Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 41) Review

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 41)017

59% abv

Score:  84.5/100


Let’s check out another batch of Aberlour a’bunadh.

This whisky is always a pleasure  to revisit.  That’s sorta why we come back to it every few months or so.  Well…that and because many folks out there tend to petition the blogs and such for updates on current batches in order to determine whether they’re up to snuff against previous releases, or if they should wait a few months for the next batch.  On that front, we may as well all share the good word, right?

While I don’t pick up every every release of this cask strength behemoth, I do nab one out of every three or four perhaps.  Let’s face it…these are very much just variations on a narrow theme.  Some a tick or two better…some a tick or two worse.  I’ve yet to run across one that I outright didn’t like, but I will concede that there has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride between shimmeringly beautiful and merely mediocre.

You’d think that would be a complaint, right?  Batch variation is a source of considerable frustration for some.  The thing is…that sort of batch variation is part of what makes a’bunadh so much fun for me.  It kinda reminds me of being a young’un and buying trading cards.  I was always happy with whatever I got when I tore into the foil (or waxed wrapper), but if there happened to be a superstar card or a ‘last piece of the puzzle’ number in there I’d be tickled pink.  A’bunadh can have that same thrill when the cork is popped.  It’s always a bit of a crapshoot.

Once more – though we’ve done this several times by now – a’bunadh is Gaelic for ‘origin’.  As in, this whisky is taken back to it’s old school purest form of origination.  Barrel strength, non-chill filtered, non-colored.   It’s bold.  It’s big.  And it is an instant love for many.  It’s not hard to see why as soon as you nose your first dram.

A final note:  Unlike some out there reviewing spirits for masses, I utterly refuse to believe that packaging or appearance has any place in scoring.  To keep it as honest as possible, all that should ever really count are the flavours and aromas in the glass vessel.  Even so, I have to concede an appreciation for good presentation, and this malt has to be the most aesthetically appealing malt on the market in my humble opinion.  I adore the squat bottle with the red wax seal.

Let’s check out Batch 41…

Nose:  A big fruity, sherry monster, of course.  Cinnamon.  Mincemeat and maraschino.  A touch of mint.  Figgy.  Tobacco in a leather pouch.  Pepper.  Kinda meaty and nutty.  Dry bitter cacao.  Deep dark cherry and jammy fruit notes.  Kinda wine-ier than expected.  Just the faintest afterthought of sulphur (took me a while to be certain that’s what the more astringent characteristic was).  Decent.  Not great.

Palate:  Melted chocolate immediately coats the palate.  Damp woody notes.  Purple fruits, fruit skins and grape jammy flavours.  More chocolate (as if poured over fruits).  Raisin and some figgy dryness.  Finding this one more on the savoury side than the sweet side.  Palate is not up to the challenge of the nose.

Thoughts:  I hate to say it, but…a rather middling batch of one of my favorite young malts.  It doesn’t carry the depths of sweet fruits that have characterized the best of the a’bunadh batches.  In all fairness, though…even average a’bunadh is still a treat.  I’m not sure there is a more ‘go-to’ affordable malt in my house at any given time.  Any night I’m not particularly leaning to one malt or another, I always seem to reach for this one.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

20 thoughts on “Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 41) Review

  1. Jeff

    Batch variation can be a frustration, both on a practical drinking and industry logic level. One of the big defenses for NAS labels was the “freedom” it gave producers in using a wide variety of casks to make the whisky as good as possible – the theory being that quality, of course, isn’t found in age, but in the alchemy of proper blending. Aberlour a’bunadh has one of the widest possible windows in this regard, 5 to 25 years (and is cask-strength to boot, so expectations of any “finesse” achievement would be low at best), yet the “alchemy” gives results almost as equally wide: on Malt Maniacs, for example, 88s for Batches 7, 11, and 23, 72 for Batch 29 and 65 for Batch 41. If age IS inconsequential to quality here, it appears that other factors, known or unknown, certainly are not. Yet knowing the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle probably WOULD tell me very little, particularly if the issue of age content proportion is left out of the discussion, and the oldest whisky is blended in with an eyedropper.

