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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.