The name Aberlour is Gaelic for 'the mouth of the babbling brook'.
This probably refers to Saint Drostan's Well, the local spring depicted on the labels
of many official bottlings. If you happen to find yourself in Speyside on a nice summer
day, a stroll from Aberlour distillery to the old well is very enjoyable.
However, the link between Aberlour and St. Drostan’s Well is just
folkloric - these days Aberlour gets its water from several springs
on the nearby mountain of Ben Rinnes. (The Benrinnes distillery
is located in the town of Aberlour too, a few miles to the south.)
In 1973 the number of stills was expanded from 2 to 4,
but even in those days smaller producers were struggling.
So, Pernod Ricard took over Campbell Distillers in 1975.
In 1945 Campbell Distillers (then known under the name
S. Campbell & Sons Ltd.) bought and expanded Aberlour.
They decided to close the floor maltings on site in 1962.
The new French owners were less modest than their Scottish predecessors, and over
time the packaging and labels became quite boastful. For example, the packaging of
the Aberlour Antique (a NAS bottling available around the year 2000) says: 'From the
Aberlour Distillery comes the finest of all Speyside malts, Aberlour Antique'. Hmmm...
That particular expression wasn’t actually that spectacular, but the A’bunadh range
which was introduced around the same time impressed me with most batches.
In previous years, most innovation was focused on marketing rather than the product,
with the slogan 'The Mystery That Is Aberlour' evolving into 'Earth. Air. Fire Water'.
For the third millennium they chose the theme 'Let The Deed Show' - and I personally
feel that’s the best one yet. With bottlings like the A’bunadh they’re doing just that...
The Aberlour distillery was officially founded in 1879 by James Fleming, but the history of
distillation at the site of the current Aberlour distillery goes back further - at least to 1826.
That was when Peter Weir and James Gordon founded a distillery, also by the Spey river.
The Aberlour distillery lies in the heart of the Spey valley.
Its closest Speyside neighbour is Glenallachie; some others
include Macallan, Dailuaine, Craigellachie and Benrinnes.
The area is quite lovely, with the Aberlour distillery itself
sitting near the end of a small stream which flows into the
Spey river. It’s really an ideal spot for a distillery visit.
The location is also ideal for enthusiastic ‘still trippers’ that want to visit several distilleries during their trip.
There are well over fifty other malt whisky distilleries located within 20 miles / 30 kilometres of Aberlour.
1) The current Aberlour distillery wasn't the first.
In 1826 Peter Weir and James Gordon founded yet another
Aberlour distillery a few miles down the Spey river. This one was
destroyed in a fire in 1879, after which farmer’s son and banker
James Fleming built a new Aberlour distillery at a new location.
2) Aberlour’s founder James Fleming was a ‘classical’ whisky
entrepreneur. He also owned the nearby Dailuaine distillery
and.built the Aberlour town hall and a cottage hospital.
3) The new Aberlour distillery was ravaged by fire again in 1898.
The new owners (Robert Thorne & Sons) commission famous architect Charles Doig to design the new distillery.
6) At the start of the 3d millennium, Aberlour overtook Glenfiddich as the best selling single malt whisky in France.
Aberlour is owned by Pernod Ricard - so could the chauvinistic nature of our French friends be a factor here?
7) Up until now, Aberlour has rarely really let me down. When I first discovered the 10yo and 12yo expressions in
the mid-1990's I didn't immediately fell in love with the mildly sherried character. I liked them, but at the time they
didn't seem quite as sherried as their Macallan competitors. However, when Aberlour introduced their 'A'bunadh'
a few years later, they offered an excellent alternative to the cask strength Macallans. Sherried, cask strength
and single cask whisky - what more could a malthead with a taste for sherry want?
4) In 1962, the floor maltings at Aberlour distillery were decommissioned.
The Aberlour distillery still uses a semi-lauter mash tun and six stainless steel washbacks.
2003 - When some of the malt maniacs visited Speyside in
May 2003, we also visited the Aberlour distillery. Filling your
very own bottle of Aberlour at the end of the distillery tour
(directly from either a sherry or a bourbon cask) is quite a
memorable experience. The action picture shows, from left
to right, Australian maniac Craig Daniels, Canadian maniac
Davin de kergommeaux (both sporting those fashionable Malt
Madness T-shirts) and Indian maniac Krishna Nukala - who is
obviously having the time of his life filling up his own bottle.
2012 - In recent years Pernod Ricard (owners of Aberlour and other malt whisky distilleries) seem to have paid a
little more attention to the blended whiskies in their portfolio than to their single malts. The Aberlour line-up has
not been expanded for a while, but they regularly release luxury blends like the 'Ballantine's 17yo Signature
Distillery Scapa Edition'. With Europe & America in a slump, most of the releases are aimed at the Asian market.
