bottle were consumed by the workmen over their lunch break. The remaining fifth was sent to a laboratory for analysis – A’bunadh is an attempt at recreation of that style of whisky.
Nose: Instant big hit of coffee. Leather bound books and more than a hint of dusty library. Raspberries and cranberries, almost like a marmalade or preserve. At the rear, marzipan and nuts...so almonds. The addition of water diminishes the coffee and leathery notes, but brings out some herbal and floral tones - rather akin to black tea. Interesting certainly, but feels somewhat diminished compared to the unadulterated nose.
Taste: A good quality and velvety mouthfeel, but at the same time still a touch raw around the edges at its high 60.7% ABV. Spicing is the order of the day here with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg heavily in play. Balsamic vinegar adds a touch of zing to the affair. Add in some rum-soaked raisins and red berries and you're very much in fruitcake territory here. With the marzipan of the nose it’s almost Christmas cake time….it seems to get earlier every year. Water (which you’re 100% going to be adding) completely changes this dram moving it away from the fruitcake towards really juicy tropical fruits. Real lip-smacking salivating rich fruits. Rather a remarkable transformation in fact.
Finish: Long, drying, favouring wood spice, particularly cloves.
Interestingly I find this to be less overt sherry than many of the other batches of A’bunadh I’ve tried. Indeed, just a few days ago I sat down to a #52 which was a real slugging sherryfest compared to this batch. Perhaps we’re talking a younger cask marriage, perhaps just less active sherry butts, but either way, I’d describe this as more of a drier (and therefore less sweet) sherried whisky than other A’bunadh’s. As with virtually all batches, water is simply a must. It’s a shame that this dilution takes the edge off the nose as it’s quite the science experiment when it comes to the palate, totally transforming the dram to take on notes you’re more likely to find in an early/mid 90’s fruit bomb Irish whiskey.
This is still rather the jewel in Aberlour’s crown. Great value and commonly available (at least here in the UK where middle class supermarket Waitrose always has a bottle in stock). It’s just the type of whisky to gather up your friends and sit down with half a dozen different batches to note the differences. In fact, I might just look to try to do that later in the year – if so, I’ll report back to you all the surely interesting findings.