It must have been some discussion when Billy Walker assembled his faithful team and highlighted Glenallachie distillery as their prized target, or GlenAllachie as its now known. A fair summary would be that as a distillery is relatively obscure and under the radar. One of several within the Chivas stable assembled several decades ago to produce for blends and a faithful supporter ever since.
Why GlenAllachie is for another piece, but Malt likes to speculate that Allt-a-Bhainne may have appeared on the Walker radar given that the prize of Tormore was too high. When I posted a picture of this Douglas Laing Old Particular release it prompted several comments on my Instagram channel. Strange I thought, but reading these there does seem to be love out there for Allt-a-Bhainne, which I find reassuring. Scanning the memory banks did not reveal a disappointing whisky from this distillery that is only really seen thanks to the sterling work from the independent sector and the occasional single cask release from Chivas.
In whisky, throughout my journey and speaking with other enthusiasts we all have our secret, guilty pleasures. For some it’s Dalmore, others Dufftown and so on. Point being there are some distilleries we feel slightly ashamed about enjoying. It takes a brave individual – or a Tomore4 – to come out of the closet and state they really find a distillery such as Glendullan pleasurable. The stigma attached to some distilleries I find interesting, or even expanded to a certain type of whisky such as a blend or grain. Even now, to say you enjoy a grain distillery will receive a look of disgust from some onlookers.
Whisky still clearly has a fashionable element. Some brands become buoyant, others struggle to maintain symmetry and a presence, whilst others sink slowly below consciousness. It’s part of the greater game where in this current era the actual liquid itself somehow is pushed aside. The pleasure from opening and sharing a bottle of whisky has become somewhat redundant and dismissed. I often wonder with fertile sales for more limited releases how many are opened or stockpiled for a future portfolio. When was the last time you read an Arran Smugglers’ review for instance?
We’re doing Douglas Laing a disservice here as their own branding is distinctive and informative. Unlike official releases, the independent bottlers exist on the quality of their produce. Given how competitive the realm is now with new bottlers appearing on an almost monthly basis, quality remains key as does affordability. This teenage Allt-a-Bhainne will set you back around £60 – if you can locate an example – and was distilled in July 2000, before being bottled September 2016. Heralding from sherry butt DL11338, a modest 273 bottles were extracted at 48.4% strength.
Douglas Laing’s 2000 Allt-a-Bhainne 16 year old review
Colour: a light golden haze.
On the nose: a fruity mix of oranges and red apples, layered with raisins and honey. There is a flavoursome twist of lemon and then marzipan, cracked black pepper. There’s a buttery aspect that works well alongside oat biscuits and chocolate gingers. It’s pleasant and unfolds nicely without ever being forceful.
In the mouth: the cask has been gentle, caressing the spirit and adding definition without overwhelming. A lasting gentle toffee finish is my lasting memory, but prior to this there’s a base of crushed nuts, a crunchy vanilla crème brulee, red apples, rhubarb and cranberries. Cask char, buttery pancakes and cinnamon bark – all following a smooth order.
I’ve never been disappointed by this distillery but in stating such, I am slightly non-plussed. Drinking this Allt-a-Bhainne delivered a wide range of emotions. The question of sherry casks being used just because and their real purpose. Bizarrely, memories of what Glenmorangie whisky is today and how such a minor player as Allt-a-Bhainne can rise up and really put an established name in its place. The beauty of a single cask indeed comes into it and whilst there’s nothing to dislike with this whisky, I also felt slightly cold and disenchanted – perhaps its the autumn change setting in? Still, its above average and very drinkable if lacking that touch of class to elevate it up the Malt Christmas wish list. Thanks, Allt-a-Bhainne, it’s been emotional.
Thanks to Michael at the Carnegie Whisky Cellars for the sample.