I know it’s been an atrociously long time since I posted. My only excuses are that in the last six weeks I
– finished my Masters dissertation in Edinburgh;
– packed up my life and moved from Edinburgh back to the US;
– got married, for the second and third times*; and
– moved from one state to another, unpacked and reorganized my life.
*I actually got married in August 2011, so that my fiancé-then-husband, Sunjay, could get a visa to join me in Scotland for the year. It was a strictly-immediate-family affair, with no celebration to speak of, so this year we renewed our vows and held a reception with all our family and friends. On top of that, my mother-in-law organized a Hindu wedding ceremony. Three weddings, no funerals.
In light of those events, I hope it’s okay that I took a hiatus. I’ll try to be more with it from here on out, although I’m going back to work full-time tomorrow and frankly have no idea how I will feel for awhile. I’m still sorting out all that reverse culture shock business and trying to figure out how to be a New Yorker again. I miss Scotland terribly, so this post, in addition to being my re-entry to blogging, will function also as a chance for me to wallow in my reminiscences for awhile, whisky in hand, head in clouds.
Before life got so crazy (or perhaps this just contributed to the craziness), Sunjay and I went for one last Scottish hurrah through Speyside, Orkney, and Shetland. The next four posts will showcase the whisky highlights of the trip.
Our first stop was Aberlour Distillery, which at £12 rated as a bargain even before tasting the whisky. The friendly, knowledgeable guide whose name I have forgotten (Sarah? Julia?) led us through the usual mash tuns and wash backs, stills and spirit safes while detailing the history of the distillery and its founder, James Fleming, who was a businessman and philanthropist whose contributions in both fields still give back today. These days, Aberlour is owned by Pernod Ricard.
The tasting, of course, was more or less what we came for, and it did not disappoint, In fact, I think it’s the best distillery tasting I’ve had yet, both in terms of quality of spirit offered and content of the “tutored” session. In this aspect, our guide shone with evident passion and knowledge which made for an ideal atmosphere.
We started with Aberlour’s new spirit (“clearac”) which is unaged, extremely strong, and basically right off the still — this is what goes into the casks. Think of it as proto-whisky. To me, it was quite like other clearacs I’ve tasted in that it had the usual oats-and-honey smells with strong tones of grapes and currants and a thick mouthfeel. Not bad, not whisky.
Throughout the tasting, I sipped and sniffed and reserved bits of each dram to compare at the end. Some of my notes, therefore, reflect a healthy amount of breathing — I certainly didn’t get every note on the first time around.
Aberlour 16yo Bourbon Cask – 54%
Nose of banana, vanilla, and light caramel — reminded me a lot of a Mary Jane. Palate extremely peppery but still light with oak and leather on the finish. Improved with time/air.
Aberlour 16yo Sherry Cask – 58.5%
Nose of dates and raisins, icing sugar, some maple sugar too. Thick and velvety palate, rich with dark fruits and syrup. Long finish with just a hint of bitterness and everlasting sugar. Both this and the preceding Bourbon Cask were available to”bottle your own” in the tasting room that day.
Aberlour 10yo Sherry Cask finish
Available only France, which is a shame as I found it highly quaffable. Nose of pear with an earthiness that reminded me of a certain Mortlach 15. Despite the sherry finish, heavy bourbon notes prevailed throughout a smooth and creamy palate. Finish short but satisfying. I could see myself drinking this on a nearly daily basis.
Aberlour 16 yo
With a nose of berries — raspberry and bramble mostly — and a lovely cinnamon-and-pepper palate, I loved this whisky even before it ended. Which it nearly didn’t. I swear, they had to kick me out before the finish was done. Truly a remarkable and delicious whisky.
Aberlour A’bunadh batch 38 – 60.3%
Having tasted a whole range of A’bunadh batches from 35 to 39, I already knew what to expect with this one — and that was a good thing. The A’bunadh (“the original”) range came about when some distillery workers in the 70s discovered a bottle of whisky in the wall with a newspaper from the late 1800s wrapped around it. Realizing that they’d stumbled on what may have been the original recipe for Aberlour whisky, the distillery sent the spirit for analysis and has produced this expression as a way to reach back through the annals of time and recreate what had once been lost. Of course, each batch (no age statement) is slightly different from the others, so if you find one you really like, buy up as many bottles as you can because it ain’t coming back.
Batch 38 is good (though batch 35 is definitely my preference out of all the ones I’ve tried) — typical sherried notes of plum and other cooked fruits, but with a lovely twist of bitter orange or perhaps orange oils. It improves with a bit of water and really packs a punch (a good one!) on the finish.
Visiting Aberlour made for a marvelous start to our long trip. Big thanks to our lovely guide and the staff at the distillery who made us feel so welcome and even allowed us to store our rucksacks in the manager’s office. I sincerely hope to visit again someday.