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Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 63

How’s this for a bit of Wilde-ian turnabout: the only thing worse than your favorite whisky being discontinued is when it becomes a smashing success.

When the whisky in question is produced by a craft distiller, the result is bottles flying off the shelves and hitting the secondary market at extortionate prices. When the “million dollar baby” is the property of a large beverage conglomerate, one can typically count on consistent supply (albeit with variable quality) while retail prices take a series of opportunistic jumps.

The fallout is predictable: the people that love a whisky suddenly despise it, or at least its makers. A torchlit online procession is hastily organized, rallying around throaty cries of “never again.” Lists of alternatives and substitutes are promulgated. The Scotch whisky industry teaches another masterclass in golden goose killing.

This was the case with Aberlour A’bunadh. To the credit of the team, MALT has heretofore avoided jumping directly into the debate. Resisting the siren call of the page views and likes that would have surely followed a double-barreled condemnation, the A’bunadh coverage has been limited to a few glancing blows by way of passing mentions in other reviews.

The conventional wisdom states that “when a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest.” (Astoundingly, the bloke who coined this said it in 1830, anticipating social media by 150 years). However, there’s a well-known contrarian streak here at MALT. Keeping with that ethos, I have tried to gleefully embrace any opportunity to think and say and do something different than everybody else.

Thus, my rusty mental gears started their creaking rotations when I saw that A’bunadh was on sale at my local. It was obvious that trying to say something fair (not to mention new) about this whisky would be a self-defeating exercise in futility. As though one could possibly disentangle the judgment of this whisky from a maelstrom of sanctimonious outrage surrounding it! Once it became clear to me that I couldn’t possibly write a review of A’bunadh, I knew that I had to write a review of A’bunadh.

I’m nearly certain not a single MALT reader is unfamiliar with this expression, but – for the purposes of formality – a brief description will now commence:

“A’bunadh” is said to mean “the original” in Gaelic, though this (and every other aspect of this whisky) seems to be the subject of some debate. It is described, officially, as “sherried and intense.” To quote a young English poet, “that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Matured entirely in sherry casks and not chill filtered, it is bottled at cask strength. A’bunadh does not carry an age statement but is released in batches, reportedly from casks between five and 25 years of age.

Mark last reviewed a bottle of Batch #37 back in 2012, describing it as “cracking value for money” at £35. The major controversy surrounding this expression stems from the subsequent series of price increases, specifically mid-2018’s jump from an MSRP of around £50 to the “new normal” of £80. The worldwide interwebs dot com did its usual thing when the news broke, with all manner of digital chest pounding and hand wringing ensuing. The collective ire of the whisky commentariat was directed at parent company Pernod Ricard, with longtime partisans vowing to swear off A’bunadh for good.

A wise primary school teacher once counseled parents: “Don’t believe everything your children say about me, and I won’t believe everything they say about you.” As an American, I bear this in mind whenever a Brit talks about a Frenchman, or vice-versa. With that caveat: Adam mellifluously evoked the perceived Gallic attitude at play here. It’s a French take on the coarse, inhuman indifference to the well-being of your fellow man endemic to the outer boroughs of New York; “Le Fug Youse” as a late writer (far better than I’ll ever be) aptly put it.

Still: as a believer in the moderately-regulated free market economy, I am loathed to jump on the bandwagon. A’bunadh doesn’t exist in a vacuum; among NAS cask-strength sherried Speyside malts, it is competing with Macallan’s increasingly dear trophy bottlings and Glenfarclas 105, to name but two. Point being: we’re consumers in free countries, and we’re empowered to buy other products if we don’t see value for money. Noortje advised that the aggrieved parties should look towards independent bottlings of Aberlour, which is good counsel more generally (so long as one can find them).

Playing the most diabolical devil’s advocate I can conjure: we, the whisky consuming public, don’t “own” these whiskies. They may be our favorites, or our dad’s favorites, or our dad’s dad’s favorites, but that doesn’t make them our property. Their lawful owners (those who risked their financial capital to buy the distilleries and associated intangibles such as brands and trademarks) can charge as little or as much for them as they think the market will bear. Sudden jumps in MSRP risk alienating a price-conscious segment of the drinking population, but they might also attract an (ahem) less price-conscious segment of the drinking population… and who wants a bunch of cheapskates for customers?

