In my last review I talked a little about the phenomenon, and indeed the controversy of no age statement (NAS) whiskies. While I am open minded about this practice and see an age statement as just one element in assessing a drams potential, I must admit that I would rather have an age than not. Having said that, some of my favourite drams lack an age statement and I thought it would be a good idea to look at one such whisky.
One of the best examples of an NAS whisky is Aberlour’s A’Bunadh – a cask strength, sherry bomb from Speyside. There can be no accusation that Aberlour have jumped on the bandwagon here – A’Bunadh first appeared back in 1997! The name translates from Gaelic as ‘Of the Origin’ and the distillers intention was to create an Aberlour with a profile to match the drams of years gone by. The story goes that maintenance work in the 70’s uncovered a time capsule buried in the still-room, containing a newspaper from 1898 and a bottle of whisky… A’Bunadh is an attempt at recreating that whisky.
The distillery itself dates from 1879. Built by one James Fleming, who now lies buried in the village graveyard opposite, Aberlour is now under the ownership of Pernod Ricard and bottles whiskies of 10, 12, 15, 16 and 18 years old – as well as the mighty A’Bunadh.
A’Bunadh is released in batches and I happen to be reviewing Batch 49. The whisky has been matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry butts of varying ages and has been bottled at a cask strength of 60.1%, without the use of chill filtering or colourant. I tend not to discuss colour much (whats the point when so many malts fake it with the use of caramel E150a) but this is quite something. At a glance you could almost be forgiven for thinking it’s Red Wine.
The nose has waves of Burnt Toffee, Cherries, Caramel, Cinammon, Orange Liqueur, Christmas Cake and Marzipan. There’s so much going on – and it’s all good. The nose is so good in fact that it gives the palate a lot to live up to but thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint. It arrives on the tongue with a burst of Orange, Grape and Toffee, evolving into Cherry and Almond – not unlike Amaretto. There’s a great depth of flavour and being non chill filtered, it thoroughly coats the mouth.
The Scores: About the scoring system
Smell: Beautiful and packed! There’s so much going on but everything seems to have it’s place and add something to the overall effect.
Taste: Delicious. There’s no other way to put it, this stuff is awesome. My taste buds come alive the moment it hits my tongue.
Value: Seriously. This comes in at around £40 – £45 a bottle. It’s a whopping 60.1% cask strength. It’s a wonderful natural colour and there’s no chill filtration involved. You could easily justify it being double the cost. Unbelievably good value given the quality.
Total: 48 / 50. My highest score so far but given that I like to focus on value for money here, it is well deserved. It smells great, it tastes phenomenal, it’s bottled straight from the cask with minimal tinkering and it won’t break the bank. If there’s a better whisky for under £50 I’ve yet to find it.
Such is the quality on offer here, that it would seem ridiculous to me were someone to suggest that the lack of an age statement somehow devalued this whisky. But I think we get to the heart of the matter there… much of the consumer frustration around NAS whisky comes from the feeling that they’re being ripped off – paying the same, or even more, for a younger, inferior product. The answer then is clear, if distillers feel they are unable to commit to an age statement, every effort must be made to ensure the quality of the liquid in the bottle is up to scratch. Scotch whisky faces competition from all over the world and many of these new whisky producing countries enjoy far warmer climes than we do in Scotland. That means they can mature whisky faster and get a quality product on the shelves at a very young age. Any distiller releasing inferior, under-matured spirit risks not only their own reputation but that of scotch in general and that, at a time when scotch should be showing why it is still the best in the world, is just not good enough.
Before I wrap this up, I feel like some perspective may be helpful. All scotch whisky must be matured for at least three years, yet it can often be found for sale at comparable prices to Vodka that was churned out in a few hours. While some of these NAS whiskies are undoubtedly a little young, they are not unpleasant to drink, they just lack some of the character and complexity the spirit is known for. As always, it falls to each of us, to assess as best we can, whether or not a dram justifies the price being asked – regardless of age. If it doesn’t, then simply do not buy it. There are too many great drams at affordable prices to waste time on those with slipping standards.
One of those great drams is the A’Bunadh from Aberlour. Now go and buy a bottle. You can thank me later.