On a recent visit to Aberlour distillery smack dab in the middle of the famed Speyside region, our task at hand was to gain an appreciation for the distiller’s unique malting, mashing, blending and maturation processes, and of course, the tasting. Save for some facilities upgrades, this process remains, essentially, unchanged in method since Aberlour first began making their whiskey in 1879. (Actually, the distillery was originally built in 1826, burned down in 1879, was rebuilt that same year and has been producing the same whiskey continuously since.) The essential, human element cannot be replaced by computers. As the master distiller, Douglas Cruickshank, ruminated to our group, “there’s only one way to check the quality of your cask: take off the bung and stick your nose in.” Under the direction of Cruickshank we enjoyed four of the select expressions that Aberlour whisky makers, with over 120 years of combined experience, have to offer.
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Aberlour 12 Year Old: Rich and Sweet
This whisky is a classic example of how Aberlour spirits are matured. The finishing sherry cask’s influence is subtle and well balanced, with the right fruity notes to keep it interesting. Experienced tasters will pick out notes of rich chocolate, toffee, cinnamon and ginger spices, before the warm and sweet finish.
Aberlour 16 Year Old: Deep, Soft, Fruity
Rich, dry-scented floral and sweet raisin aromas made this dram the go-to for most visitors. A delightful sipper, the fruitiness of Aberlour 16 has developed a sweet syrup character with tones of soft plum, hints of spicy nuttiness and a gentle oak that harmonizes nicely with the lingering, spicy finish.
Aberlour 18 Year Old: Mature, Spicy
More time in the sherry cask lends more complexity; notes of toffee and butterscotch collide with ripe peach, bitter orange and even a hint of liquorish. Initial notes of soft apricot and cream prologue flavors of old leather, oak and a trace of honey. Time adds depth and body to a bottle of Aberlour 18, which has a deliciously long and balanced finish, progressing from crème brûlée to a gentle oak decrescendo.
Aberlour A’Bunadh: Handcrafted
Each batch of this whisky is cask-strength (nearly 60% ABV) and non-chill filtered. The nose tempts with aromas of praline, citrus and mixed spices. The palate is full bodied and creamy with flavors of orange, black cherries, dried fruit and ginger spiked with dark, bitter chocolate, all enriched with sherry and oak. A robust and intense finish will see you through the bittersweet notes of exotic spices, dark chocolate and oak. All of this complexity stems from its high alcohol content — but that also means casual sippers may find it tough to drink.