All this to say: cool it. Channel your inner Frenchman (or woman) and give a resigned shrug, palms facing upwards, when you notice that the price of your go-to whisky has been raised 60%, just cause. “People just ain’t no good,” and there are other whiskies on the shelf. You’ve been gifted the golden opportunity to find something else, something perhaps even better than A’bunadh! I’m sorry for your loss, but also: you’re welcome!

I don’t know that any of this is a direct contribution to the debate, so much as a contribution to the meta-debate: the debate about the debate. And yet, at the heart of it all sits a bottle of whisky, which can (and must) be opened, smelled, tasted, and judged on its own merits. Laden with the weight of the above (and exhausted with my endless slog through a morass of craft bourbon), I have breached the crimson wax seal. Here we go…

This is batch #63, bottled at 61%. This bottle has “2018/05/03” laser-etched on the back. I paid $80 for a bottle on sale, though the price has recently been put back up to $90. The Whisky Exchange have batch #62 available for £79.95, or you can take a pot luck approach with Amazon for £79.80 and see what batch number lands on your doorstep.

Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 63 – review

Color: Orange-tinged light chestnut.

On the nose: Sherried and intense, innit? Sticky toffee pudding. Salted smoked caramel. Chocolate fudge. Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Chocolate-covered cherries. Did I mention chocolate? Oh, here comes pecan pie filling! There’s a hint of freshly-planed pine wood banging around in there as well. A whiff of cask funkiness comes through in the form of a damp seaweed note, though not enough to detract from the overwhelmingly rich gooeyness of this soporific postprandial tidal wave.

In the mouth: This is really quite pert to start, with a note of mandarin orange. Suddenly, a fiery alcoholic heat overwhelms the palate. At midpalate this becomes nearly unendurably hot and fierce before easing into a long finish of Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix. Dilution brings this nearly into line, with dried fruits and cocoa notes punching and counterpunching above a molten sea of alcoholic heat. It’s the distilled equivalent of the scene at the end of Star Wars Episode III when Obi-Wan and Anakin battle it out above the volcanic rivers of Mustafar.

Conclusions

The mother of all cask strength sherry bombs. It’s not a style that appeals to everyone, though it certainly has its acolytes. An evening ender, I write at the end of an evening. Once you’ve gone A’bunadh, you can’t go back.

Is it worth $80, the same as Glenfarclas 105? I think so. $90, same as the Macallan Classic Cut? Perhaps. More than that? I’ll buy it again, or perhaps I won’t. You’ll buy it again, or somebody will, at the current price or higher. Or you’ll buy something else. Life goes on. “Nous sommes tous des fleurs planteé sur cette terre que Dieu cuielle en son temps.”

Score: 8/10 for me, but really (your opinion)/10.

Lead image from the Whisky Exchange and there are commission links within this review, but this never affects our opinion.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

  1. Lachlan says:

    The price increase was so sudden and steep though and it seems to have been done to make way for two NAS’s that have entered the market Aberlour Casg Annamh at 48% and Aberlour Triple Cask at 40% so no wonder the paying public have been up in arms. The ratings for A’bunadh are now skewed as people are angry about the price.

    Will I still buy it? Yes, if it is on offer from Amazon.co.uk for £60. At the price it is now are there more interesting prospects, arguably yes Old Perth 22yo 1996 was £75 the whisky broker have a 22 yo Distilled at Speyside Distillery for £58 that will be bumped up with delivery but still makes it cheaper than the A’Bunadh when not on deal. Meanwhile Tamdhu Batch Strength is £60 and 58.8 % Vol. They’ve shot themselves in the foot and opened our eyes to the existence of other options!

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Lachlan, thanks for weighing in with some good suggestions. My local hits you (me) about $90 for the Tamdhu Batch Strength, making it a perfect comparison for A’bunadh. Maybe a future MALT review? Cheers again for stopping by.

