Over the years I’ve sampled over half a dozen independent bottlings
of Allt A' Bhainne, but so far the best one (a James McArthur bottling
from 1989) scored just 77 points - which is slightly above average.
So far, no bottle managed to earn a 'recommendable' score in the 80s.
Ever since the Allt-A-Bhainne distillery was built in 1975, its main focus
has been to supply bulk malt whisky for the Chivas Regal’s blends.
If they had wanted to market Allt-A-Bhainne as a single malt whisky,
I guess they would have chosen a name that’s easier to pronounce...
The single pair of stills at Allt-A-Bhainne was doubled in 1989.
Allt-A-Bhainne seems to be one of the most efficient distilleries of
malt whisky in Scotland - I've been told that one single person can run
the entire distillation process. The logistical side of things isn't very
traditional either; fresh spirit is transported by large tanker trucks to
Keith, where it is casked and stored. Not exactly romantic, is it?
But then again, a lot of the Scotch ‘romance’ is a facade these days.
Actually, it's not that uncommon for (part of) the production of a distillery to be stored elsewhere for maturation.
For example, only the casks that are ultimately destined for bottling as a single malt are stored in the warehouses
at Laphroaig distillery on Islay. The casks that hold the whisky that will end up in blends (and independent bottlings)
are stored on the Scottish mainland instead. So, Allt A Bhainne is no exception in that regard.
The name of the Allt A Bhainne distillery is sometimes spelled as
Allt-A-Bhainne or Allt A' Bhainne - and it has Gaelic roots. It seems
to translate as 'Burn of Milk', but the whisky itself isn’t milky or anything.
Allt-A-Bhainne is located in the Southern part of the central Speyside
region, south of Dufftown and just north of the origin of one of the
small streams that feed the river Lossie.
As you can see from the pictures, Allt A Bhainne distillery looks modern.
The appearance is not surprising, since it was built as recently as 1975.
1) Allt A’Bhainne was the fourth malt whisky distillery built by Seagram's - a large Canadian drinks conglomerate
that was dissolved in 2000. Seagram’s drinks assets have been acquired by Diageo and Pernod Ricard.
2) The name ‘Allt-A-Bhainne’ is difficult to spell - and pronounced as “Olta-VAYne”.
6) Bottlings of Allt A’Bhainne as a single malt whisky are very rare indeed.
I’ve been struggling to find more than half a dozen different expressions in order
to discover that the chances of finding an exceptional bottling are not very good.
That makes sense - Allt-A-Bhainne has always been owned by conglomerates
that owned multiple distilleries. Whenever they acquired new casks to mature their
spirit, the ‘better’ casks (often ex-sherry) would have gone to their top distilleries.
4) The Allt A Bhainne malt whisky doesn’t mature ‘on site’. Like many other distilleries,
they store their maturing whisky in a massive storage facility faraway from the distillery.
7) The ‘100 Pipers’ blend was particularly popular in Thailand, but sales figures
have declined by almost three quarters between 2005 and 2015. Some of the
regular customers possibly upgraded to single malts in that period.,
3) The vents on the roof, depicted in the picture above, are one of Allt A Bhainne's
most typical and distinguishing features. Many of the other distilleries are crowned by
the more traditional 'pagodas' - invented a over a century ago by the Charles Doig.
5) The main purpose for Allt-A-Bhainne distillery still is supplying ‘bulk’ malt whisky
for the Chivas Regal and 100 Pipers blends. I do have a soft spot for some older
Chivas Regal blends (especially the Royal Salute!) but I really don't care very much
for most of the single malts that were produced at Allt a Bhainne distillery.
8) Allt A Bhainne was built around the same time as its sister distillery Braeval which is located nearby.
Allt A'Bhainne 1995/2006 (59.9%, James MacArthur, C#140864)
Nose: Mostly alcohol at first. Some coffee, mocha and very faint roasted nuts. Bread, growing grainier.
Maltier, oilier and veggier after a few minutes - and even more so after adding a few drops of water.
Very subtle. Well, character-wise at least. This whisky certainly doesn't feel 'subtle' on the nostrils.
