All good things come to an end and in recent times that’s certainly been the case across the whisky hemisphere. One such example that leads us nicely into today’s review is the ability to bottle your own whisky when visiting a distillery. It’s an experience I’m somewhat partial to and it’s a shame that fewer distilleries support this visitor attraction going forward.
The option to stand in front of an assembled group who watch on with fascination as you go through the stages of bottling your own whisky is always fun, if at times pressurised. Whether it’s the slick operation at Glenfiddich or the humbler medieval approach at GlenDronach, with its tap and funnel often requiring you to kneel on the floor, each is unique. Needless to say, I’ve partaken in quite a few at distilleries over the years and always enjoyed each and every option regardless of the fanfare involved.
Some distilleries even offer the carryout option where you can forgo the pressure cooker of bottling the whisky and just purchase a pre-labelled option. For Aberlour this meant you could buy one at the shop rather than having to trot down into the distillery to go through the hand fill experience yourself. I can still recall when Glenmorangie used to take you into a side room where a splendid cask awaited along with an imposing logbook. You emerged into the daylight refreshed and carrying your bottle in a suitably rustic cloth sack. Nowadays such a concept with Moet Hennessy seems alien. Give me a cask strength Glenmorangie any day -regardless of its age – over something that been flushed through a hand-carved cask, previously filled with Caucasus wine or whatever nonsense they’re trying to pedal this financial quarter.
A major part of the appeal is that you are bottling the essence of the distillery. Cask strength means more flavour and affords you the control as to what strength you wish to opt for with the addition of water. Often it gives you a unique perspective with distilleries such as Glen Moray and Auchentoshan utilising casks that are out with their normal remit.
Yes, they can be a little pricey at times but where else will you have the option to taste such a whisky again?
Auchentoshan for instance is generally a disappointing core range in whisky terms and for many years I was told that the true way to appreciate it was to head out to the distillery and bottle your own. I’m glad I did, as its night and day between what we see on the shelves in stores and what the distillery delivers. The same goes for Glenfiddich, which often exists and little more in my world however that Spirit of Speyside 2017 Festival bottling is one of my top whiskies of the year. A cask strength ‘Fiddich from a 1st fill sherry butt and peated; things don’t get much better than that let me tell you.
Diageo distilleries in the last year have resisted the trend for single casks for a variety of reasons, one I suppose is most of the maturation of whisky nowadays is done centrally rather at the distillery you’re visiting. At least there’s been some movement with the release of distillery exclusives that albeit are No Age Statements and limited to several thousand, but actually are of a decent standard. Blair Athol was solid, the Talisker I felt better than many NAS rivals in its core range and the Dalwhinnie was a lovely wee dram.
For Chivas Brothers, many of its distilleries aren’t open to the public including the wonderful Tormore and they’ve sought to overcome this by offering cask strength bottlings within their distilleries that are open to visitors. Strathisla does offer a bottle your own experience that I’ll do next time and also a cask strength 13-year-old 1st fill sherry butt bottling that is recommended. Yet unfortunately you just pick that one up off the shelf. The bottle your own in comparison from when I’ve dropped by, has always been an ex-bourbon cask that lacks the novelty value.
Another popular distillery within the Chivas empire is Aberlour. This for many of the Tormore4 and beyond offered a classic duo of cask strength ex-bourbon or sherry casks within the teenage years. These were popular to say the least and appreciated by visitors and unfortunately in recent times bottle flippers. At one stage, it was possible to walk in and pick up a sherry cask bottling for around £75 and double your money online. Easy money indeed and the trick became increasingly popular. It’s somewhat of a shame to genuine visitors to the distillery that the bottle your own is no more. Now, this could be due to stocks or some administrative aspect, but I suspect the auction action around this release played a part or at least hastened its demise. In some ways, I cannot blame Chivas either, who tend to price their whiskies reasonable well for visitors.
Now in its place we have an Aberlour entry in the Distillery Reserve Collection, which is a single cask and again 18-years-old. This is the same range that hosts the excellent Strathisla I mentioned earlier, and this particular release was distilled on 10th December 1998 before being bottled on 8th May 2017. It’s an impressive 59.7% strength, non-chill-filtered and comes from a 2nd fill sherry butt that resulted in a healthy outturn of 828 bottles. This will set you back £60 and is actually a 50cl bottle unlike the Strathisla, which seems an odd decision. The consumer should have a consistent size across the same range surely? Doing the sums this results in a 70cl equivalent of £84 making it slightly more than the bottling it replaced, devoid of any packaging or visitor experience. As I stated in the introduction, such good things come to an end and perhaps accelerated by the flippers. It all comes down to the whisky…
Aberlour 18 year old Distillery Reserve Review
Colour: orange segments
On the nose: very forceful and pungent with alcohol that takes me towards a varnish almost paraffin quality. Breaking through this barrier there’s coco beans, vanilla, cola cubes and a malted fruit loaf. Beyond there’s orange peel, cigar, blackcurrant, blueberries and figs. With water the alcohol is subdued but I didn’t feel it was too beneficial, time is a better healer.
In the mouth: better although there is still a ferocious and rough alcohol element. There’s tobacco, vanilla, raisins and a certain dampness. Bitterness from the wood, malty and plenty of digestives. A dark chocolate leads us into the finish, but with water this becomes more of a nutty caramel.
I didn’t really enjoy this one. In my opinion, it’s unbalanced and the aforementioned Strathisla offers more for a lower price. If you like a more forceful, directed Aberlour sherry cask then perhaps it’ll do the trick, but I’m lamenting what we’ve lost.