The holiday season is upon us, which usually means there is a bottle of Aberlour A’bunadh somewhere on my shelf. However, I live in Pennsylvania now, and that particular single malt is a rather hard and expensive find nowadays (it has been replaced by another cask strength sherried dram). So, in memory of the days long ago when this majestic single malt graced my cabinet, I’m reviewing some other Aberlour whiskies instead. Today’s review will encompass the standard range (save the A’bunadh).
Photo Courtesy: whiskydisks.com
Aberlour 12 year-old – This is the base malt at Aberlour, double-matured in both “traditional oak” and sherry casks. I am not sure exactly what “traditional oak” means, but I suspect it means American oak hogsheads. Aberlour 12 yr. is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).
The nose has turpentine, burning wood, sherry, potpourri, vanilla, and orange peels. The palate brings a soft wood smoke overnote, with good oak, wood shavings, leather, sherry, and vanilla. The finish is short and sweet with a little Fino sherry and orange peel.
Overall, this is a fine single malt, with a pleasant, inviting sherry influence. However, there are some notes in this whisky that I find unpleasant, almost as if there was some wood used that was left out in the sun too long. This is not a bad single malt; its just not my favorite of the range. My grade: C+. Price: $50-60/750ml. At the price point, there are other whiskies I would prefer to this one.
Aberlour 12 year-old (Non-Chill Filtered) – This whisky is also aged in two types of casks, but the difference here is the higher bottling proof and the lack of chill-filtration, preserving the oils and fats of the whisky. It is bottled at 96 proof (48% abv).
The nose is lightly sherried with some nice spice, ginger and lemon zest. The palate is quite delicious. The sherry really comes through here, with some bitter dark chocolate, orange peel, ginger, and drying oak. I find the palate drying in a good way; it makes me want more whisky. The finish is also quite dry and medium-short. There are some nice oak notes that linger, as well as some fine strawberries wrapped in dark chocolate (possibly chocolate covered raisins).
This is a definite step up from the standard Aberlour 12, with a lot more body and depth in it. It’s a hard whisky to find, especially compared with the standard Aberlour 12 year-old, but it’s worth a try if you can grab a bottle. My grade: B. Price: $50-60/750ml. Of the two whiskies, go with the non-chill filtered expression of Aberlour 12.
Aberlour 16 year-old – This whisky is double-matured in first-fill bourbon casks as well as ex-Sherry casks, all to the ripe age of sweet sixteen. It is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).
The nose does not yield big sherried notes like I was expecting, but it is still very pleasant, with some heather, malt, brown sugar, red berries, vanilla, and some raisins. The palate is both malty and woody, but also presents florals, heather, and freshly cut hay. It is a well-balanced palate, but a bit soft. The finish is short, with some orange cream and heather honey.
Even after sixteen long years of aging, it’s hard for me to get into this whisky. It is just a bit too soft, too placid for my tastes. There are some good flavors present, but they are fleeting. To me, it tastes younger than sixteen years old. I would love to see this expression given the non-chill filtration treatment. My grade: B-. Price: $70-80/750ml. Despite the reasonable price on this malt given its age, I don’t think this whisky is living up to its full potential.
Aberlour 18 year-old – This is the senior member of the Aberlour lineup, the oldest whisky in the standard range. This whisky has steeped in both Bourbon and Oloroso casks for 18 long years, and come out on the other side with glowing qualities. It is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).
The nose is not nearly as sherried as you might expect, like the 16 year-old, but it does smell wonderful, presenting sweet orange cream, vanilla cream, peaches, apricots, potpourri, and plums. This is a wonderful, full, creamy nose. The palate is medium bodied, with toffee, vanilla cream, and dark honey. The finish is medium-long, longer than I expected, with full oak, vanilla, orange cream, and fresh apricots.
On the whole, this is my favorite whisky in the standard range. The texture in the mouth is creamy and mouth-coating, and the flavors of the aged Aberlour malt are present in full force. This whisky is complex, deep, but accessible and delicious. The double-maturation has brought the casks together in nearly perfect harmony in this expression. My grade: B+/A-. Price: $100-125/750ml. This is the most expensive whisky in the standard range, but it is a brilliant 18 year-old Speyside whisky that will suit quite nicely for any special occasion.
The truth is that the Aberlour A’bunadh is still the top dog for me when it comes to Aberlour. Unlike the whiskies I reviewed today, the A-Bunadh is aged exclusively in Oloroso casks and bottled at its cask strength. I have tasted no better Aberlour to this point, including independently bottled single casks. However, the 18 year-old is one hell of a whisky in its own right, striding through one’s cabinet in a smoking jacket of delicious flavor and character, but it does not come cheap. For the money, if you can find the 12 year-old in its non-chill filtered version, it’s well worth the purchase. Most importantly, have a happy and safe holiday season from Bargain Bourbon! Let it ride!