Aultmore, Gaelic for the “big burn”, is located in the hills of Moray, just north of Keith. It’s nestled in a fog-cloaked region known as the Foggie Moss. People say that not much is known about Aultmore; that it’s a mysterious place. But that’s probably because Aultmore been overlooked by single malt enthusiasts for years, rather than the fact that there is little information about it.
Aultmore distillery was constructed between 1895 and 1897 depending on the source, nearby to the Great North of Scotland Railway (and rather interestingly used to be powered by a steam engine). Its first owner was Alexander Edward, who also owned the Benrinnes distillery, and whose father founded Craigellachie (which, funnily enough, remains in Aultmore’s extended family today). In the 1920s they joined the Distillers Company Limited, who expanded Aultmore’s stills from two to four, and then generally its ownership passed through more hands than a well-thumbed £5 note. Eventually Aultmore ended up with Bacardi’s John Dewar & Sons.
The distillery was actually rebuilt in the 1970s, with technically advanced equipment, although the structures themselves might be rather lacking in the looks department. Finally of note is that it uses Siberian Larch washbacks, which makes a change from the usual Oregon Pine or stainless steel.
Aultmore’s whiskies are regarded as “top dressing” by blenders, which means the spirit is rated very highly. And its spirit does indeed mostly end up in blends. I have already established on Malt that Aultmore distillery produces fantastic whisky in my opinion, but this has previously only been by sipping independent bottlings. But indie bottlings only tell you so much.
So what exactly is Aultmore whisky anyway?
We all know an Ardbeg or Glenfarclas, because there is an iconic style that has been shaped over the years by the distillery. Yet with Aultmore, there hasn’t really been a house style, not much in the way of a signature expression, as Aultmore has rarely been bottled in any official capacity. A 12 Year Old in the Flora & Fauna range, a 16 Year Old for the 100th anniversary…
Until now, that is.
The Aultmore bottlings have been launched as part of John Dewar & Sons new ‘Last Great Malts’ range. I was lucky enough to get my hands on three single malts – the new Aultmore 12 Year Old, 21 Year Old (available in travel retail) and 25 Year Old. They are all bottled at 46% ABV, and prices vary from £40 for the 12 Year Old to a shade under £300 for the 25 Year Old.
Aultmore 12 Years Old
Colour: very pale, straw to Pinot Grigio. On the nose: hugely perfumed – lovely floral, vegetative and yes, grassy notes. Cereal. Malt room door. Just ever so light and lively though. Mown hay, herby. A country lane in late spring. Really is gorgeous and noticeably different to a lot of other Speysiders.
In the mouth: for an entry-level whisky, this is seriously tasty stuff. All the aromas come through perfectly (I like it when you can taste what you smell). Quite a medium texture. Full of cereal and hay-like notes from the off. Malted barley. A touch of brine. Very grassy and vegetative. A gentle sweetness, which balances nicely with the bold malt notes. Lovely and chewy, with champagne-like yeastiness, leading into a few peppery notes towards the end. It’s a very distinctive, earthly taste and I like it a lot. Spring in a glass, most definitely. People might mistake this for being simple, but the flavours are a little different and come across remarkably well. Give it time…
Aultmore 21 Years Old
Colour: burnished, russet. On the nose: fascinating to smell this directly after the 12 Years Old. Gone are those raw cereal notes. This is much more familiar Speyside territory, though very gentle. Raisins, sultanas, apricots. When that classic sweetness fades there are indeed the grassy notes at the core of the whisky, the leitmotif of Aultmore.
In the mouth: again, classic Speyside, with that vegetative twist. In fact, the maltiness of the 12 is still here in significant quantities, making it another unique taste. This one’s a little meatier, pan-fried grouse. Very bitter and rich dark fruits. Very dark chocolate. Same nice chewy texture. Heaps of flavour, though it’s a fraction tame compared to the 12. The finish is medium length, without too much in the way of spiciness.
Aultmore 25 Years Old
Colour: deep gold, amber. A little lighter than the Aultmore 21 Year Old. On the nose: knee-weakening stuff. Lovely creamy, malty sweetness to this. A lot of aromas are very complexly, tightly bound together and need patience to understand. Yes, the signature vegetative quality is there, and some lovely apricots, almost pineapple sweetness. A touch of barber’s shop and coconut. Wood shavings.
In the mouth: my word that’s interesting whisky. The texture is incredible – it’s not exactly heavy liquid, but there’s a buttery, velvet-like quality to this and it’s packed with flavour. This one isn’t going to be rushed: praline, damp cellars, a touch that old wood mustiness. A few caramel notes. Vanilla. Chicory. Apple pie. There’s some heat here: ginger, pepper. It’s truly lovely stuff. And yes, in the distance, an echo from the past, is that grassiness once again. An incredible dram, and one to savour.
So, what of the ‘house style’ that the official bottlings are making as a statement? What is Official Aultmore? This is a sensual whisky. It’s also sits on a different part of the spectrum of whisky tastes, and it probably isn’t in the most fashionable part either. This is not extreme stuff like heavily peated Islay whiskies, or big bruising sherry bombs like GlenDronach or Glenfarclas. Those are whiskies in vogue, where many get their thrills. Aultmore is instead aromatic, floral, earthly, sweet and complex. A thing of the senses, gentle yet packed with flavours.
It is to be savoured, to be patient with, and understood in companionable silence.
Shall I tell you what I’m going to do? Come pay-day, I’ll immediately buy a bottle of the Aultmore 12 Year Old, as I think it’s a striking whisky, an entry-level treat – and the best-value whisky I’ve had in a long time. I aim to drink it on cold, rainy days throughout the spring.
I’m also going to save up for a bottle of the 25 Year Old – this I do more as a fan of this distillery, and because I want to own a special whisky.
Hats off to John Dewar & Sons. This new range could quite easily have been a quick cash-in, but they’ve created a distinctive, flavour-packed range of whiskies for proper single malt lovers. I can safely say that Aultmore is one of my top 5 distilleries.
(1) Samples very kindly provided by Quercus Communications (but you know my usual statement that if the whisky is bad, I’d say so).
(2) Distillery photo from Martyn Jenkins on Flickr.