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Aberlour A'bunadh

First impressions may be deceptive

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@WhiskyBeeReview by @WhiskyBee

15th Aug 2012

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  • Nose
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  • Taste
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    82

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Distribution of ratings for this: brand user

I'm only about a year and a half into my "single malt journey," so this will not be the review of a seasoned whisky veteran. I'll admit that I feel a bit under-qualified to speak on this whisky, but perhaps my views will serve as a cautionary note to others just starting to explore the single-malt world.

Until trying Aberlour A'bunadh, I had yet to encounter a single malt that left me so puzzled and uncertain. I've enjoyed everything from the most fruity-floral Speysides to the heaviest of Islay peats, but never have I tried one that challenged my taste buds in such a unique way.

I always take my first teeny sip of whisky straight up before deciding on how much (if any) water to add. My first sip of Aberlour was like a flaming caramel -- a sort of syrupy, smoky sweetness combined with the heat of 10 habanero peppers. Very off-putting at first.

I've had four small drams from my bottle (Batch 40), and I may have not yet discovered the proper amount of water to add for my taste. A bit of water brings out more flavor but doesn't tone down the heat, while a 1:1 whisky/water mix removes the heat, but results in a watery, candy-ish taste that I don't like (or perhaps I'm just not that used to) in my whisky.

Still, the near-universal praise heaped on Aberlour suggests that I need to give it more of a chance. A few reviews on this forum imply that it's an acquired-taste whisky, so I plan to revisit it, and perhaps revise my review, several months down the road. My score of 80 is provisional and subject to serious re-evaluation at some point. I didn't score it lower out of respect for the status of A'bunadh in the whisky world.

In short, it's not a whisky for rookies. For me, it's not the strength -- heck, I fell in love with Ardbeg Uigeadail immediately -- it's the combination of fire and sticky sweetness that challenges me for now. But I'm determined to appreciate (if not like) this whisky at some point. I'll return to it when I'm by the fireside on a cold winter night and see what happens then.

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29 comments

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

I have had a love/hate relationship with my bottle of A'bunadh batch 21 for almost 2 years now. I didn't like it a first, then loved it and gave it a 95 point score in an irrational lovesick moment, tried again a while later and hated it again and round and round it goes. I'm tempted to try another batch and see if I have been missing something. Millions love it, but I'm still on the fence. I also find it a bit cloying @WhiskyBee, and just too overinfluenced by the sherry cask and the high ABV.

8 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@WhiskyBee, I would be interested in your observations about Batch # 40 Aberlour A'bunadh one or two years from now. You would likely be tracking your development in whisky description, your total whisky experience, and the development of your whisky taste. I wonder what your score would be like then for this same whisky. True, not everyone likes sherried malts, but those who do almost always like just about every A'bunadh ever produced a great deal.

8 years ago 0

@WhiskyBee
WhiskyBee commented

Victor, I will certain give it every chance. I've enjoyed other sherried malts, but Aberlour A'bunadh is too sherried, too caramel-y, for my inexperienced palate. Simply put, it just doesn't taste like whisky to me -- more like a flaming shot of fermented cough syrup.

But I've acquired a taste for many things I found off-putting at first, so I'll be patient with this one. My whisky experience is limited to about two dozen single malts at this time, so maybe after I've sampled another two dozen, I'll be ready to come to terms with Aberlour A'bunadh.

Perhaps you could suggest an in-between sherried malt -- something a bit more than a GlenDronach 12 and less than Aberlour A'bunadh?

8 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@WhiskeyBee, I always like Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX, if you can find some, though perhaps that one might even be more sherried than you would like. Here's one with sherry, but not too much, also if you can find some: Balvenie Founders Reserve 10 yo. (I am less enthusiastic about the more common Balvenie Doublewood.) Definite sherry in the Founders Reserve, but certainly not overboard. A magnificent sherry and Madeira matured malt is the Bushmills 21 yo Malt.

8 years ago 0

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

@WhiskyBee. I certainly agree with Victor on the Glenmo Sonalta PX, in fact I bought it based on his recommendation. It's a good'un. You might try something from the Glenfarcals line. I like the 15 a lot and the 17 is also very good and the 105 is cask strength heaven. They do sherry, but not over the top. I am going to try another A'bunadh batch, though. Millions (including Victor) can't be wrong. Cheers.

