Aberlour, sited in the town of the same name, caught my eye by the very pretty, old-timey photos of its front gates — such as this one. A really gorgeous little place, their shop (photo to right) evokes an air of Victorian elegance. I have to admit I was taken in. In reality, like any distillery, Aberlour is a factory, albeit one that makes a delightful product. A clean, modern place, there is none of the Victorian funk you might find elsewhere. Although the main range is not one of my favorites, I do enjoy the A’bunadh line and the tasting showed their older expressions in a very good light.
After taking a short break, my wife and I trooped over from the little inn where we had spent the night. I’ll say up front, the experience did not contrast well with that morning’s tour at the Balvenie — what tour could? But they offer a couple experiences we did not get elsewhere, and at the cost (£15), a taste of six expressions. Our guide led us to the main yard and gave us a safety briefing and explanation of the day’s activity. This shot below shows what a compact place it is. I left it at full res, so you can click and spy the ‘Chivas’ van (they are owned by Chivas/Pernod Ricard S.A) and other details.
A quick walk led past the Fleming rooms, part of the original distillery and used today for the more in-depth tastings. You can see in the center of the shot above, with the Aberlour sign. We were led into a nicely decorated room and here spent quite a bit of time getting told the history of the place. I must admit, I was not impressed with the schooltime lecture feel of that part of the tour. Next we passed into a small, white-walled room of no particular interest, where the obligatory passing of the malt and grist was done. We were old hands at this by now but it’s nice they still do it. The next step was more interesting — up to the mash tun and washbacks. The passages are clean and factorylike, we did not see an old grist mill or handmade gear such as at Glenfarclas or Balvenie.
At the washbacks, things got a bit more interesting. The guide opened up a frothing washback and retrieved some of the small beer in a cup, encouraging all of us to poke a finger into the frothy liquid for a taste. That had me feeling a bit like a schoolboy again, tasting something cooking in mom’s kitchen, so not only instructive (the beer has a flat, but tangy taste) but fun. Not for the squeamish, after all, who knows where everyone’s fingers have been, right?
Next we trooped through the still house, where, as in the wash room, no photography, but I did sneak a shot which turned out well. Outside, we were led to Warehouse No. 1. A bit of a disappointment — the casks are behind glass, you’re in a little walled-off area where, once again, we get a bit of a lecture but not much atmosphere. It was clean and antiseptic, with shiny table-tops on some barrels for another tasting tour. (Later tours — Bunnahabhain notably — we got a lot more up close and personal with the wares. More on that in a later post).
Back out side then off to the tasting room. It is a lovely tasting room, again, clean and neat and lots of wood, and carefully arranged decor. It’s nice but a bit of a stage set. But we were here for the whisky, right? Right. Onward.
The tasting was the highlight of the tour. First of all, of the six expressions, one is new make spirit. Aberlour is the only place we have been to where the new make is tasted, and I appreciated them taking this step. The tasting starts with the new make, then moves onto the 10-year, an expression we do not see where I live. It’s lively, and single cask with a notable sherry element. Younger scotches can have a bit more personality, and I actually liked it better than the 12-year. I’ve had the 12 and was not tremendously impressed — to me, the Glenfarclas 12 and the Macallan 12 both have more going for them. They are both more expensive, too, but worth it. The Aberlour 12 did not shine any more in its homeland, but the next taste moved up the scale quite a bit, the 16-year double cask matured. That is a seriously good whisky, and the 18 kicked that up a notch. I have to believe that they use better casks in these older expressions. (They tout first-fill bourbon in the marketing for the 16.) The final taste was the A’bunadh, and at cask strength, most took advantage of the water pitcher for that one. As always, this dragon’s blood serves to deliver a mouthful of intense, undiluted sherry bomb. Good stuff, and everyone was having fun.
After our tastes — which, by the way, are not full shots, so we were able to walk steadily — we took the walk up the Lour burn. The sunny day which had greeted us at the Balvenie had long turned into Scottish gloom, but that did not dampen our spirits. The hike up the burn is a pleasant one (about a mile roundtrip); you are surrounded by green forest, and music is provided by the burn and its notably brown water. You might wonder how that water makes such a clear, white, new make spirit, but on the tour they explain that Aberlour uses spring water.
There is a place on the bank from which to watch the waterfall, high above the busy waters below. It would make an excellent picnic spot. On your return from the hike, take a short walk across the road. There is a very interesting pedestrian suspension bridge across the River Spey. Built in 1902, the ‘Penny Bridge’ offers unparalleled peace and beauty for the pedestrian explorer. Info on the walk can be found here.
To wrap, the Aberlour Experience Tour has a couple surprises we have not encountered elsewhere, but the big-company feel of the place left us a little cold. That said, it was more intimate than you will find at the huge distillers (Glenmorangie, for example — my next review), the tasting is excellent and the surroundings sublime.