  2. Phil
    Phil says:

    Pernod-Ricard have form with massive spikes in price….they have done similar things to Jameson with the recently re-issued 18 year old and have repackaged the Midleton Barry Crockett which I am sure means a hefty price rise if the Dair Ghaelach range is anything to go by.

    Taking currency conversion into account you paid around £62 for your bottle which I believe is a fair price, in line with offerings from Tamdhu, Benriach, Glendronach to name a few. I think Pernod-Ricard did get their pricing wrong once we hit the heady heights of £80 ($105) which opens up a world of better value (in my humble opinion) whiskies – Rebreast 12 cask strength, Glendronach 18 etc. They even crazily reduced the size of the Aberlour 18 bottle to 50cl and are charging well over £100 for that.

    As you have stated there are plenty of options at all price levels in whisky but I do think Aberlour/Pernod-Ricard have inadvertently pushed many away from their products through poorly conceived pricing. I stated in a previous review there is an opportunity cost in every transaction…that cost for me is now too high when looking at A’bunadh.

    Good piece though Taylor…although, lose the french…to quote Blades of Glory ‘No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative!’

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Phil, appreciate the compliment. Your point is well-taken: at the current price, A’bunadh has put itself in a league with some more serious competition. A difficult part of writing this was attempting to isolate my thoughts on this whisky from not only the specific price increase debate, but the broader context of “what else could I have at this cost?”

      Respectfully, the French stays put, though reviewing this just now makes me realize it should have been “planteés.” If there’s an immutable law of the universe, it must be that someone trying to sound clever by using a quote in a foreign language must suffer a typographical error in the reproduction of that quote.

      Thanks again!
      TC

    2. Welsh Toro says:

      Nice one Phil. Totally agree. My sherry bomb choice has been a rather regular Glenlivet 11 by Signatory. I’ve had a couple and no flaws. It’s cask strength and good value around £50.

  3. Graham says:

    Taylor, I really enjoyed this review, and particularly the debate about the debate. I generally feel that there are so many whiskies in the world it seems a shame to keep drinking any “favorite” rather like reading the same book over and over. One interesting comment on price is that, in the UK, once you hit £80 many of the distillery bottle-your-own choices become available and with a little charm the staff will mail them out directly.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Graham, thanks for the kind words. I share your FOMO on the old favorite vs. new whisky conundrum. Unfortunately the bottle-your-own choices are not an option for us here stateside, but (as noted above) there are plenty of official bottlings of sherried whisky – not to mention the independents – that are accessible around the $90 A’bunadh price.

      Cheers!
      TC

  4. NOTNICE_75 says:

    Alright Taylor? Enjoying the weather? After the vortex, we’re sending some molten ice your way later today. You’re going to need that A’bunadh! Alternatively, the Glengoyne Cask Strength can be had for a rather more agreeable $65.00 (at least, on shelves in the Quad Cities)…it’s not quite as rich nor as viscous as the Aberlour, and feels like a more significant proportion of relatively young whiskies…but for the ticket price, it’s a worthwhile consideration in the the NAS sherry bomb category. Cheers mate!

  5. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    Alright NOTNICE, good to hear from you again. Survived the polar vortex with all fingers and toes accounted for; more than one dram was consumed.

    Thanks for the recommendation on the Glengoyne. Looks like it runs $70 around here. Another one for the NAS cask strength sherried substitutes list!

  6. Welsh Toro says:

    Provocative stuff Taylor. Some might say fighting talk. We’ll dispense with the Frenchy stuff (I know they like their Aberlour) and simply say, with some old fashioned British candour, that Pernod Ricard are taking the piss. I’m not that bothered in the scheme of things. There are far too many interesting things in the world to get too upset about a NAS sherry bomb. Nevertheless, this whole business deserves a little scrutiny.

