Last year I wrote a review of Aberlour A’bunadh that now embarrasses me. Simply put, I wasn’t ready for this beast yet. About four months after I wrote the review, I fell in love with this stuff. It was not unlike my relationship with the neighborhood girl I teased all through childhood. Then one day I woke up and realized how much we had in common and how pretty she was.
I now own four bottles of A’bunadh, and I’m sure I’ll own many more in the months and years to come. It’s time for me to make amends for the callow ignorance I displayed last year and provide a more informed review of Aberlour’s most popular expression. This will be a quadruple review of the four batches in my cabinet: #32, #34, #40, and #44. I’ll first provide nosing-and-tasting notes for those elements I find common to all four, then I’ll share my thoughts on the differences among them.
My supply of batch #40 (which I’ve decanted) is down to the last couple of drams; batches #32 and #34 are slightly above the halfway mark, and #44 is just a few drams down. If my review starts to read like a chapter from Finnegan’s Wake as it goes along, that’s because I usually don’t have four healthy drams of 60% ABV whisky in one evening.
One challenge herein is determining how much water to add to each dram. Water can affect the taste of this whisky to a great degree. I don’t need as much water with A’bunadh as I used to, but I prefer slightly varying amounts with each. For instance, the amount of water I prefer with batch 40 tends to bring out a sulfur note in batch 32, so I usually ease up on the H2O with 32. I reasoned that the best approach was to add the same amount of water (a teaspoon) to each in order to level the playing field.
I jumped around among all four while doing the nosing. For the tasting, I took a long taste of one batch, wrote some notes, then another long taste and more notes. I then had some water, a bite of bread, and a few minutes’ rest before moving on to the next batch.
Nose (all): The king of the sherry bombs lives up to its title. A dry sherry, despite the sweetness in the rest of the nose. Lots of dark chocolate, raisins, vanilla, and malty caramel. I find these elements in all four batches, their prominence varying.
Nose (#32): A bit of licorice here that I don’t detect in the others. It also seems to have the heaviest vanilla content, and it’s got a fairly strong oak note as well. Maybe a trace of nail polish, but it’s slight and I don’t get it with every whiff.
Nose (#34): Probably the softest of the bunch (although there’s no such thing as a soft A’bunadh), as well as the one for which the sherry tends to obscure everything else. Maybe a little sulfur and a bit of camphor. Very, very sweet this one. Behind the sherry are s’mores (chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers) smeared with grape jelly.
Nose (#40): Angrier and more medicinal than the rest. Harsh and thick with toffee, cough syrup, and hot spices galore. Like someone added too much potpourri to the cooking pot and left it on the stove too long. Yet somehow I like it, even if it is my least favorite nose of the four.
Nose (#44): The fruitiest and most complex of them all. Like a thick paste of dark fruits that’s been warming in the oven, if that makes sense. There are also a few bitter and rubbery notes that somehow work just fine in the overall balance. The winner in the nose category.
Palate (all): All four seem very dry on the arrival, but this is just a setup for the mouth-watering burst of sweetness and peppery spices that soon follow—a perfect progression. Sweet cream, chocolate, oranges, maple, vanilla, and toasted oak wood. And, yeah, loads of sherry.
Palate (#32): Licorice again. I get chocolate in all four, but it’s strongest with this one. As promised by the nose, there’s lots of vanilla here. There’s some salt here that I don’t find in the others, and I like how it balances the sweetness. Batch #32 might not be my overall favorite, but it might win by a whisker at this stage.
Palate (#34): Sweet, sweet, and again sweet. The only one with virtually no salt or bitterness to balance the array of sweet delights: hard candy, raisins, oranges, apples, grape jelly, and cherry cough syrup. I like this one much better when I’m not sampling four A’bunadhs in one evening. Tonight, the sweetness overwhelms. The most unique of the four because of it.
Palate (#40): The least complex and layered of the four, but still excellent overall. Probably a little more cinnamon spice and oak wood here compared to the others, as well as more fiery caramel and cough syrup.
Palate (#44): The bitterest of the bunch, but probably the best balanced. Acidic cigars, oak wood, and rubber contrast well with the dark fruits, cinnamon, and shortbread cookies. Also gets my vote for the most evolving palate in that it requires the most time for all the flavors to emerge. That’s why I like it.
Finish (all): Fairly long and very hearty. Starts sweet and hot, finishes dry and hot. Sherry and hot cinnamon candies on a buttercream-frosted devil’s food cake, along with flaming caramel and boiling cough syrup.
Finish (#32): Butter, pepper, licorice, sherry, and honey. Seems to go back and forth between sweet and bitter as it fades. The busiest and most interesting finish of all.
Finish (#34): The other three have a more natural progression from nose to palate to finish; this one holds the most surprises at the end. Sharper overall, but softer on the sherry than the others. A little salt here (or maybe salted nuts to be more specific) that was definitely not on the tongue. I could be imagining things, but I think I’m getting a trace of peat here as well. The finish may be unexpected, but the abrupt about-face lends this one some balance. Individual components may be stronger in the others, whereas the beauty in this one rests in the overall experience.
Finish (#40): A little more nondescript than the rest, even as I’m getting some sulfur and cleaning chemicals. Fortunately, the flaming-caramel sweetness sends things out with a satisfying kick.
Finish (#44): Seems to be the longest of them all, if only slightly. Peppery but silky smooth. Cinnamon, dark fruits, chocolate chip cookies, and some tannins at the very end to bring the sweetness to a halt at just the right moment.
Amazing how different each batch is, yet so similar in their core components. Individual scores:
Batch #32: 92
Batch #34: 90
Batch #40: 90.5
Batch #44: 93
And there you have it. Am I (hic!) still writing? Gee, it’s (hic!) hot in here and the room’s movin’ awful fast...z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z……………………………………(hic!).