Whisky Review #23: Aberlour Double Header – A’Bunadh Batch #52 & 17 Years Old (French Exclusive)

I have to say that the Aberlour Batch #50 which I reviewed sometime back really piqued my curiosity and I have been on the lookout for other expressions from the distillery ever since. In the time that has gone by, I have managed to add two more expressions from the distillery to the list of those that I have tried so far.

The Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch #52 was a lucky find at Changi Airport when I was heading back to Singapore from my recent trip to Melbourne. For those who are looking for it, the larger Duty Free outlet at the arrival hall of Terminal 1 had 3 bottles hidden from view behind a row of Aberlour 12 bottles (well, 2 bottles now since I purchased one of them) and was retailing for SG$91.

Aberlour A'Bunadh Batch #52
Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch #52

The Aberlour 17 Years Old, on the other hand, is a different story entirely. I remember reading about this particular expression in the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015 and it stated that it was an exclusive bottling for the French market only. Believe me when I say that you can find next to no information (let alone a picture of the bottle or can that it comes in) online, which adds to the intrigue.

The bottle in question is owned by a friend of mine, Antoine, who purchased it in France for a rather reasonable €83 a few months back during one of his trips back home. He and his wife Stella run their own wine and spirits import business, Triskel Spirits, from their home and they have brought in some rather amazing produce. You can find out more about their range of products at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/triskel.spirits

Antoine posted a picture of the bottle on Dram Full – Singapore about a month ago and I expressed an interest in finding out more about it. He graciously invited me over to give it a try with some of his mutual friends and I accepted without hesitation (while also promising to bring a bottle of something good in return).

The tasting took place on the evening of the 16th of October and the review will be included below for your reference.

Aberlour 17 Years Old (French Exclusive)
Aberlour 17 Years Old (French Exclusive)

As the A’Bunadh is a cask strength whisky bottled at 60.5% abv, I will include tasting notes with and without the addition of water. The Aberlour 17 Years Old is bottled at 43% and so it will be tasted without water.

So without further delay, here we go!

Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch #52 (60.5% abv, NAS, Without water)

A decent sized dram for this review!
A decent sized dram for this review!

Colour: Rosewood

Nose: Powerful sherried notes coupled with the noticeable alcohol presence due to the cask strength nature of this beast. Cinnamon, star anise, Christmas cake and some marzipan are apparent. There is a creaminess to the nose, with some ginger and raisins making an appearance. Not as fruity as the Batch #50 expression but very assertive in turn. Bit of a sulphury note to this but not as strong as with the Benrinnes from a few reviews back.

After some time, the nose opens to reveal a more sophisticated beast. The sherried sweetness now makes an appearance and mingles very well with the spices. The complexity of the nose is a definite nod to the exceptional quality of the Oloroso sherry casks used in the production of this expression.

Palate: Initial entry presents a lot of sherried tannic notes and a dollop of heat from the alcohol burn. After a while, it subsides to reveal a sweeter side (although it is still not as sweet as the Batch #50 expression). Ginger, star anise, some of the Christmas cake and marzipan from the nose make an appearance over time. The spices give this a nice warming feel and it is quite surprising just how different this dram is in comparison with its brother.

With time, some of the sweetness emerges (just like in the nose) and brings with it some dark cocoa, ground nutmeg and just a hint of barley. Some water is definitely needed to quell the fiery nature of this beast.

Finish: Long, lingering and once again not as sweet as the previous expression. Warming spices from the nose and palate are very much in control of this one and the mouthfeel is oily for the most part before becoming slightly drying (due to the cask strength nature of this). Complex, beastly and very interesting dram.

Rating: 83/100

Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch #52 (60.5% abv, NAS, With water)

Colour: Same as above

Nose: Ahh, much sweeter on the nose now! Sherried sweetness that is almost syrup-like in nature. The water has quelled the cask strength nature of this dram slightly, allowing the sweetness to come forth. The addition of water has also concentrated the melange of spices in the nose, making them clearer.