8 years ago 0

@WhiskyBee
WhiskyBee commented

Thanks, @Victor. Unfortunately, neither the local stores nor the one liquor "superstore" in our area (whose selection can be browsed at binnys-dot-com) have the Glenmorangie or the Balvenie, and the Bushmills costs a bit more than I want to spend at this time. I have no problem spending $100+ for a bottle of whisky, but only if it's something I've sampled and liked.

"Inconsistency" is a word I've often heard associated with Balvenie, but when a connoisseur such as yourself suggests a discontinued (and therefore, presumably, more quality-fixed) whisky, I'll be on the lookout for some old stock somewhere. (Meanwhile, I'll sniff around my friends' liquor cabinets for some Bushmills 21 yo to sample!). Thanks again.

8 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor commented

@WhiskyBee, I do understand your concern about laying down large amounts for whiskies which you have not sampled. I rarely pay over $ 100 for a bottle I have not sampled either. Sonnalta PX and Balvenie Founders Reserve are getting a bit rare, but there are still some bottles floating around out there. I have buddies in this club who have purchased each of them within the last two months. I feel that I would be remiss also in not mentioning Highland Park 18 yo in this discussion. It has lovely moderate sherry in addition to moderate peat and smoke, and, for my palate, some of the nicest most delicious barley from any distillery. If you buy a bottle, though, be aware that it may not open up to its full flavours until 3-4 months after the bottle is opened. In other words, a bar sample of HP18 might be great and lead you to buy a bottle, but you might have to wait a bit to get the same flavours out of the newly opened bottle. That is another bottle worth the $ 90-120 you will pay for it. But you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a sample of it.

8 years ago 0

@Pudge72
Pudge72 commented

I can heartily recommend the Sonnalta PX, especially having just put my $$$ where my mouth is with a bottle trade to acquire one just a couple of weeks ago (I am very much like you, @WhiskyBee, I have yet to spend $100 of my own money on a bottle of whisky, and would not do so without researching/sampling it beforehand).

As noted by @BlueNote, the Glenfarclas 15 would fit the bill very nicely as well (one of my favourites), though I know it is not available in the US at this time...so come on up to Ontario to buy a bottle!! I have not had the good fortune to try other Glenfarclas offerings, but their line is generally very well regarded (and well priced). I am of the understanding that the 21 yo is a bit different in overall profile from the rest of the distilleries' offerings.

I will echo @Victor's comments about the awesomeness of HP18. It is one of the 'classic' bottles that every whisky drinker should try at some point, along with the 'farclas 15 and Lagavulin 16 (among others, imho).

Enjoy the journey!

8 years ago 0

@WhiskyBee
WhiskyBee commented

Thanks to all for the suggestions and comments. And thanks to @Pudge72 for explaining why I can't find a bottle of Glenfarclas 15 anywhere! It seems to be among the most-recommended of the Glenfarclas line, but all I've ever been able to find are the 10, 12, the 105, and the older vintages. I've heard good things about the 12yo, and I think that will be my introduction to Glenfarclas sometime soon.

8 years ago 0

@Wills
Wills commented

Thx for the review and the good comments. I am noticing all the time that you guys really like the Sonnalta PX. Is this one limited or why is it getting rare? I can't find a german shop, but they are selling it in the netherlands for 57€ = 70$.

On the sherried side of whisky I'd like to taste the Glenfarclas range up to the 21yo too. Seems to be really reasonable priced and I am reading good stuff about the quality and the distillery.

@Vitor you gave me the hint, that the HP18 gets really bad after about 8-9 month. So this one seems to have a quite short timespan to be drank.

8 years ago 0

@Max
Max commented

@WhiskyBee Your review is so close to my experience. I'm new to the whisky world and especially to the cask strength whiskies. I've got a bottle of A'bunadh (batch 38 or 39 - should check the bottle) and don't know what side to approach it from. Sometimes, usually after having a drink or two already, I do like it a lot, sometimes just don't get it. It's quite an alco bite when consumed neat, but I don't like it with water either. So, I've decided to refrain form making any conclusions until I understand this whisky and learn how to enjoy it))

8 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@Wills, Glenmorangie has had three 'Private Edition" bottlings: Finealta in 2009, Sonnalta PX in 2010, and Artein in 2011. They sell till they are gone. 'PX'= Pedro Ximenez, for the sherry casks used in its finishing. At $70 you should buy every bottle you can get your hands on. If you don't want them all, others surely will. Excellent barter items too. That is a very cheap price at this point, given the scarcity of this product and its popularity.

