My final distillery tour while visiting Speyside was at Aberlour. Situated in the south of Aberlour (the town with which the distillery shares its name) and just off the main road (A95), Aberlour is easily accessible to anyone traveling throughout Speyside. Only minutes from my lodgings at The Mash Tun, Aberlour was the perfect stop before I returned to England. Although, knowing that I had over five hours of driving ahead, I was unable to fully participate in the extensive tasting that concluded the tour.
Before I begin with the details of the tour, I’d like to share to little a couple of little points that stood out during the tour. Firstly, Aberlour translates into “mouth of the chattering burn”, as the distillery is nestled along the banks of a picturesque stream. Secondly, after being established in 1826, Aberlour suffered not one, but two major fires before the turn of the twentieth century. Unfortunately as a result of these fires, very little of the original distillery survived.
The tour began in the gift shop, just off the main road. By the time everyone taking the tour assembled, there were seven of us set to tour the distillery. I spent a fair amount of time chatting with a couple from America – Florida if I recall correctly – and the other members of the tour seemed to keep to the themselves. We began by walking down the driveway which followed the path of the chattering burn, and made our way into the first building. Inside was a display paying tribute to James Fleming, the founder of the distillery, and the work that he had done for the community. After his passing money was left to the community for the construction of a hospital cottage. There were also funds left for a suspension bridge over the River Spey, as a result of a child’s tragic drowning.
We were now in the distillery itself, and made our way up and down a series steps and staircases. This is certainly isn’t a tour for anyone afraid of heights, but it sure is a good way to burn off your full Scottish breakfast. As we stood in the still house we were advised that we had to refrain from taking pictures until we had made it into the tasting room. The still house contained two sets of stills, which certainly doesn’t class Aberlour as a large distillery, but large enough to produce over three million litres of new make spirit each year. New make spirit is what comes directly out of the stills and is placed into casks for aging. A spirit can only be refered to as Scotch Whisky if it meets the following criteria: It must be distilled and aged in Scotland, and it must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks. Interestingly enough, the spirit that comes out of the still is clear, and it relies on maturation in the cask to gain its colour.
Now it was time for the our tasting to begin. We were given five whiskies, and a sample of new make spirit, something that you will not find at many distilleries. Located in Warehouse No.1 , the tasting room was actually located at the end of an actual warehouse, separated only by a glass wall. We began with the new make spirit – which I had to try – and it was actually quite sweet, but at the same time, it was very potent. I continued around the board to the first two whiskies, they were each cask strength and available to be bottled on site. Having already bottled my own at The Balvenie the day prior, I passed, but the couple from America took advantage to pick up a couple of bottles as souvenirs. The fourth and fifth whiskies were standard expressions, Aberlour’s 12 and 16 Year Old bottlings. These two whiskies were very smooth, and had I not had the littlest of tastes, I’m sure I would have enjoyed them even further. The final dram was Aberlour a’Bundah, another cask strength whisky that is released in limited batches with an alcoholic content in the range of 55%-60%. The single, tiny sip I sampled of this whisky did enough to demonstrate its sheer strength. My lips and gums tingled, and my throat and stomach gently warmed, certainly a man’s whisky if there ever was one. It was heart-breaking to leave so much whisky on the table, but I had a half a day of driving ahead of me, and wasn’t willing to take any unnecessary risks. That, and it gives me a good excuse to return, because I plan on returning to Speyside someday to try some new whiskies and visit with some old friends.