In that last case I should have known better. Helen Arthur has written a lot about Scotch whisky, but up until now
I've actively disliked almost every bottling that was released under Helen Arthur’s name.
2015 - Based on batch numbers, it would seem that the 50th batch of the Aberlour A’bunadh is released.
However, the first batch number was #6 - we don’t know for sure if there were actually five earlier batches.
Nevertheless, it took Aberlour ten years to get from batch #6 in 2000 to batch #30 of this cast strength bottling
from ex-Oloroso casks. That’s 25 batches in 10 years. It only took them 5 years to get to batch #50 in 2015.
2005 - Thanks to the constant quality of the official bottlings,
Aberlour had earned itself a spot in my ever changing list of
Top 10 Favourite Distilleries by the end of 2005. After a decade
of dramming I had sampled more than two dozen expressions
and only two of those earned a score below average; a very old
(possibly oxidized) 5cl sample of a Aberlour 9yo official bottling
and an independent 14yo bottling from Helen Arthur.
Aberlour 'A'bunadh' Batch #30 (59.8%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Whooh! Big, fruity and spicy. An autumn bonfire. Grows more expressive after a few minutes.
Sort of what you'd expect from a heavily sherried whisky. More pastry aroma's after adding water.
Taste: Very big and sweet - and surprisingly drinkable at almost 60%. With water it opens up quite a bit.
Diluted to circa 50% ABV it remained warm, sherried and woody. A touch of liquorice. Highly enjoyable.
Score: 89 points - this one came REALLY close two my two favourite batches, 'no number' and #20.
Aberlour 18yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Sweet and VERY fruity. Blueberries. A hint of smoke, perhaps? Opens up after 2 or 3 minutes.
The nasal spectrum grows wider with subtler fruits, coconut and some spices. Cinnamon?
Taste: Soft start, but soon a fruity wave emerges. Fairly sweet and sticky in the big, powerful centre.
The faintest hint of smoke as well - the palate matches the nose. Some tannins in the medium dry finish.
Score: 83 points - but it definitely needs at least 10 minutes to open up sufficiently. Fairly rough mouth feel.
Aberlour 19yo 1990/2010 (52.9%, Signatory Cask Strength Collection, Hogshead, C#101775, 222 Bts)
Nose: Malty with farmy notes in the background. Some sour notes that invoke the memory of new make spirit.
Milk powder. The proof isn't particularly high, but the vapours numb the nose after a few sniffs.
Taste: Hot, big and round start. A smooth warmth that hangs around. Some pine. Hot, harsh finish.
Score: 82 points - this one loses quite a few points in the finish.
Aberlour A'bunadh Batch #11 (59.8%, OB, sampled at Whisky Live 2004 in London)
Nose: Not quite as extremely sherried as some of its earlier predecessors, it seems.
This allows some other elements (mainly subtle organics) to blend into the picture as well.
Taste: It appeared very hot in my mouth before the sherry, fruits and wood came forward.
It's a tad 'sharper' than earlier bottlings, but I'm still going with a score in the upper 80's.
Score: 89 points - one of the best batches I've encountered so far. Great stuff!
Aberlour 18yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Rich and fruity; seems quite sherried. Expressive, almost like a cognac in style. Sweet undercurrent.
Spices emerging; traces of cinnamon, nutmeg and mint. Hint of rubber? Growing complexity; very enjoyable.
Taste: Fruity. Quite some tannins in the finish. Very nice, but not quite as 'thick' as the nose suggests.
Perhaps the faintest hint of rubber on the palate. The finish is quite dry with tannins moving to the foreground.
Score: 86 points - another Aberlour bottling that scores roughly what one might expect at its price level.
Aberlour 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007)
Nose: Fruits & furniture polish. A little sombre. Not a lot of expression for a while, but it opens up. Faint organics?
Taste: Phew, that's a little weird. Sticky toffee sweetness. Smoke? Hint of oil. Sour undercurrent.
Rough tannic finish. Beer? It lacks some of the fresh fruitiness that I liked in earlier batches.
Score: 78 points - still very decent value, but not quite as good as it used to be.
Aberlour 16yo (43%, OB, Sherry, Double Cask Matured, Bottled +/- 2007)
Nose: Light start. Subtle citrus & other fruits, then sweaty notes pop up. A hint of peaches or nectarines?
More organics over time - and perhaps some smoke. This offers an extra layer of complexity.
Taste: Solid start with hints of smoke and peat.Sweet centre, leaning towards the fruit. Tannins. Sticky finish.
Score: 83 points - definitely worth the extra Euro's compared to the regular 10yo bottling.
