Continuing with a bit of tradition of this year, when I was up at the recent Spirit of Speyside whisky festival, I headed to a distillery I’d neither had the chance to visit nor the chance to try many drams from.
Based in the small village of Aberlour, the distillery of the same name is popular with thousands of whisky lovers – especially on the continent.
But, like the recently reviewed Glen Garioch and Glengoyne whiskies, the products from Aberlour were ones I did not know well. As such, when I was in Speyside for the festival, Aberlour was high up on my list to go and visit.
As a bit of background, Aberlour was founded by James Fleming and began distilling in 1880 after a year of construction. The original distillery burned down and it is the replacement – designed in 1898 by distillery master Charles C Doig – that now stands on the site. Now owned by Chivas Brothers, the distillery is on the mid-level size, with a capacity of 3.2 million litres per annum.
I managed to make it to the pretty, stone-laden distillery for a special tasting of casks from the past. While I didn’t get the chance to take a full tour of the site, the parts I saw were lovely, with lots of rich red painted accents standing out against the grey stonework and slate pagoda roofs.
The tasting I took part in happened in the visitor’s centre, which is one of the newer ones on the whisky-tasting map, having only existed since 2002. There I was joined by seven other whisky lovers to be taken through a set of four very interesting drams.
We started with the Aberlour Bi-centenary edition, of which there were 1,812 bottles to honour the 200th anniversary of the village. Available only in the visitor’s centre and to residents of Aberlour, the whisky was made from a combination of four ex-oloroso sherry casks and bottled at 56.8%. This was a rich, amber hued dram that was really sticky on the nose, with heavy duty notes of brown sugar, toffee and raisins. On the palate, it was delicious with a lovely balance of coffee and chocolate notes, with a dash of candied oranges, and almost no woody/tannin notes that can sometimes be present in ex-sherry casks aged whiskies.
Next up was my favourite of the day: a sample of a single cask, 26-year old whisky aged in an ex-bourbon cask. Coming in at a hefty 60.8%, it had lovely pear, honey and red apple skin notes on the nose. On the palate, meanwhile, that pear note continued and was joined by vanilla, crunchy sugar, vanilla cake and a wee bit of spicy. With water, it became more floral (more like pear drops), while on the palate a sweet, peppery note emerged and it gained more fresh, white-fleshed fruity notes. Delicious!
The third was a one-off like no other: constructed just for the tasting, it came from a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask matured whiskies distilled in 1978. At 55%, on the nose it was a sweet and sour combination – a bit of cherry and a bit of plums for me. On the palate, this was an oily beast, with notes of burnt coffee, dark sugar and a definite nuttiness.
The final whisky of the day was a 37 year old from Inverleven distillery, which was a part of the Dumbarton complex where grain whisky (much of it for the Ballantine’s blends) is produced. With the stills for Inverleven mothballed in 1991, not much of the spirit remains, so this was a real treat. At 49%, this was a delicate whisky having spent its life in an ex-bourbon cask. On the nose, there were notes of honeysuckle, fresh grass, vanilla and coconut. On the palate, it was filled with pear drops and pepper, green grass and coconut cake. It was pleasing, delicate and a real treat.
All in all, the tasting was a great look into Aberlour and, of course, Inverleven. I’d not had the chance, as mentioned, to do so before but I really enjoyed what I tasted. As with all whisky tasting, it isn’t until you try it that you know whether or not it is of interest. Going forward, these are drams I’ll definitely be looking out for.