Speyside Road Trip Day 1: Aberlour

The drive from Dundee to Aberlour was very pleasant overall. We decided to stick to the motorways on the East of Scotland, before turning West at Aberdeen. It took about two and a half hours including a stop, and we arrived with about half an hour to spare before my tasting at 2pm. The location of our AirBnB was absolutely ideal – about three minutes walk to Aberlour distillery, and about the same to the mighty River Spey. The view from the garden, as you can see, wasn’t bad either.

The production facilities at Aberlour were closed for renovation, but the small-ish shop and visitor centre were open – I’m not sure if there’s normally a bigger visitor centre when the distillery is fully operating. It was a beautiful day, and the tasting was in a stylish wood-panelled room whose windows you can see in the photo below.

I paid £40 for the single cask experience, which as the name suggests is a tasting of four single casks from Aberlour over the course of an hour – but as it happened, we were allowed to leisurely finish our drams in the tasting room for longer. Unlike at Deanston, it was a full group – 8 of us altogether, and it was led by a full-time guide, so it was a completely different vibe. It started with a 15-minute talk through the production process, which I thought was a bit unnecessary to be honest. I guess this tasting normally comes with a tour when the rest of the distillery is open, but I don’t think there’s a need for this to precede a single cask tasting, which would imply that the participants are more experienced whisky drinkers.

But what of the drams? Firstly, I will say that I was particularly looking forward to the experience given all the glowing reviews of Aberlour tours and tastings, as well as of their distillery exclusives. We started with a sample of new make spirit – very sharp as expected, but also less ‘clean’ and fruity than Balblair or Tomatin new make (I haven’t tried any from other distilleries). Next up, another prelude to the main event – a bonus sample of a distillery exclusive, where we each got a choice between an 11 year-old first fill Bourbon-matured Aberlour, and a similarly aged sherried one (not single casks, I was told they were marriages of 3-4 casks). As I’d never had a fully Bourbon-matured Aberlour before and had heard great things about them, I opted for that one, and was a little bit disappointed. Maybe it was because of the weight of expectations, but for one reason or another I found it a bit unbalanced and not as fruity as I expected – very malty and caramelly (a bit like the Casg Annamh), but not much apart from that.

The single casks were all better, though unfortunately they weren’t available to buy. There was a 10 year-old first-fill Oloroso, which was bursting with the flavours you’d expect from a young sherried Aberlour. Next up, a 16 year-old refill sherry – a bit hot on arrival but much more balanced with a few drops of water. The two oldest drams were also the highlights – an 18 year-old Bourbon cask full of tropical fruit notes and a 21 year-old Oloroso cask that could easily rival the A’bunadh as my favourite sherried Aberlour.

But I have to say that, overall, I enjoyed the Deanston warehouse tasting more. I guess it was mainly because of its less manicured nature and the evocative surroundings of the maturing casks, because I liked the last two Aberlour drams as much as any Deanston in that tasting. Also, the intro to the Aberlour tasting was a bit generic, though of course the two can’t be directly compared given that I was in a group of 8 at Aberlour and by myself at Deanston. I suppose the scales might have been tipped the other way had the Bourbon-matured distillery exclusive been more to my liking and had I brought a bottle home. In the end I left with no purchases, even though in the back of my mind I was expecting to get the Bourbon distillery exclusive. Incidentally, there were some 50cl Aberlour bottles (maybe exclusives? it was unclear) at Strathisla distillery, but more on that visit later.

Next up – reports from day 2 in Speyside, with a tour at Knockdhu bookended by shorter visits to Glenallachie and Strathisla. In the meantime, here are a few photos of our walk along Spey River after the Aberlour tasting:

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