    1. ATW Post author

      The beauty of difference of opinion. There is no way this malt is a 65.

      I’m not sure I follow your points above, Jeff. Couple points here then maybe you can clarify for my slow-to-understand-monday-mind.

      I don’t think age is at the heart of any of the critiques I’m leveling at this one. a’bunadh is unquestionably recognized as an NAS, and I’ve already stated in a previous review that I will always assume youth with these bottlings. The fact of the matter is that a’bunadh succeeds BECAUSE of the youth. The vibrancy of young Oloroso (much like the phenolic levels of pre-teener peat monsters) is what a’bunadh fans are craving when they’re sourcing this stuff. I take age out of the equation when looking at a malt like this.

      Further…I’d argue that if people truly want consistency, then they should not be buying batch releases at all, and should instead be opting for Black Label or Grouse or something that is vatted in enormity. As soon as you start drinking single malts…leading to more ‘craft-presented’ products…leading to smaller distilleries’ outputs…leading to smaller batches targeted to whisky connoisseurs…you’re bound to get variation. a’bunadh is just a hop, skip and a leap from single cask releases. Finesse-ing consistency here would be near impossible. And I don’t think (though I could be wrong) that Aberlour has ever contested that consistency was their aim with a’bunadh. Could be just me, but that would seem contrary to numbering each batch to uniquely identify it.

      1. Jeff

        My comment wasn’t really a critique of your review (and you’re entitled to put whatever number on whatever whisky you choose), nor was I really saying that you’re taking issue with age/NAS (certainly not to the degree I do). Despite all of the nice things that can be, and are, said about a’bunadh, the theory behind NAS labels IS greater freedom of cask selection for better end result and so, to me, it’s somewhat telling about the theory when that’s not the end result – if that’s not Aberlour’s theory/goal, they still evidently take full advantage of the flexibility offered by such labelling. Having already acknowledged myself that people don’t go to this cask-strength whisky for finesse, this IS a blended, not a single cask product (whatever that’s supposed to mean, and it might well mean very different things to different producers as there’s no definition of the term in the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations), using whisky ranging across 20 years in age. Will they all be identical? No, but there’s a lot of variation in them, too, given that that they’re supposed to be blended for optimal quality. If you indeed “take age out of the equation when looking at a malt like this”, it’s only my suggestion that you may not be the only one and that age, taken out to whatever unknown and unknowable degree (and likely to remain so going forward), may not always be a benefit.

        1. ATW Post author

          Howdy, brother.

          Certainly didn’t mean to imply your views were a critique in any way. They didn’t seem so to me anyway. And even if they were…that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? That is part of the reason I leave comments open on the blog.

          Thanks for clarifying. I’m following you now.

          For the record…I’m a fan of age statements. They help keep everything on the up and up. They’re firm, inflexible and reek of a tradition I’d rather not relinquish. The more info at my disposal, the happier I am. HOWEVER…I hate to insist upon anything in my personal whisky travels. I’ve tried some astounding drams that were a) colored b) NAS c) blended d) chill-filtered and e) released by the evil empire Diageo. I won’t discount anything until my senses guide me. I’m the same way with reading others’ reviews.

        2. Skeptic

          I think the people at Aberlour aim to put out a consistently good product each batch. Online reviewers may simply not agree with the tastes of the master blenders.

          I try to try before I buy, or I identify those reviewers who’s descriptions can, to some extent. tell me if I’ll like the product.

          I had a chance at the 41 recently. I gave it a pass. I don’t regret it after this review.

          I changed my mind about the 46 recently after reading more reviews. I actually managed to snag one in Ontario and return a 36, that I most definitely did not enjoy as much as most batches. So unknown vs mediocre known…the adventure continues…

          1. ATW Post author

            Your first sentence nails it. ‘Consistently good’ is a different beast than ‘consistent’.

