Whiskey Review: Aberlour A’bunadh

By Joe Micallef / December 29, 2015

Aberlour A’bunadhThe Aberlour A’bunadh is an unusual Scotch whisky. While it carries no age statement, each bottle carries a unique batch number. It is released in limited-run batches ranging from one to as many as five per year, with the first batch released in 1997. The most recent release was batch No. 52, released in 2015. The whisky is a blend from barrels ranging from five to 25 years in age, and is bottled at cask strength, which historically has averaged between 59% ABV and 61% ABV. The whisky is not chill filtered, nor is any coloring added to it.

A’bunadh is exclusively matured in first-fill Oloroso sherry butts, a rarity it shares with only a handful of Scotch whiskies, including The Macallan. This review is of Batch 50, released in 2014. Some whisky enthusiasts have claimed they can find significant differences between the various “batches” of A’bunadh. There are slight differences, but on the whole, in my view, the various batches have been remarkably consistent.

The term A’bunadh is Scotch Gaelic, and means “of the origins.” In 1975, during the installation of two new stills, workmen discovered a time capsule that contained a bottle of Aberlour with a newspaper from 1898 wrapped around it. A’bunadh is an attempt to re-create the style of Aberlour whisky from that period.

During the 19th century, Scotch whisky was bottled straight from the cask (what today we call “cask strength”) and was not subject to any further dilution. In 1915, shortly after World War I began, in an effort to control drunkenness among industrial workers, the British government reduced the maximum alcohol by volume (ABV) of Scotch whisky on bottling to 37%. This was later raised to 40% in 1917, and this level of ABV has remained the typical bottling strength ever since.

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Tasting Notes:

The Aberlour A’bunadh has a dark mahogany color with a pronounced copper and reddish hue. On the nose it has a strong spirit note, ample proof that at 59.6% ABV it has half again as much alcohol as the typical Scotch whisky. There are distinctive fruit notes, more cooked than dried, featuring peach, apricot, prune and especially golden raisins, as well as a hint of cherry. There are also notes of candied orange zest and bittersweet marmalade as well as sweet spice aromas of nutmeg, allspice and a bit of cinnamon, followed by hints of vanilla and then walnut. Distinctive sweet honey notes above a backdrop of waxiness and hints of furniture polish are clear throughout, typical of heavily sherried whiskies.

On the palate, the whisky has an overwhelming sherry note, what is sometimes referred to as a “sherry bomb.” The alcohol is pronounced, but not unduly harsh, and creates a not undesirable, progressively warming sensation in the mouth. There is a soft, oily creamy texture with the pronounced weight and mouth feel that would be expected from the combination of high alcohol and sherry sweetness. The palate is dominated by dried fruit tastes of apricot, peach, and raisin, with hints of fig and apple. Strong flavors of caramel, creamy butterscotch and even a bit of burned sugar are followed by tropical spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and hints of cloves. The background features elements of ginger pepperiness as well as the bittersweet notes of dark chocolate and espresso.

The finish is long, lingering, and complex, featuring a succession of dried fruit notes followed by creamy caramel with hints of pepper and spices in the background. The alcohol is prominent, creating that progressive warming effect in the mouth and the back of the throat and, when savored slowly, a tingling sensation on the tongue.

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This is an outstanding Scotch whisky. At an average price of $82 per bottle it is a third cheaper than The Macallan 10 YO cask strength and represents an exceptional value. This is a must-have for any Scotch whisky collection.