There probably aren’t that many people who can close their office door and spend an hour tasting four whiskies as part of a fairly normal working day. As I am a certified Whisky Ambassador and general ‘spirits guy’ who is frequently called upon to teach about whisky and present whiskies at tastings and events, I can just about get away with it.
And so it was that I closed my door and poured four drams from the Aberlour range in preparation for an event I had entitled ‘The Essence of Ageing’. I like to get some wording to do with ageing in the title of my whisky presentations because it is such a key feature of the character of whisky but it is not all purely an issue of time.
Aberlour is a Speyside whisky though on some expressions, they put Speyside, others they put Highland. Both perfectly valid but as Speyside whiskies are renowned for their somewhat fruity style, I do notice some distilleries who, when they mature their whiskies in a way which might detract from the Speyside fruity character, tend to label them as Highland. Makes sense to me but I can see the potential for consumer confusion.
Aberlour has a long history having been founded in 1879 by James Fleming who had the wonderful family motto ‘Let the deed show’. I guess the modern equivalent is ‘action speaks louder than words’ but you get the idea.
James certainly did a lot of good deeds for the local community and the folks at Aberlour still do and that philosophy carries over to their whisky. Aberlour is not a flashy distillery. Indeed it would be easy to miss it, sitting as it does on a bend in the road, but certainly not easy to miss their whiskies.
The 12 year old, as with several other expressions, is double cask matured. That means part of the new make goes into Oloroso butts and part into ‘traditional’ American oak. What does that mean?
Oloroso is a style of Sherry which has been deliberately oxidised so a cask which has had Oloroso Sherry in it will end up imparting both colour and flavour to the whisky which subsequently resides in the cask. And ‘butt’ is the American term for…., sorry, ‘butt’ is the term for the type of cask used to age Sherry in Jerez in the south west of Spain.
By ‘traditional’ for the American oak, I am guessing it means the casks had Bourbon in them before. Not sure why that cannot be spelled out with clarity but then marketing is not, and never has been, my thing.
It is labelled as a Speyside and has the classic Speyside fruit notes, particularly red apples. The Sherry butts shine through as a hint of vanilla and there is a lovely touch of spice.
The 16 year old, labelled as a Highland, has the same oak regime with both the Sherry character and the oak poking through with much more clarity joined by some dried fruit, smoke, clove and a touch of cocoa.
The Aberlour 18 year old has a touch more alcohol (43% rather than 40%) so has been diluted less than the 12 and 16 year olds as when it finishes ageing, it will have been closer to 60%. More rich, more dried fruit with more cloves and smoke.
I preferred the 16 year old which is a good thing because I like to say in my presentations that it is not all about how long the whisky is aged for, it is the type of casks, what was in them before and a whole host of other factors that we cover on courses.
This is highlighted by the Aberlour A’Bunadh (Gaelic for ‘The Original’) which I tasted last. This is cask strength, so has not been diluted at all, and this batch (batch number 62) was bottled at 59.9% having spent its life maturing in first fill (so hadn’t had whisky in them before) Sherry butts. Peach and apricot, ginger, nuts and a lovely floral hint to lift what is initially quite a powerhouse of a dram.
You can have a similar experience, and perhaps compare your tasting notes with mine, by joining us for a tasting entitled ‘Single Malt Scotch Whisky: The Essence of Ageing’ on the afternoon of Sunday 14 June or if you would prefer to try some different single malt scotch or would prefer to have the presentation done in Cantonese (yes, it will still be done by me!), then come and join us the week after on Sunday 21 June for ‘Single Malt Scotch Whisky: The Art of Maturation’.
Suppose I had better get back to work and by that, I mean tasting some other stuff!