Most of the “big names” in the scotch whisky scene are those that are known for their single malt varieties. But for the majority of whisky history, blended spirits were the big names. Merchants would combine sourced spirits to make something completely new and slap their name on it, distilleries were really just there to supply that blending market. Aberlour is one of those facilities that has historically provided source whisky for other big names (like Dewar’s) to blend — but, as we found out, the quality of their output deserves to stand on its own rather than blended into someone else’s bottle.
The first distillery in the little Scottish village of Aberlour was founded in 1825, but lasted less than a decade. The founder had decided to lease the facility to James and John Grant, who would take their knowledge and experience and go found their own distillery somewhere else (where they didn’t have to pay rent).
Years later, in 1879, a local resident and prosperous grain trader named James Fleming decided to try again, building a new distillery and making his product with the help of water drawn from St. Drostan’s Well. The distillery flourished until, like many other distilleries of that era, it burned down in an unfortunate accidental fire in 1898 and had to be re-built.
That new distillery would continue operating (with some minor interruptions from world wars) to modern day. It was purchased in 1945 by the Campbell Distillers, and the facility was increased from one pot still to two to accommodate increased demand for whiskey from Dewar’s, who used their product in a blended whisky product. Most recently, the distillery was purchased by the French Pernod Ricard brand who maintain ownership of it to this day.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
This whiskey starts out as a pretty standard single malt scotch, but with a bit of a turn at the end.
Aberlour begins the process with 100% malted barley which is milled, cooked, and fermented to make a mildly alcoholic liquid. That liquid is then distilled twice in copper pot stills to concentrate the alcohol in the liquid without stripping away the delicious components that provide the flavor and character of the spirit.
Once distilled, the spirit is placed into two different kinds of oak barrels for maturation: previously used American bourbon barrels and previously used sherry casks. The spirit sits in these barrels for a minimum of 12 years before being decanted, blended together, and shipped for sale.
I think this is a great example of a slightly modernized bottle design that still pays homage to traditional Scottish styles.
The bottle itself looks chunky, like a slightly overweight football player. I think some of this impression is a result of the bottle neck being incredibly bulky — the body itself is actually a fairly normal circumference, sporting a cylindrical shape and a rounded shoulder. I appreciate that they took the time to emboss the name of the distillery on the bottle itself, which takes additional time and money to accomplish. The bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
Something else I appreciate is that the label on this bottle is only as big as it needs to be. The majority of the real estate on the bottle is devoted to the beautiful color of the spirit inside, rather than any artwork or fancy embellishments that might have been added later. The format of the label is pretty consistent with other Scottish spirits and relatively unremarkable.
The package ships in a cardboard sleeve, as is customary for most Scottish spirits. This not only protects the bottle from damage, but also protects the spirit from premature oxidation and damage from sunlight as it sits on the store shelf. The markings from the bottle are reproduced on the sleeve, which I find to be a nice touch.
You won’t be able to miss the fruity aroma coming off this beautiful glass of amber colored liquid. There are some serious dark and rich fruits here, including raisins, dried figs, dried apricots, and even some orange citrus. What gives it a real Scottish twist is the flower blossoms in the aroma and the honey sweetness, all with just a touch of sourdough bread in the background.
Some (but unfortunately not all) of those components make it into the flavor profile when you take a sip. The first thing I get is a surprising orange citrus mixed with some brown sugar that sets a lighter tone than expected, followed shortly by dried apricots and melon. Around the middle of the experience, there’s an abrupt shift in tone from the sweeter and more syrupy consistency to a dry tartness as you start to get more of those oak related components. From here on out, there’s a predominance of baking spices with the citrus and honey, layered with some dark fruit undertones. Those flavors linger to the finish where they abruptly drop off without much fanfare.
The biggest challenge that a scotch whisky can face is the addition of some ice. Especially for Speyside spirits, which tend to have lighter and more floral flavor components as the predominant feature. In this case, I think those fears have been realized, and the lighter components have taken a back seat… but that’s only helped the darker and richer notes shine all the brighter.
Right up front, I’m getting those dried apricots and dried figs shining through, supported by some honey and orange citrus. There’s no longer a tart twist in the middle of the experience, and the flavors are a bit more consistent throughout. I do get a bit of a build of floral blossoms as the flavor progresses though, which only adds to the interesting flavor combination.
I can appreciate a light, floral, sweet Speyside scotch whisky. They have a charm and delicious appeal, but I usually tend to gravitate towards the darker and richer side of the whisky spectrum. However, this might be one instance where a Speyside whisky actually can bring some of that force I’m looking for, while still maintaining that floral “fingerprint” of the region.
Personally, I’d like to see a little bit more emphasis on the darker fruits — but that’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things. This is a delicious spirit that absolutely deserves to stand out on its own, rather than being blended into someone else’s product as one of a handful of nameless sources.
|Aberlour Speyside Single Malt 12 Year Old Double Cask Matured Whisky|
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 12 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $58 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A surprisingly rich and fruity Speyside scotch whisky.