Time for one of the more unexpected releases during 2018. We always like a surprise here on Malt; especially from an overlooked distillery such as Allt-á-Bhainne, which is one of the Chivas workhorses.
A 1970’s construct that has had a relatively obscure existence since its foundation in 1975. A fact that is mentioned a couple of times on the bottle which I hope doesn’t mislead anyone into thinking that this is a remarkably old whisky. Far from it in fact. This is another of the relatively young Chivas attempts at launching into the single malt market with an unknown distillery. Much along the lines of the bargain-priced Glen Keith Distillery Edition that was solid for the price, if unspectacular.
This Allt-á-Bhainne, unfortunately, doesn’t have the luxury of a cheap asking price. Generally, you’ll find this retailing way beyond the Glen Keith’s asking price of £20. It seems to have landed at retail nearing £40 for a No Age Statement single malt from an obscure distillery. Bit of a hard sell for the marketing team on this release who have also given us the classic Longmorn revamp.
The entry price is a retail tactic as after a few weeks on sale at this price you can then discount, heavily and legally. And if there’s a whisky that sells in the UK it is a discounted release or a special offer. Needless to say, I’ve seen this Allt-á-Bhainne with as much £10 off at some supermarkets in an attempt to make it more palatable. I purchased this bottle during an online special for just £21, although Amazon does have it available currently for £27. If you prefer London’s biggest then the Whisky Exchange are slightly more expensive at £33.75. These are commission links to help Malt, but after reading this review you won’t want to make that purchase. Although someone did purchase a Jura Seven Wood after my review, so you never know.
On a side note, we are thinking about a couple of Malt tastings in 2019 which would feature both sides of the coin. The high scoring whiskies versus the real bottom feeders that no one should endure. This Allt-á-Bhainne sadly is a long way off a gold star here. The distillery itself has very little history of interest. We could talk about its mothballing in 2002 or the recent investment into the site? Neither are very stimulating and even Chivas on this release have abbreviated the name to AAB making it seem like a bottling for a Dutch football team. Jokes aside this is a very poor whisky. I’m going to break with our normal structure and jump straight into the review and talk more in the conclusions.
Allt-á-Bhainne Whisky – review
In the mouth: Honey, a subdued ham hock and sweet peat with outdated apples. A decayed vanilla pod, white pepper. That’s your lot really. Very timid, weak, young and flat. An empty soulless experience.
On the nose: A timid peat that doesn’t stick around for too long. Apple, caramel, smoke and that touch of damp cardboard in all youthful peated NAS. And that is your lot – don’t expect anything else.
This is extremely disappointing. For a distillery that I’ve enjoyed via various independent releases, this official edition feels misjudged, overpriced and offers very little. A threadbare nosing and tasting experience. There’s not a single positive aspect to this release and another misstep from Chivas.
The peated aspect is not a comfortable fit. Reviving memories of the extremely synthetic Ailsa Bay concept from William Grant & Sons. It similarly feels engineered and forced. Ailsa Bay was more palatable yet remained disappointing. For the record I poured my Ailsa Bay bottle on a fire during the Speyside Festival and then smashed the bottle. Needless to say, they’ve listened and gone back to deliver a new and improved recipe.
Both whiskies exist to tap into the peated dynamic that is so popular nowadays. Allt-á-Bhainne’s peated level is somewhere between Bruichladdich and Bowmore but comes across like dirty peated pond water. Ok, close to Bruichladdich in reality, but at least that distillery pulls it off somehow with strong branding.
Allt-á-Bhainne just doesn’t work in this guise. Shameful, as there are good casks out there, but once again we have the owner and official bottler intent on driving down costs in pursuit of profit. The market is buoyant – for peated especially – but after you’ve bought this release once you’ll never return. And where is the brand and future in that? Absolutely nowhere.
Flavour has been sacrificed for the bottom line. And the bottom line here is that this Allt-á-Bhainne is just garbage. Even at the bargain price, I picked this bottle up for, there isn’t any sense of value or satisfaction. You can pick up blends and single malts for less that offer far more. This release won’t stop me from picking up further Allt-á-Bhainne from the independent bottlers, but for the official range hopefully, this is the first and last attempt. Just enough peat to spark a riot.