Palate: Quite hot with an uneven and undefined fruitiness. It didn't seem to develop, so I added some water.
With a few drops of water a little more vanilla emerges - as well as apple, banana and water mellon
Score: 74 points - there are quite some nice and interesting elements, but it lacks cohesion & personality.
Allt-A-Bhainne 16yo 1985/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 5cl)
Nose: Oy... Oily and a little bit sour. Old sweat. Stale beer? Then a hint of smoke emerges.
Something metallic. Veggy. Cheap white wine. Toothpaste. This is not my cup of tea at all!
Taste: Weak, flat start. Improves a little in the centre. Gritty, uninspired finish.”Vegan”. Very odd.
Score: 56 points - A major disappointment, I'm afraid. Stewart Laing told me once that he and his brother
sample everything themselves and stand by every bottling they release. It seems their noses are honed to
perfection when it comes to picking out excellent Ardbegs, but if you ask me they made a boo-boo with this one.
Allt-A-Bhainne 1989/1999 (50%, John Milroy Millennium Selection, oak casks, 70cl)
Nose: Oily and smoky. Sweetish. Eucalyptus. Tea? Rich; opens up even more after a minute.
The aroma grows 'fresher' over time. The slightly higher proof gives it a nice punch. Very likeable.
Taste: Malty. Slightly oily as well. Sweetish at 50%. Seems much 'thinner' when diluted, but still sweet.
Score: 77 points - I wouldn't go as far as actively recommending it, but it's quite pleasant, actually.
Allt-A-Bhainne 18yo 1980/1999 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #19000, D22/10/'80, B11/8/'99)
Additional details: They produced 2450 botles - I wonder if they were all 5cl miniatures like this.
Nose: Very grassy, followed by soft menthol notes. Growing oiliness. Dentist? Metallic. Veggy.
Citrus? Yes, it grows fruitier with time. Not that 'likeable', but quite interesting, I must say.
Taste: Sweetish start. Fairly flat. Little development. Dull. Rough. Weak, bitter finish.
Score: 52 points - the interesting development in the nose keeps it (just) above 50 points.
Allt-A-Bhainne 12yo (43%, James McArthur Fine Malt Selection, Bottled +/- 1995, 75cl)
Nose: Strange! A bit chemical with a first impression of eucalyptus. Flowery? Lightly sweet.
A memory of peat. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but there is the slightest trace of peat.
Taste: Soft start. Sweet and malty. The finish is soft and short, almost watery. Needs more proof?
Not a lot of character on the palate, which is a shame because the nose is actually quite unique.
Score: 70 points - which is at the bottom end of the 'average' section on my Hit List - disappointing.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Allt A' Bhainne malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Allt A' Bhainne 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 Allt A' Bhainne.
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.
2000 - After founding Allt A’ Bhainne in 1975, the conglomerate Seagram Company Ltd.went defunct.
The drinks assets of Seagram’s were sold to Diageo and Pernod Ricard. The latter aquired the
Allt A’Bhainne distillery which remained under control of its subsidiary Chivas Brothers.
2005 - Around this time, the management of Pernod Ricard decided to launch an attack on the
so-called premium blends segment - and for that they needed all the malt whisky that they
could produce. This gave Allt A’ Bhainne a new lease on life. Allt A’ Bhainne used to be one of
the main ingredients of the ‘100 Pipers’ blend and they sold over 40 million bottles of it in 2005.
Production at Allt A’ Bhainne distillery resumed in May 2005 and it has been running 24/7 since.
2002 - Allt A’Bhainne was mothballed (in October) by its new owners.
This move surprised many, because the ‘malt whisky boom’ was just starting.
2010 - Because Chivas Brothers doesn’t own a distillery on Islay (the home of peaty whisky),
they decided to change the ‘recipe’ for some of the malt whisky distilled at Allt A’ Bhainne.
About half of the output is now a lightly peated whisky with a phenolic content of 10 PPM.
2011 - Thermal compressors were installed to increase the energy efficiency further.
2015 - The old mash tun is turned into a modern lauter mash tun by adding some technical novelties.