Woody, oaky tannins from the Oloroso cask coupled with cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise make this a rather complex nose. Raisins, cocoa butter and some berry compote also emerge with time.

Palate: The sweetness is far more apparent now with the addition of water, which has also had the effect of quelling the alcohol burn on the palate (although is still lingers in the background). Sweet sherry, some of the spices from the nose as well as some cocoa and raisins make an appearance.

As time goes by, more red fruits emerge, with apricots and some peaches also coming to the fore. The oaky, tannic notes from the nose also emerge after a while, intermingling quite well with the sweet and spicy nature of this dram.

Finish: Very long and lingering finish, with the spices from the nose and palate trading punches with the sherry. The mouthfeel is more drying with the addition of water, but still retains a certain oiliness which is quite satisfying and almost velvet-like. I could still taste the sherry nuances in my mouth two hours after! Once again, very interesting dram.

Rating: 85/100

I would definitely recommend adding a splash of water (chilled or not and approximately 1.5 teaspoons full if you’re intending to fill your glass to a similar level as I did above). I would also recommend that you leave this to open up on its own for at least 20 minutes (swirling the glass occasionally) as the cask strength nature of this dram will definitely mean that it needs a bit of time in order for the different nuances to emerge.

But once it opens up after those 20 minutes, it is a tremendous dram. I would still prefer the A’Bunadh Batch #50 from the previous review as it seems to have a more balanced profile, but this is still a very good whisky and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to more experienced whisky drinkers (as this might be a bit too robust for the novices).

Aberlour 17 Years Old (43% abv, French Exclusive, Batch number N0514)

A glass of Aberlour 17 Years Old, served funnily enough in a Highland Park tumbler!
A glass of Aberlour 17 Years Old, served funnily enough in a Highland Park tumbler!

Colour: Copper

Nose: Initial entry suggests hints of sherry coupled with some red orchard fruits. It is not very expressive on the nose and somewhat reminds me of the Aberlour 10 Years Old, albeit with a more sophisticated feel to it. There is a spicy edge to it, but only just. Cinnamon and nutmeg are the two most apparent spices on the nose and it almost smells like mulled wine.

With time, some whisps of smoke emerge and intermingle well with the sherry. The sherried nature of this whisky is rather understated and it isn’t as sweet as some of the monsters out there. Even at 43% abv, there is a noticeable alcoholic element to this one.

Palate: The sherry and spices from the nose transfer onto the palate, working in tandem with one another to provide a slightly sweet and spicy one-two punch. As in the nose, the sherried nature of this whisky is understated and doesn’t overpower the palate, rather preferring to stay in the background while allowing the spices to weave their magic.

The cinnamon and nutmeg notes coat the palate well and the alcoholic note from the nose intermingles with the spices to inject some warmth into the proceedings. Raisins, a touch of cocoa powder and very dark chocolate emerge after a while.

Finish: Medium in length with the chocolate and the cocoa powder augmenting the slightly drying mouthfeel with a touch of velvety smoothness. Not overly complex, but a very decent dram.

Rating: 82/100

I didn’t know what to expect from this whisky prior to tasting it, but in hindsight I do see similarities with the 10 Year Old expression. If given a chance between this and the A’Bunadh, I would definitely choose the latter (although that is probably due to my preference for large, sherried whiskies).

That being said, this is a good whisky and there is a nice level of complexity to the entire flavour profile which will make this an intriguing look into another aspect of the whiskies that Aberlour produces.

All in all, two rather solid whiskies from Aberlour and I would recommend both to whisky drinkers (although one would probably have to make a trip to France in order to find a bottle of the latter expression). I am still yet to taste any of the other core expressions and will endeavour to do so sometime in the hopefully near future in order to attain a better understanding of the Aberlour house style.

Slainte!

Brendan

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