September Scotch: Aberlour A’bunadh Alba

A spirited sibling for one of Speyside's cult-favorite single malts

Aberlour may be the sixth best selling single malt worldwide (and number one in France) but its presence in the US lingers only in the Glencairn glasses of those who know of its grandeur. From their historic Speyside, Scotland distillery, a core range includes several delectable age statement whiskies and the beloved no age statement, cask-strength A’bunadh (pronounced a-boone-ack). This award-winning product—produced in carefully monitored batches—epitomizes the elegance of a Speyside single malt that’s exclusively matured in ex-Oloroso sherry barrels. It’s an expression of dried fruit and baking spice, with a recipe modeled after one produced by Aberlour around 1898. In the last 20 years, a little over 60 batches of A’bunadh have come to market.

In a rare move, Aberlour and Master Distiller Graeme Cruickshank have crafted a sibling for A’bunadh. Known as A’bunadh Alba, the US-exclusive line extension bears many of its counterpart’s attributes: no age statement or chill filtration, and bottled at cask strength. The difference, however, is that Alba ages exclusively in first-fill American oak Bourbon casks, with the result being an entirely different flavor profile, color and body. Unsurprisingly, it’s delicious, albeit lighter in color and younger tasting, with the honeyed fruitiness extending from the nose to the palate with a creamy mouthfeel and crisp citrus and cracked pepper finish.

“Alba is about reevaluation,” says Aberlour’s brand director Andrew Weir. Weir’s ambition with the tipple (and the brand) is to give consumers reasons to come back. “What we are saying here is that if you like the concept of A’bunadh—which is a pure expression of the distillery—then try it side-by-side with the bourbon cask whisky, Alba.”

“This is a strong story and it will appeal to the wave of drinkers coming to whisky and going straight to craft bourbon,” he continues. “Scotch whisky used to be a rite of passage. It’s not really like that anymore. People are so promiscuous that they jump around from craft bourbon, to a Jack and Coke, Yamazaki 18 and so many others. This is about saying ‘Come back and try this historic distillery, known for its impeccable whisky.’ A’bunadh, after all, is a connoisseur’s whisky. It’s a desert island dram!”

Aberlour is part of an incubation unit called New Brand Ventures within Pernod-Ricard—the world’s second-largest wine and spirits company. This has both helped and hindered the spirits positioning in the US and globally. “We are a 140-year-old brand,” Weird explains, “but we share a house with one of the world’s largest whiskies in this category [the Glenlivet]. Aberlour found itself living in the shadow of its siblings.” A’bunadh, is Scottish Gaelic for “of the origin.” Alba, which nods to white oak, also means Scotland. Thus, A’bunadh Alba could be translated as the “Scottish original.” The name and its translation service the liquid, which underscore the brand’s history and punctuate its crusade for tasty new expressions.

Images courtesy of Aberlour