Review: Abelour A’bunadh

Batch: 29
Maker: Abelour, Abelour, Banffshire, Scotland (Pernod-Ricard)
Region: Highland- Speyside
Age: NAS
ABV: 59.9%

Appearance: Auburn. Matches the wax on the bottle neck. Artificial coloring or just the sherry cask? At any rate, not very much in the way of legs, although there is a thin “necklace” around the inside of my Glencairn.

Nose: rich, creamy sherry, caramel, marzipan, spice, flowers, with an undertone of burning car tire.

On the palate: Nice heavy mouthfeel, burn, evaporates after a second on the tongue, a bit of a chewy rubbery taste. With a healthy dollop of water, it is much more pleasant. The rubbery taste is still there, but it is slowly transforming itself into a sweet, floral note on top of the caramel, marzipan, sherry and toffee.

Finish: Burn, caramel, chocolate –covered toffee bars, long and hot. With water, it is shorter and thinner but still very, very nice.

Parting Words: Abelour is said to be one of the most heavily “sherried” single malts on the market. A’bunadh is supposedly a recreation of an old whisky discovered during a remodel of the distillery. The more I think about that story, the less I like it, but the more I think about this whisky, the more I do like it. It is very much a dessert Scotch, as should be obvious by the nose. I’m not sure if I’ll be buying it again soon, but it was fun getting to know this whisky. I’m sure I’ll explore more from Abelour in the future, but for now, I’ll just have pleasant memories of sharing it with friends. If you like sherried Scotches, this comes recommended. If not, it’s worth finding a friend with a bottle, for the experience if for no other reason.

Head to Head: Vats Amore!

At my last trip to Binny’s Beverage depot, I picked up my first Blended Malt Scotch from Compass Box.  I had heard and read great things about CB and their products and one of the best reviewed was The Peat Monster.  It’s really great.  It’s a vatted malt whisky, or to use the new term, a blended malt whisky.  Blended malts, like vatted malts before them, are a blend of single malt whiskies.  In the cast of The Peat Monster, very little digging reveals that it’s a blend of single malts from the Caol Ila (cool eye-luh) and Ardmore distilleries.  The Caol Ila (from the island of Islay) brings a lot of smoke and peat to the party, while the Ardmore (from the Scottish Highlands) brings a creamy, elegant sweetness on the back end.

The blend is so well done that I decided to try and make my own peat monster using a peaty whiskey and a softer sweeter whisky.  I blended Laphroaig Quarter Cask (from Islay) and The Macallan 12 y/o (from the Speyside area of the Highlands) at a 1:1 ratio, and then did a head to head with The Peat Monster.  Here are the results!

1)      The Peat Monster

2)      50/50 Laphroaig Quarter Cask/Macallan 12

Color

1)      Pale Straw

2)      Medium Copper

Nose

1)      Peat, hint of smoke, alcohol, butter

2)      Alcohol, caramel, butterscotch, peat, smoke

Palate

1)      Silky, toffee, cinnamon, peat

2)      Creamy, some caramel and malt with a hit of peat and smoke at the end

Finish

1)      Big peaty finish, then burn, and a long one at that

2)      A long burn with lingering smoke and chocolate-covered toffee

Parting Words: I think my vatting held up well!  The Macallan is a single malt that uses sherry butts (barrels) in the aging process so I’m sure that accounted for all the candy notes in my blend.  But overall, The Peat Monster had a balance and sophistication that my own blend lacked.  That’s the hand of a master blender at work.  But it’s still fun to play at home sometimes.

Now Drinking

Having done a head to head with this one, I thought it was time to give it its own review.

The Macallan 12  y/o

ABV: 43%

Maker: Macallan, Craigellachie, Banffshire (The Edrington Group)

Color: Dark amber, suspiciously so.  If I had to guess, I would say that caramel coloring was probably added

Nose: Malty, sweet, alcohol, creamy toffee

Palate: A note-for-note remake of the nose..  Malty, sweet, toffee, a little bit of wood.  A little bit of licorice on the tail end.

Finish: Sweet, with a bit of wood, and heirloom apple.  Yes, there is a difference.  It fades into a gentle sweetness with a touch of wood.

Parting Words:  The Macallan is a  fine, stately whisky.  It’s easy to drink, but it has enough going on to keep things interesting, at least for a while.  It’s lightweight for my taste, but makes a nice pre-dinner sip.

Head to Head #3: Oh Deer: Glenfiddich

Glenfiddich (actual font) is the best selling single malt Scotch in the world.  Along with Balvenie, Mortlach, and several others, Glenfiddich is located in Dufftown in Moray, Scotland.  Its name means “valley of the deer” literally, but a river called Fiddich (a tributary of the Spey) runs through Dufftown as well.  At any rate, this whole range is easy to find and popular.  So, making use of a set of three minis, here are my notes on Glenfiddich at 12, 15, and 18 years of age.

1)      12

2)      15

3)      18

Color

1)      Light, middle-aged Chardonnay

2)      Slightly darker, new copper penny

3)      Slightly darker than that, but barely

Nose

1)      Malt, lemonade, alcohol

2)      Caramel, lemon curd

3)      Lemon meringue, caramel, wood

On the Palate

1)      Lemonheads, burn

2)      Rich, caramel sweetness

3)      Lemon Poppy seed muffins, thick, rich caramel

Finish

1)      Lightly sweet, then surprisingly spicy

2)      Thick and sweet, caramel, then long, slow burn

3)      Creamy, sweet, soft

Parting Words

1)      Pleasant summer pour.  Will work at the bar in a pinch.

2)      More depth, but the distillery character still comes through.

3)      Almost indistinguishable from the 15, but with slightly more depth and sweetness.  Not sure if it would be worth the extra money to jump up to the 18.

I gotta say, I prefered the Balvenie line overall and I would rank any of those over any of these.  Still, my issue with Glenfiddich is a matter of taste, not quality.  It’s just not my cup of tea.

Head to Head Tasting #2: Bals Out

Having done a horizontal tasting of 12 y/o Speyside (and one Japanese) malts a couple days ago, today I’m doing a vertical one.  The distillery today is Balvenie, and I will be sampling three of their expressions.  These head to head tasting are, by their nature, quick and impressionistic, but I find that rattling off impressions keeps me from overthinking.

1)      Doublewood (12 y/o)

2)      Single Barrel (15 y/o)

3)      Portwood (21 y/o)

Color

1)      Light amber

2)      Shiny Copper

3)      Slightly darker, copper penny

Nose

1)      Fresh, malty, buttermilk, crème brulee, vanilla

2)      Rich caramel, toffee

3)      Strawberry, Valencia orange, fruit punch

Palate

1)      Sweet, bourbon, hint of spice, heavy cream

2)      Saltwater taffy, spice, toffee, bigger bourbon influence, butter cream icing

3)      Strawberry shortcake

Finish

1)      Light, wood, sweet, vanilla bean, then burn

2)      Rich, wood, vanilla, long and slow, clings to the tongue

3)      Very long, woody and slightly fruity finish.

Parting Words

1)      Comparatively dry, but still rich, and creamy.  The vanilla and bourbon influences are balanced with a stately sweetness

2)      Rich, sweet and carmely.  Big, bold after dinner malt

3)      Bigger, bolder after dinner malt.  Practically a dessert drink, like the former occupant of its cask.  The port and wood overwhelm the malt.  The dry fruit, coming through strongly as strawberry right now, is interesting, but could get old pretty quick.  Still, in moderation, a very enjoyable dram.