Aberlour distillery, founded in 1879, lies in the heart of Spey valley at the confluence of the rivers Lour and Spey. In Gaelic Aberlour means ‘the mouth of the chattering burn’ which refers to the river Lour. James Fleming saw the stream as the perfect water source for a Speyside distillery and built a distillery that was entirely powered by a waterwheel instead of steam. The waterwheel powered the distillery right up until the early 1960s. The stills at Aberlour have always been unusually broad at the base and rise high like a swan’s neck. Only the heart portion of the distillate is filled into oak casks for maturation while the tail and head portions are returned to be distilled again. Aberlour uses a combination of ex-Oloroso Sherry butts and ex-bourbon casks to age their whisky. For their core range they marry both types of casks in what they refer to as double casking. The ex-bourbon casks produce vanilla and coconuts notes while the ex-sherry butts impart red fruits and rich spices. Balancing these flavors to achieve the perfect balance is the job of their master distiller Stuart Pirie who held a similar position at Scapa prior to 2010.
Today I’m reviewing a trio of whiskies from Aberlour. While they do have a few more whiskies in their portfolio these three make up their core range. Their core range consists of the 12 year, 16 year and 18 year.
Aberlour 12 Non-Chill Filtered, 48% ABV
Nose: plums, sweet strawberry jam, vanilla, toasted nuts
Mouth: rich red fruits, peppery, raisins, cinnamon
Finish: strawberries, spicy, warming, dark chocolate, medium long
Verdict: The nose is a bit closed up but sherry sweetness is the primary scent that I detected. There’s also some dark brown sugar, vanilla and toasted nuts on the edge of the nose. The palate pops with nice rich red fruits, raisins and cinnamon. It’s a wonderfully sweet palate that is helped by it’s higher ABV. Aberlour made a good move by bottling this at 48% instead of 43%. I taste strawberries on the finish along with dark chocolate and oak spices. It’s quite a nice finish for a 12 year old and it’s actually bolder and longer than the 16 year. Compared to it’s older brother the 12 year packs a bigger punch and will be appreciated by novices and experts alike. This is one of the better entry level proprietary malts that I’ve tasted and it’s very affordable at $36-$40 per bottle.
Aberlour 16, 43% ABV
Nose: oaky, vanilla cream, olive oil, citrus, green apples, floral
Mouth: creamy, black pepper, grapes, waxy texture, apple skin, nectarine
Finish: peppery, hint of mint, soft and smooth, honey
Verdict: The 16 year is noticeably lighter than the 12 year, but may actually be more accessible due to it’s lower ABV. However, it will take a seasoned whisky drinker to appreciate the intricacies of this dram. The nose is lighter nose than 12 (not as rich) and has a vanilla cream and green apple scent. It’s also somewhat floral and has a very subtle olive oil aroma. There is a nice controlled sweetness on palate which feels very creamy and smooth. Additionally there are nectarines, black pepper, apple skin and grapes. The finish is peppery with a hint of mint and honey. While the 16 year is not as bold as the 12 year I found it to be a bit more balanced and I quite enjoyed it’s subtly. I like to think of the 16 year old as the forgotten middle brother. Novices will enjoy the 12 year more for it’s punchy flavor and experts will quickly see that the 18 year outclasses the 16 year in every facet.
Aberlour 18, 43% ABV
Nose: sweet sherry, vanilla, honey, rose stems
Mouth: strawberries, red cherries, full bodied, soft, oak spice, pink lady apples, apricot
Finish: peppery, tannins, raisins, dark chocolate, apple skins
Verdict: The 18 year old expression is a classic full bodied and balanced dram. The nose is a combination of sweet sherry, vanilla, honey and rose stems. I’m transported to a rose garden in the cool of morning when I smell this elegant whisky. While this whisky is aged in both bourbon and sherry casks, the sherry really shines through on the palate which is full of lush strawberries, red cherries and pink lady apples. There’s also a bit of apricot and oak spice that really round out the flavor. This dram has a wonderfully soft velvety texture. The finish contains spices up front, followed by some tannins, then raisins, dark chocolate and apple skins. It’s a medium long finish with a cocoa powder aftertaste sticking around the longest. The 18 is essentially a more flavorful version of the 16 and they seem to be made with similar casks. As one would expect this 18 year old is elegant and refined. It’s a genuine bargain at around $100 considering that most 18 year olds go for 50-80% more.
In summary the 12 year old is a bold entry level dram, the 16 year old will probably be overlooked by many due to it’s subtly and the 18 year old is a very affordable high end whisky.