8 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@WhiskyBee, yes, there are some Scottish malts that aren't currently distributed in the US, including Glenfarclas 15 and Aberlour 10. If you want them, take a little trip North to Canada to get them. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is due North for you. That's where I got my bottles of those whiskies, sometimes held waiting for me by buddies living there, such as @Pudge72. Most of the best Canadian whiskies are also only sold in Canada, so that's where you get those products too. But expect pretty much everything to be quite expensive at the LCBO. You can research the LCBO website to see prices and availability of everything that they sell.

@Wills, indeed, our bottle of Highland Park 18 did start to go off at about 9 months, which is pretty quick for a whisky. It is warmer here in summer than are most places, but I can tell you that I would be certain to finish off any future bottle of HP18 within 8 months. As for your $ 70 Sonnalta PX price, I suppose you have shipping or transportation costs to add to your acquisition price which would raise your actual costs to a more typical level of price for that particular whisky. I like to say this about Sonnalta PX: I've given a lot of broad survey tastings of large numbers of whiskies, usually about 25 at a time, to relatively inexperienced whisky drinkers, and the Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX is typically hands down the single most immediately and universally liked of all the whiskies that they have tasted, from all countries.

8 years ago 0

@Wills
Wills commented

@Victor thx a ton. Yes there is some shipping cost, but it is not that high. And you got me thinking about buying some bottles as an investment although I always said I want to buy 'em to drink 'em ;)

8 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@Wills, high-quality in-demand barter bottles are always good to have. You have to be willing to give quality to get quality in return.

8 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Wills
Wills commented

You seem to have more experience in trading too :)

Btw I was looking around a little bit and you seem to have mixed up the releases: Sonnalta - Finealta - Artein is the order I guess ( www.thewhiskyexchange.com/P-13587.aspx ).

8 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@Wills, indeed I did mistake the order of issue! Thanks for pointing that out.

8 years ago 0

@Wills
Wills commented

You're welcome. I always enjoy the input you are offering!

8 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

And about trading bottles: whiskies are very unevenly distributed, so trades are often the best way of getting items which are not generally available in your area. When dealing with whisky lovers, obtaining bottles which THEY would like to have and find hard to get may often be more appealing in exchange for a much-loved bottle than is money.

8 years ago 0

Sroberts86 commented

Interesting read whiskybee and do go back as your palate will always change the whisky probably will too. Some good tips in there, Glenfarclas is splendid and you probably wont get anything better priced. Also though, don't feel you should love a whisky cause many others do, its subjective and we are all different. I must say I love the a'bunahd but it does seem to carry an disproportionate cult status on this site.

8 years ago 0

@WhiskyBee
WhiskyBee commented

One week later and I'm already rethinking this whisky. (Stop with the I-told-you-so's, guys!) I can't say I'm in love with it yet, but I did have my first non-negative experience with it last night. Maybe it's because I discovered the right amount of water to add for my taste (about 2:1, whisky to water), or maybe it's because I've been tasting more sherried stuff in the last week while avoiding the peat monsters. Whatever, it was the first time I took a taste and thought, "I can drink this whisky."

As mentioned in my review, my original score of 80 was partly out of respect for its status. My revised score of 82 is an honest from-the-heart evaluation, and I suspect I may be adding more points as the bottle level goes down.

8 years ago 1Who liked this?

@WhiskyBee
WhiskyBee commented

Quick additional note: I've read a few reviews that state Batch #40 is the "worst a'bunadh ever." Hmm...could be part of my problem!

8 years ago 0

@WhiskyBee
WhiskyBee commented

I've now spent a full month with this whisky and, as many of you guys predicted, I've come to terms with it. I'll let my review score stand, as it was an honest reflection of my early impression, but I've upped the score in my cabinet to 88. It's excellent stuff in every respect, but it lacks that extra 'wow' that would have pushed my score into the 90s. I suspect I would have scored it higher if I had an earlier, more highly regarded batch.

8 years ago 0

@FMichael
FMichael commented

I'll start by saying that I too recently discovered the Aberlour A'bunadh (batch #39), and found it quite enjoyable.

With that said I personally like the recently released 12 yr Non-Chill Filtered Aberlour quite a bit more; overall I find it more "polite" on my palate when compared to the A'bunadh.

8 years ago 0

@WhiskyBee
WhiskyBee commented

Most of my early attempts at whisky reviews were pretty naive, but this one is probably the most embarrassing some 11 months on. I now love the A'bunadh and own three bottles (batches 32, 34, and 40). Average overall score: 92. I'd like to add one of the later batches (44 or 45) to my collection, then write a comparison review. In the meantime, nothing to see here, move along folks...

