Well... Every dog has its day, so I suppose there could be some good
casks of Allt A'Bhainne lying around. That being said, when I write this
update of this profile (October 2011) I haven't found any. Out of the
six independent bottlings I've sampled so far, none managed to earn
a score in the 80's - i.e. 'recommendable' territory for malt whisky.
The name Allt A Bhainne (sometimes spelled as Allt-A-Bhainne or
Allt A' Bhainne) has Gaelic roots and means something like 'Burn of Milk'.
Ever since the distillery was built in 1975, its main focus has been to
supply malt whisky that ended up in the Chivas Regal blends. Oddly
enough, I do have a soft spot for some older Chivas Regal blends
(especially the Royal Salute!) but I really don't care for the single malts.
Scores & tasting notes:
Allt-A-Bhainne (Pronounced: olta-VAYne)
57°23'39.21" N, 3°12'22.41" W
Pittyvaich, Dufftown, Mortlach
Working (mothballed between 2002 and 2005)
Scurran & Rowantree Burns
2 Wash & 2 Spirit stills
4,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Pernod Ricard > Chivas Brothers (since 2001)
Glenrinnes, Banffshire AB55 4DI, Scotland
+441542 - 783200
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
- Allt A'Bhainne is a relatively utilitarian 'large volume' distillery that was founded fairly recently.
As a result, there are not that many charming little anecdotes to tell... To add insult to injury, I'm afraid that none of the expressions I've tried so far inspired me to make excessive tasting notes - which is not too surprising if you know that none of the six expressions I've tried so far ended up in the 80's. My favourite expression so far was a bottling by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society - the Allt A'Bhainne 10yo 1992/2002 (59.4%, SMWS, 108.7) which scored 79 points. That's still below my 'benchmark' score of 80 points where I start to recommend whiskies to others... For now, Allt A Bhainne remains one of the very few active distilleries in Scotland I'm not inclined to investigate further.
Well, unless something special crosses my path, of course...
2013 - It has been a while since I've received news from Allt A'Bhainne, but the whisky industry is booming.
By the end of 2013, the UK's Scotch whisky exports had increased by 87% over the previous decade. According
to HMRC figures, the value of whisky exports has increased from £2.300.000.000 in 2002 to £4.300.000.000 in 2012. However, while the value of the exported whisky had almost doubled, the volume only increased by +/- 30%.
So, if a brand ambassador tells you the reason for rising whisky prices is increased demand from abroad, that's not even half of the story. Actually, it's about one third of the story - the rest is mostly greed... ;-)
2001 - Pernod Ricard increased their involvement in the Scotch whisky industry by the purchase
of the Allt A' Bhainne, Braeval, Benriach, Caperdonich and Glen Keith malt whisky distilleries.
2002 - Not long after they shifted the balance of power in the Scotch whisky world by the
purchase of five malt whisky distilleries, Pernod Ricard mothballed the Allt A' Bhainne distillery.
They also mothballed the other four distilleries they bought, so I think it's safe to say that the
deal was motivated by competitive considerations, not so much by love for Scotch whisky...
2004 - After Benriach distillery had been silent for almost three years, Pernod Ricard sold
it to Billy Walker (formerly employed by Burn Stewart, Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter.
2005 - The Allt A' Bhainne distillery was restarted again on the 27th of May 2005. In itself,
the resurrection of ANY malt whisky distillery in Scotland is a joyous occasion, but I can't help
but wonder why Pernod / Chivas chose Allt A Bhainne over Braeval (Braes of Glenlivet) here.
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 streams that feed the river Lossie. It was the fourth malt distillery built by Seagram's and like I already mentioned its main purpose was supplying malt whisky for the Chivas Regal blends. The single pair of stills was doubled in 1989. The distillery seems to be one of the most efficient distilleries in Scotland - I've been told a single person can run the entire distillation process.
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 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 mainland instead.
That's a little known fact about the realities of modern whisky production.
Allt A Bhainne is just one of many malt whisky distilleries that store their
maturing whisky in massive storage facilities faraway from the distillery.
Based on my experiences so far I'd have to classify the product of Allt
A Bhainne as mediocre at best. I imagine that, up until now, they simply
haven't paid very much attention to wood management at the distillery.
But I guess that's understandable, if you take into account that one single person has
to manage the entire production process. Braeval (a.k.a. Braes of Glenlivet), on the other
hand, has produced some really beautiful whiskies in its time - and so has Caperdonich.
As far as other small distilleries go: A 'Craigduff' from Glen Keith
was very good and so were some peated bottlings of Benriach
(which was fortunately reopened by Billy Walker & friends in 2004).
As you can see from the pictures, the Allt A Bhainne
distillery looks fairly modern. The appearance is not
surprising, since it was built as recently as 1975.
The vents on the roof, depicted in the picture at
the right, are one of Allt A Bhainne's most typical
and distinguishing features. Many of the other
distilleries in Scotland ore crowned by the more
traditional 'pagoda' type roofs that were invented
a little over a century ago by one Charles Doig.
But then again, perhaps the utilitarian
look is fitting.
The sensible look buildings fits the way in which the vast majority of the Allt A Bhainne malt
whisky is used. Around 2005 the management of Pernod Ricard decided to launch an attack
on the premium blends segment and for that they needed all the malt they could produce.
The logistical side of things isn't very traditional either; the fresh spirit is transported by large tanker trucks to Keith, where it is casked and stored for blending. Not very romantic, is it?
1) Allt-A-Bhainne's single malt whisky is used in the famous Chival Regal and 100 Pipers blends.
2) Allt A Bhainne was built around the same time as its sister distillery Braeval, located nearby.
3) After being mothballed in 2002, the Allt A Bhainne distillery was re-opened in 2005 after new owners Pernod Ricard decided to make Chivas Regal the number one premium blended whisky in their spirits portfolio.
4) The freshly produced spirit from the Allt A Bhainne distillery isn't filled into casks 'on site'.
So, it's more like a whisky factory - the spirit is transported by lorries to a large filling facility in Keith.
5) As you can gather from the notes so far, I'm not yet inclined to recommend Allt A Bhainne to anybody.
Not at this point anyway. It's a 'requirement' for malt whisky fanatics like myself who want to try one or more expressions from each distillery in Scotland, but right now it seems like this malt is little more than an 'ingredient' for blends. Once again I suspect that wood management had a very low priority in the past. That may have changed with the new ownership and the restart, but it will be many years until the new product is on the shelves.
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. 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. Maybe veganists will like this, but I can't imagine this ending up in any of the maniacs' top 10. Or top 1000 for that matter.
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.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Allt A Bhainne Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Allt A Bhainne page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Allt-A-Bhainne expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or