There’s a reason why the Speyside region is known as Scotland’s “whisky Manhattan”. There are about a hundred single malt distilleries in Scotland, of which about 50 are Speyside distilleries. The renown of these distilleries are also indisputable - many of them being international household names such as Glenfiddich, Macallan and Glenlivet. The Speyside region is also known to have an interesting diversity of styles – from the light and grassy Glenlivet or Glenfiddich, to the fruity, oily, meaty Craiggellachie, to the rich and full-bodied Macallan.
Aberlour (‘Ab-er-low-err’) has been long regarded as one of the classic malts of Speyside. Its style is on the sweet, rich, and heavy side, with a thick profile well-suited for heavy sherry maturation. While it remains a modest size compared to the likes of the Glenfiddich-giants in the whisky fraternity, Aberlour is a respectable operation and is placed amongst the top 7 most popular Scottish single malts of all time.
Today’s bottle is a 2020 Distillery Exclusive edition of Aberlour’s 13 Year Old with a tried-and-tested Oloroso Cask-matured expression. This is so dark it somewhat looks like Aberlour had produced soy sauce.
Region: Speyside, Scotland
Distributor: Original Bottling (OB)
Classification: Scotch Whisky
Style: Single Malt
Age: 13 Years Old
Behind the Label
A brief introduction to Aberlour
Aberlour was first established by James Fleming in 1879 within a town of the same name and situated by the junction of the rivers Lour and Spey. The town of Aberlour sits at the base of the rugged peaks of the Ben Rinnes mountain range, whence the distillery procures pure spring water flowing down from the Ben Rinnes through the river Lour.
View from the Ben Rinnes range.
For over a millennia, spring water from the Ben Rinnes flows down along the Lour river to a spot where a 6th century Celtic saint St Drostan baptised locals with the river water. The same river is the source of Aberlour’s water.
As “the Ben” is a granite mountain, water seeping through the mountain contains much fewer minerals than water from other mountains made of softer rocks. As a result, the water that emerges is very soft and very pure.
The distillery is today owned by Chivas Brothers, a subsidiary of the Pernod Richard conglomerate.
The distillery traditionally specialised in producing Scotch that is attuned to French tastebuds, with a significant portion of its whiskies sold in the French market. Perhaps this is no coincidence with the fact that their single malt has a distinctive wine-y Cognac-like character.
(Image Source: Aberlour Distillery)
Let's talk about todays bottle: a 2020 Distillery Exclusive edition of Aberlour’s 13 Year Old Oloroso Cask-matured expression.
In my view, different Scottish distilleries’ malts are suited for maturation of a certain style. For instance, Glenmorangie, Laphroaig and Balvenie have a somewhat lighter profile, with subtle flavours better presented to the palate by bourbon cask maturation. On the other hand, Macallan, Glenfarclas and Aberlour have a richer and thicker body with some weight to balance out the sweet richness of sherry.
With an Oloroso maturation, this bottle is a pretty tried-and-tested formula for Aberlour where its strength lies.
Let’s dive in and see what we find.
In the glass, the liquid is a mahogany Cognac-like colour.
On the nose, the aroma leads with very rich dark fruits. There are notes of cherries, dried raisins, strawberry preserves and stewed Asian red dates (红枣). There is some heat here but not so much that it pricks the nose – for comparison this is a little smoother compared to the Aberlour Abunadh which has a stronger alcohol content at 60% ABV.
On the palate, this is rich but also friendly on the tongue. Dominant but moderately sweet sherried notes of cherry and strawberry tarts accompanied by a very slight herbal hint, which brings the Asian red dates back to mind. There is a foundation of oak in here, but less bitter than I expected of usual sherry whiskies – there is more vanilla which could be attributed to use of American oak (which carries more vanilla and wood lactones) rather than the European oak variety (which carries more bitter and spicy notes).
This develops into a moderate amount of creamy vanilla custard and burnt butterscotch, which is fantastic. There is some roasted nuts and some cinnamon spice and star anise, and an underlying very subtle notes of leather and nail varnish. Once again, there is some heat, but of a very manageable level for people who are familiar with alcohol- slight pepperiness on the tip of the tongue which does not overstay its welcome and does not bite.
A long and smooth finish with more homemade raspberry jam, roasted hazelnut, hoppy Guinness beer (or is it some dark rum bitterness) and some dark chocolate.
This packs some strong satisfying sherried flavours with a rich texture that makes Aberlour the sherried Speyside classic. Sweet and sticky dark / red fruits come through without any need for imagination on my part, further enhanced with a few drops of water added. A respectable dram for a fan of the classically rich and sherried Aberlour.
Yet this is also a “beginner friendly” sherried whisky. It is somewhat smoother than the cask-strength Abunadh due to its moderate aging (13 years) and less aggressive ABV (51.3%). And while I initially expected a little more bitterness or dryness, I am very pleased to report that these elements are relatively quiet.
Just like my neighbour's dog, the bark is worse than the bite. This is a smooth friendly dram despite its strong alcohol content.
Honey-lavender roasted duck with Szechuan peppercorns and cumin at Eleven Madison Park (Image Source: Fine Dining Explorer)
A robustly flavoured sherried expression like this one is lovely when paired with a roasted fatty game bird. Have a glass of this Aberlour paired with a honey roasted duck. The sweet-sour note of cherry jam in the Aberlour cuts through the fattiness of the duck and complements the slight smoke in the dish.