8 years ago 0

Jumanji commented

No-one seems to have contributed for some time to this thread.....either moved on to more interesting varieties....or...perhaps like me found the more recent releases FAR less enjoyable than of those from a few years ago-though they were always variable. Here (in Scotland )we are up to batch #58 ...and the last few have been getting younger and raw-er in a truly disappointing degree. If you can find 55,53 or 49 I would recommend-but taste I believe is very individual- I like warm,smooth velvety (Oloroso rather than Ximinez)......and I suspect they may run out of (or very low on) the good older stuff -at least that was matured in decent sherry casks. .....but this is the all too common story with International Corps. .who bought the better 'labels' around the turn of the century ,built great stainless steel 24x7 chemical plants out the back, put up acres of 'aircraft-hanger' style warehousing and have gone for volume rather than quality, trading on the name and -for old traditionalists who remember back to almost mid 20th C- hoping no-one of the up-and coming generation knows any better.....meanwhile the prices of anything distilled in 20th C goes through the roof....... It's a sad,but probably inevitable result of Globalisation but ordinary locals are finding t harder and harder too get a decent dram......a'Bunadh was a refuge.....as is Glenfarclas 105.....and one or two other cask strengths, but as Gordon and MacPhail have it 'It's in the wood'.....and there just doesn't seem to be the decent sherry casks available these days for 100% maturation -hence all the 'Sales-and-marketing' hooey about doublewoods and this that and the other edition.(some are fine-but don't kid yourself- they were pushed into HAVING to find other means). There are a bunch of new smaller 'niche' distilleries on the go now ...and in 5-10 years and beyond I have little doubt some will prove very worthwhile....but the older,more recognised labels tend to have (in my opinion) sold out..... ....but then I am getting old......

4 years ago 3Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@Jumanji,

you covered a lot of ground in one post. You get an Amen from the choir.

Let us know if any of the small upstarts produce some good young malts.

4 years ago 0

Jumanji commented

Thanks for the encouraging comments and reactions.but I am now an ageing mid-Banffshire farmer-introduced by my father to GlenLivet, Glenfarclas ,GlenFiddic and Glen Grant in the 'sixties as we could get those here in those days.....so have somewhat 'traditionalist' tastes. These have broadened as availability and my interests/purse allowed I tend to be content with those older styles....when available -and if still at prices I can afford as a small farmer in the Deveronvalley). GlenDronach do some nice variants, as does Knockdhu (better known now as anCnoc) -but these are smaller. The biggest problem (for those who enjoy this style) is that there was not nearly enough sherry drunk in the latter half of the 20thC....thus avavilability of(decent) casks for serious maturation diminished....this coincided with the big International drink giants deciding they wanted a slice of what had been a fairly local 'niche' (most of these local distilleries product going into the well known blended whiskies of the early half of the 20th C to give the (cheap) grain spirit a bit of flavour at a price most could afford......) but now wit each trying to market itself as distinct the Corporate world has snookered itself-but will get round that by cunning 'sales and marketing' and find a way of jacking up the prices on anything of quality -while selling off pretty uninteresting standard (these days) as being their basic 10/12yo at 40% ABV.... I reiterate- The very thing which made these desirable has -almost- been their demise.....except they work hard at trying (and often succeeding) to convince the new,aspirational generation to chase smaller nuances as being ''the thing''....whereas ,while small batch variation was considered 'normal' thes huge 24x7 chemical factories are going for volume,without too much variation....but almost inevitably to a lower common denominator-unless you are wealthy enough. Many will never know, which is a shame...... -Meanwhile though there is useful advice out there one seemingly has to wade through a huge amount of s+m 'B.S.' in the hope of finding it.....and the florid language is far from standardised, (and in some instances far from justified IMO),though some pundits manage better than others. -In the end it's very individual....and I recognise my tastes have changed in each of the last 4 or 5 decades......but now prefer to go for 43-45% as so many(not all) of those at 40ABV seem 'watery' ...usually settling for a cask strength and taking it back (in stages -and giving time at each-10 mins or more in many cases)- till I find the approx. dilution I am happy with...this too is very individual and in some case with a'bunadh -Now that it 's summer- I can enjoy it at 50:50 -which makes for a pleasant 'barley-wine'' A word or two about water may have to wait till next post as this seems to be filled-up

4 years ago 3Who liked this?

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