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In my last review I talked a little about the phenomenon, and indeed the controversy surrounding no age statement (NAS) whiskies. While I am open-minded about the issue 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 a NAS whisky is Aberlour’s A’Bunadh – a cask strength, sherry bomb from Speyside. There can be no accusation that Aberlour has jumped on the NAS 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 and was built by one James Fleming, who now lies buried in the village graveyard opposite. Today, Aberlour is under the ownership of Pernod Ricard and, as well as the mighty A’Bunadh, the distillery bottles whiskies at 10, 12, 15, 16 and 18 years old.
A’Bunadh is released in batches and I happen to be reviewing Batch 49. It has been matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry butts 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 (what’s 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.
Smell: Burnt Toffee, Cherries, Caramel, Cinammon, Orange Liqueur, Christmas Cake and Marzipan.
Taste: Orange, Grape and Toffee, Cherry and Almond, Amaretto. There’s a great depth of flavour and being non-chill-filtered, it thoroughly coats the mouth.
Thoughts: To put it simply, A’Bunadh is one of the best value drams on the market. Sherry casks usually inflate price. Cask strength usually inflates price but here it is at £50 a bottle. It could easily retail for double that amount and still seem a worthwhile purchase.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that this dram would be better with an age statement added. Sure, it would be nice to know a little more about its make up but does that really hinder one’s enjoyment? When you get whisky this good at such a reasonable price, I’m not sure it really matters what it says on the label. With that, I think we get to the heart of the issue. Distillers who feel they are unable to commit to an age statement should be making every effort to ensure the quality of the liquid in the bottle is up to scratch. Scotch whisky is now in competition with distilleries all over the world, many of whom enjoy far warmer climes than 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 unacceptable.