          2. Maestro

            Skeptic, You enjoyed the 46? I’ve found it a bit hard to get on with. Not awful, just not like 39 was. It was one that made me pretty sure that in the NAS sherry bomb wars, I think I might be siding with Glenfarclas 105.

          3. skeptic

            I changed my mind about buying it. Sorry I wasn’t clear. I won’t taste it until I and one of my whisky colleagues turn 46…. You’ll have to wait a while for my impression.

      2. ATW Post author

        As I said…no way this is a ’65’, but a little deeper into this one and I’m knocking ‘er back a point and a half. Still ok, but…just ok.

        1. Jeff

          Maybe THAT bottle isn’t a 65, but I trust you on that in the same way that I trust Klimek and Wood that their bottle WAS a 65 (averaged from scores of 68 and 62); again, possible QC issues (?), because I just don’t think that they “decided” to have a hate on for Batch 41 out of the blue.

          1. ATW Post author

            Of course. All you can ever do is read enough from any one reviewer to see where their tastes lie and how they map to yours. I would never suggest anyone need trust me, I was simply correcting my own slightly inflated score.

            I do have to note, so there’s no confusion here, that I don’t believe there is a score as low as 65 here on this site. That would have to be some foul stuff…irredeemable, really…to score so low I felt I had to knock a full 35 off.

  2. Jeff

    I wasn’t really expressing any reluctance in critiquing you (goodness knows), only explaining that wasn’t really the point of the post as there seemed to be some confusion as to what I was taking to task.

    I’ve tried some good stuff as well, but I can honestly say I’ve never really thought any of it was made any better for being a) colored b) NAS c) blended d) chill-filtered and/or e) released by the evil empire Diageo. What I find curious about that is it’s the industry’s take that everything it does and doesn’t do, believes and doesn’t believe, is of overall benefit to whisky. In theory, whisky should be improving by leaps and bounds on all fronts because the industry has some new “big idea” at least every six months and is never wrong, even when it contradicts its former positions or even goes in opposite directions at the same time.

    Specifically concerning NAS labels, whisky age is considered immaterial to quality if age isn’t present (or present to a degree not worth talking about), but age is considered VERY important, particularly to price, if it’s actually there. I’ve never bought the “need for flexibility” argument – producers bottle what they like (if they can sell it) and they’ve never had their “hands tied” by age statements in the past; they just have a problem now with explaining why anyone should pay more for what’s probably mostly a non-collectible 5-8 y.o., so now they just tack on an irrelevant story and try to avoid the issue of age altogether, EXCEPT when they’re actually selling the old stuff, because you’ll always pay for that. As it provides the consumer with no benefit whatsoever and represents the withholding of production information, NAS labelling should be opposed by consumers on that basis alone, both in commentary and in purchasing.

    In talking about consistency here, I was talking about the overall quality of the whisky rather than uniformity of flavour, which was why I was talking ratings rather than peoples’ tasting notes batch to batch. In considering that, I have no real doubt that Keith Wood and Oliver Klimek have any more difficulty telling a 60-something whisky from an 80-someting whisky than you do, so I’m not brought to the conclusion that anyone is wrong about the whisky they drank, but that there could be quality control problems with this batch which, in itself, is another level of consistency altogether.

  3. Robert

    I’ll just enjoy my Glenfarclas 105 and Glendronach 15 and let you guys fight it out about the lesser quality Abunadh.

  4. Jeff

    You might never suggest that anyone HAS to trust you, but it makes more sense that those who read you DO trust you rather than not. The point about the reader mapping the reviewer’s tastes to their own is well made, but there is no basis for mapping, or for reading, if the reader thinks the scores are inconsistent, or worse, bullshit. I think that Jim Murray knows more about whisky than you or I ever will but, in the Whisky Bible, that knowledge doesn’t result in a useable guide: no matter what Murray knows about the Macallan Masters of Photography Series or the Glenfarclas Family Casks, anyone who tells me that Red Label is only half a mark under Blue Label and that Black Grouse beats them both by SIX points (and there are a LOT of other wonky marks as well), to me, calls their consistency (and agenda) into question. If I don’t trust the reviewer of a whisky, movie or book, I either have to experience the product firsthand or, more likely, just find a reviewer who I do trust to provide an opinion as to whether the products are worth experiencing (which is why I read reviews in the first place).

