Saturday, January 8, 2011

Global Tippler – Scotch Whisky

The sea of Scotch whisky available on the open market is staggering. On our previous trip to Ireland, I mentioned that there were 4 operational distilleries with a 5th projected to come online sometime in the near future. In Scotland, that number is somewhere around 125 distinct distilleries. With that many stills in operation, you can imagine the amount of hooch being produced year over year. My interest in Scotch is much more recent than my interest in bourbon (which is going on 28 years). My first introduction to Scotch was an Islay. For those that understand what that means, you can also understand what I didn't like; peat and smoke. Ugh. I'm really not interested in drinking something that is defined as having so many PPM of peat phenols. Do I really want to drink something with a name like "Peat Monster" or "The Smokey Peaty One". Maybe you do, but I do not. I'm more interested in definitions that include honey, floral, toffee, citrus, spice, etc. I'm not a big fan of big woody bourbons because the wood flavor dominates the whole experience. Same reason I don't want to drink the Peat Monster. For me, I'm looking for a balanced whisk(e)y so that's why I bypass Islay and focus on the Highlands, Speyside and Lowland.

Scotland is divided into 5 distilling regions; Islay, Highland, Lowland, Speyside and Campbeltown. For many non-Scotch drinkers, when you mention it, they immediately think of smoke or peat or both, I know I did. That is until I was introduced to a Dalwhinnie 15 year which is called "The Gentle Spirit" (yah, that's more my speed). Dalwhinnie is a single Highland Malt and is pretty darn tasty. The problem with Scotch as a whole, it's much more expensive than its bourbon cousin, so for many, Scotch is out of reach financially whereas bourbon is kind to the wallet.

For our stopover in Scotland, we're going to take a look at a unique Scotch that is reasonably priced, cask strength and super delicious. The aberlour a'bunadh is a Speyside Scotch and is released in batches and the one I'm reviewing comes from batch 29. This particular Scotch is big in flavor, has loads of sherry and is proofed at 119.8 which may not sound very high but coming from Scotland where the environment is more cold and damp than Kentucky, it's not a bad proof for an uncut whisky.

Color: Dark ruddy hue.

Nose: Big nose for a Scotch, dark fruit like plum, Sherry, tobacco. Bold in nature

Entry: Earthy, huge flavor. Alcohol plays a moderate part with tobacco, plum, dark berries, dark cherry that feeds the sweetness with the Sherry playing a complimentary role. There's some caramel and chocolate notes playing around there also.

Finish: Fairly long with the alcohol continuing to play a part.

This is not a refined Scotch and I don't mean that in a negative way. It's supposed to be in your face and aggressive. It's similar to a big proof bourbon in that regard. I happen to like this Scotch very much and look forward to adding additional batches to the bunker.

Name: Aberlour a'bunadh

Distiller: Aberlour Glenlivet Distillery, Speyside

Availability: Good

Price: Moderate, $65

Size: 750ml bottle with cork stopper

Next stop, we head to India (I know, whiskey and India are not normally seen the same sentence) to experience a very nice whiskey; Indian style.


  1. You should also check out Auchentoshan Classic, which is cheaper than Dalwhinnie, but has the same flavor profile and is considered "light" in flavor. The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year is even better, again with no peat, but with soft herbal, fruit, honey, and cereal notes. For heavier sherried styles (like the Aberlour), check out Macallan 12 and Dalmore 12, which are both big sherry and dark fruit and citrus.

    I also share your appreciation of a'bunadh - it's one of my top three favorites.

  2. Crash courses on different whiskies are what I love. I had some Dewar's and swore off Scotch forever, but your blog entry has made me think about getting a few minis off the shelf and giving them a try. The Dewar's turned my stomach. It reminded me too much of the time I was doing an oil change on my Mercury and took an oil filter to the mouth. YUCK! As a side note, how do Irish whiskys compare? I don't like that peat flavor at all. I'm like you in that I need layers of flavor and depth to be able to enjoy a whisk(e)y.

  3. Noob - believe me, I'm on the hunt so thanks for the recommendations. The Balvenie is one of my favorite Highland and I have the Doublewood, 15 yr SB and the 14 yr Caribbean Cask. I've also been enjoying the Tomatin 12, Balblair '97 and the Edradour Marsala 11 yr Cask Strength, just to name a few. I've not had the Macallan yet but that will change very soon.

  4. Ethan - I hear you, Scotch can be a weird animal but I'm telling you, as a bourbon lover, I've found a whole new whiskey dynamic with Scotch, Irish, Indian and my most recent purchase of Yamazaki 12 year; a Japanese Whisky. If you want something that's a good starter Scotch, go with a Balvenie Doublewood. It's relatively inexpensive and very tasty. No (or very little) peat or smoke. Another one, and less expensive would be Glenlivet 12 year. This one has lots of ripe fruit and citrus on the profile. Irish whiskey by comparison is normally not peated although there are a couple that are. For a good pot still Irish Whiskey, I would go with the Redbreast 12 year. Another one that's very nice is the Bushmills Black Bush or 1608 (a little more $$). There's ton's of great whiskey out there.

  5. Good to know. I'll have to look through the selection at our local "State Store" and see if they have any of those for a reasonable price.