Aberlour A'bunadh Batch #20 (60,5%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007)
Nose: Nose: Sweetness and dark fruits. Some nuts and polished wood as well. An excellent sherry profile.
Taste: Very hot. Sweet fruits. Raisins. Hint of eucalyptus? Not an ’easy’whisky, but worth the effort.
Is this a cognac? Well, perhaps not - it's not overly woody in the finish. In fact, it's perfectly balanced!
Score: 90 points - many batches came close, and now this actually matches the brilliant first batch.
Aberlour NAS 'A'bunadh' Batch #7 (59.6%, OB, code L302 064 036 09:49, Bottled +/- 2000, 70cl)
Nose: Ooh, sherry. Lots of it, actually. After a minute it grows slightly maltier and nuttier. Smoke and fruits.
Opens up further with 10 drops of water - especially on 'organics'. A hint of marzipan? This is simply amazing...
In the end it's more balanced than Batch #6, which seemd extremely fruity in a H2H.
Taste: Drinkable and very sweet at C/S, when taken in tiny sips. Seems sweet and smoky at +/- 45%.
A remarkably cool afterburn. Marzipan and sherry in the finish.
Score: 89 points - a truly great malt. Too bad the prices are sky-rocketing by now...
Aberlour NAS 'A'bunadh' Batch #6 (59.6%, OB, code L320 448 354 12:01, Bottled +/- 2000, 70cl)
Nose: Cinnamon! Initially it seems less sherried than the previous batch, but the nose develops.
Not as sweet or powerful in the nose either; at least in the start. Then it powers up. Sweeter; more alcoholic.
Fruity rather than sherried. Dried apples. Lovely. A bit malty, shifting towards nuttiness. Smoked almonds?
Distinctly 'gamy' - like wild boar in cranberry/wine-sauce. Wonderful development!
Taste: A deep sherry-sweet burn, changing to burnt toffee and caramel. Marzipan?
Smooth. Lots of wood and late fruits in the center. Just enough smoke. Fruitier with water.
Score: 88 points - it didn't really touch me like its predecessor, but it's still a very fine malt.
Aberlour-Glenlivet 8yo (50%, OB, Cube bottle, Small cork, Silver label, Bottled +/- 1975, 75cl)
Nose: Not as obviously (fruity) sweet and sherried like 'modern' young Aberlours released +/- 2000.
Instead, I found Maggi, vegetable stock, and celery. This is a beautifully 'composed' malt whisky.
Over time, a multitude of spices and organics emerge. and you can 'smell the age'. Remarkable.
Taste: Sweet, fruity and very robust on the palate. An exceptional malt - the stuff of legends.
Score: 94 points - I eventually decided to increase my already impressive score of 93 to 94 points.
The best Aberlour I've ever tried (well, until 2004) is both the 'youngest' and (probably) the 'oldest'...
Aberlour A'bunadh Batch #9 (60.0%, OB, code 4653 / 2AJF901 / LK3N0934 058 12:46)
Nose: A little nuttier and more balanced than Batch #8 at first. Not as extremely sherried.
Toffee! Furniture polish. Fruitier notes appear after a minute. Nice - very well-balanced.
Taste: Sherried for a second, then sweet and fruity like lemon drops. Long woody finish.
Not very deep or complex at C/S. After a dash of water the fruit became more prominent.
Score: 87 points - this batch seems slightly more balanced than the previous one.
This bottle set me back just 35 pounds, so it scores high on the 'value' scale as well.
Aberlour NAS 'A'bunadh' No Batch # (59.6%, OB, code L320 150 116 15:40, 70cl)
(No batch number; bottled +/- 2000, I wonder what happened to batch #1-5?)
Nose: Ooh - very fruity with a wide spectrum of saturated shades of sherry.
Sweet and slightly dusty. Turkish delight. Smoke. Raisins. Flowers? Oriental spices?
Amazingly complex and well-balanced. Try sniffing your 'empty' glass with this one!
Taste: Very sherried & sweet start with hints of pink bubblegum. Deep fruits. Oak. Liquorice.
Wonderful balance. After adding some water, stone fruits (peaches and apricots) emerged.
Not as easily drinkable as the Aberlour 100 Proof, although the difference in proof is a mere 2.5%.
Score: 90 points - seriously good stuff. Sure, it has some flaws, but the fun factor is huge!
Amongst 'Cask Strength Sherry Heavy Hitters', it's the first serious competition for the Mac 10yo 100 Proof.
I rated the first few drams quite conservatively at 87/88 points, but this is one of those malts that keeps
improving in the bottle when it's allowed to breathe a little. This could be the 'Macallan-killer'.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Aberlour malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Aberlour I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Aberlour.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.