    I don’t think you have any 65s either, but Famous Grouse came in at 67, with neither the mark nor the review coming across as an endorsement, and Red Label came in at 70 in much the same way – all fair comment; I’d certainly agree that the reviews accurately reflect the products, the products themselves simply being cheaply made for the lower end of the blend market and it showing. That Klimek and Wood tried an a’bunadh they put in the 60’s IS interesting in that they didn’t just chalk the sample up to being spoiled/flawed and decided to score it – but even if they did consider it spoiled, it would valuable to know that these kinds of serious flaws can still occur today if they happened in the distillery.

    1. ATW Post author

      All very well put.

      Note though: I said I’d never ‘suggest’ anyone trust me. I put it all out there honestly, and ‘hope’ they do. Let’s face it…if someone has to say ‘trust me’…they’re probably the last person I want to trust. 😉

      1. David

        I read the globe and mail wine and spirits columnist regularly. Based on the things I’ve tried that he’s reviewed I can now tell by his descriptions of most red wines if I would like the wine, with pretty good accuracy. It doesn’t mean I like all the wines he does, it just means I know what his descriptions translate to on my palate.

        In contrast, I don’t think his Scotch reviews are helpful to me at all. That said, I think it was his reviews (back when I knew pretty much nothing), that led me to buy Springbank Claret Wood, maybe the cask strength, Bruichladdich Peat, and maybe another. But I’ve also learned since, now that I have a semi experienced palate, and have revisited those reviews, that those lucky finds were flukes.

        Occasionally his review will bring to my attention that something worthy is available at the LCBO, but he tends to like everything he reviews and a lot of them are not what I prefer.

        So by trusting a reviewer, I think of it more as calibrating their words to your palate.

      2. Jeff

        Actually you said “I would never suggest anyone need trust me” and I guess it was the word “need”, as in the idea of trust being required, that I was commenting on. The point I’m making is that while a reviewer being trusted isn’t an absolute need, it is a practical requirement for most readers: if you don’t trust who you’re reading about a whisky you haven’t tried, where does that leave you in terms of making a decision about a future purchase?

        Like David, I’ve also read whisky reviews in the Globe and Mail (Beppi Crosariol is the writer in question, I think) and I don’t trust him as a reviewer because I’m not sure he’s ever met a whisky he didn’t like so, like the LCBO and its supplied promotional tasting notes, I don’t think his role is so much about reviewing whisky as promoting whisky. His reviews can be useful, however, in putting recent releases on a reader’s radar (which is, I think, part of his intended promotional role).

        I’d also agree with David in that, given a reviewer you trust, it can be a matter of calibrating their words to your palate, but even where writers are trusted, it can be difficult to get an actual opinion out of some people. Some sites, like The Malt Imposter, for example, have very entertaining prose, but don’t score whisky and so quality is really left in the eye of the beholder, not even the reviewer. To say that “on the scale of iconic newspapers The Highland Park 18 is The New York Times, embodying all the scotch that’s fit to drink. No retractions or corrections on this issue, just iconic and Pulitzer-worthy reporting” is all very interesting, but it also doesn’t allow for whiskies to compared TO EACH OTHER. Every whisky is only to be critiqued on its OWN terms, on its own sliding scale, and I think this, to a large degree, accounts for a lot of the overall positive commentary; every whisky is a winner in its own right, so there are very few losers – Highland Park 18 is the best Highland Park 18 that Highland Park currently makes and, depending upon your opinion of The New York Times, may be the best whisky ever made.

  5. ATW Post author

    Just found a sample I’d set aside of Batch 34. Will try to get to that one in the next few days too.

    1. skeptic

      I am envious. I liked all the 32, 33 and 34s I’ve tried. Oh wait, a sample. I have one of those too. I do that with each batch. One day I’m doing an awesome flight….


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