    A’bunadh was an interesting whisky because it proved that NAS (young) whisky could be very fine providing it was whacked up to cask strength to disguise any deficiencies. For £40 quid what’s not to like? At £80 quid it tastes half as good. We don’t have to buy it though, as you say. Like all good free market theory, though, there’s a fly in the ointment. Here, in good old Blighty where all this shit is actually made, you can’t buy Classic Cut and only a rich man or idiot would pay Macallan prices. There’s Glenfarclas 105, which still retails for £50 but I don’t like as much as A’bunadh. I actually buy independent sherry bombs, with age statements, that are cheaper and better. Where does this leave us?

    I’m not going to buy it anymore and that’s true of everyone I know that drinks whisky. There’s a lot of people I don’t know that drink whisky and I suspect it’s the same for them. Golden Goose indeed. A’bunadh used to be on sale in supermarkets. Not any more. Your average Joe is not going to pay £80+ for whisky. They thought they could get away with it but it’s a horrendous own goal. Each batch used to sell fast but batch 62 has been hanging around and Amazon were selling it for £60 over Christmas in order to shift it.

    So, be careful what you wish for. A’bunadh is good but not that good. That is true of Aberlour in general and it has not gone unnoticed that the 18 year old has also jumped in price and at 43% it’s not competitive (Macallan they ain’t). It’s not demand Taylor, they just take the piss. Just for the record I have some Batch 62, not one of the better ones, 86/100. Very enjoyable review. Cheers. WT

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Welcome back, WT! Thanks for the thoughts on all this. I’ve recently been reflecting on the “premiumisation” debacle at Mortlach. Diageo put the price up, nobody bought it, they put the price back down. Hopefully Pernod Ricard can be similarly convinced. As the volume of comments here shows, there’s no shortage of substitutes, nor any shortage of unhappy customers looking to make the swap. I guess the point of this review was to say that A’bunadh is good high-octane sherried malt if you like that sort of thing, and what you pay for it (or refuse to pay for it) is between you and the Man from Galilee. Thanks again for the engagement! Regards, TC

  7. French Whisky Lover says:

    “Nous sommes toutes des fleurs plantées sur cette Terre que Dieu cueille en son temps” is the correct spelling 😉 whatever that really means…

    Personnally, I’d say Pernod-Ricard simply raise their price just like ALL other distilleries in the meantime. Ok, it might be a strong increase in a short time, but it just follows the general trend.
    It’s even possible A’bunadh is a normaly priced product in a few years time. If not, why would they care ? You buy it, they win, you buy the Casg Anamh or the new other NAS instead, they win. You don’t buy them, someone else will. Don’t worry for them, they will sell their stuff, because whisky lovers are not rational and because Edrington does the same with whisky that is not of better quality (Macallan included…).

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Now THAT’S the French ‘tude I was looking for!

      Seriously though, thanks for the correction. It’s a quote from a Théophane Vénard letter reproduced by Danh Vo. Look it up- it’s beautiful and benefits from context.

      TC

      1. French Whisky Lover says:

        Thank you Taylor, I will.
        cheers

        (got an ad today for the new Macallan “Concept Number 1″… 159 € for a 40% NAS… Hilarious. Lovely bottle though. That’s probably the concept or I am too vulgar to understand it. Perhaps.)

  8. Juju says:

    People have too much time on their hands whining. Buy it if you like, if the price deters you, find another one. Simple. I don’t see what’s so hard with that. The good – and bad – thing today is that we are inundated with a lot of whisky. Surely, you can find a suitable replacement. I’ve always thought that the journey is what’s most important. Sure, we stop along the way and smell the flowers but nothing lasts forever. This is your chance to finally get on another train and move on. I’ve had this and it ain’t bad. It didn’t shake my world either, so I’m fine without it. Ymmv, of course.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      That’s the practical conclusion, Juju. And I don’t disagree essentially. However, someone else might say “people have too much time on their hands, writing voluminous whisky reviews.” We are here to stop and dwell and cogitate and debate. Thanks to you, and thanks to everyone for their engagement!

      1. dutchguy89 says:

        €32,50 excluding shipment. Including shipment it’ll cost you around €40,- To compare: The glenfarclas 25 costs €100,-

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