As the coming nuptials of my brother-in-law approach, I am reminded of the second dram he introduced me to, back when my knowledge of scotch started and stopped with Johnnie Walker. Not one to play anything cautiously, he first had me take a glass of Laphroaig 10 year. Amazingly I wasn’t dissuaded, so his second recommendation was an a’bunadh at a raucous 59.9% ABV. I remember that the burn was like nothing I had experienced before – carefully painting every recess of my mouth with boiling tar – and I also remember being amazed and shocked that swallowing that blazing liquid inferno had no negative effect on my throat… filling me instead with a comforting, warming glow. “That was not like taking shots,” I remember thinking. “This is the way alcohol is meant to be enjoyed.” It would not be far off to say that those two glasses of nectar launched my fascination with single malt, and led directly to my writing this blog.
I look forward to sharing a bottle of something single malt and Scottish – perhaps even an a’bunadh – with my brother-in-law as he
buckles on that ball and chain is welcomed into the arms of wedded bliss.
I wish I could review every batch of a’bunadh, but I would be literally drinking nothing BUT a’bunadh. This bottle of Batch 57 caught my eye during my last trip to my favorite liquor store, and reminded me that I haven’t reviewed a batch in awhile. Checking past posts I see that I’ve missed 15 (!) prior batches, as my last review was Batch 41. At a resounding 60.7% ABV, this is also the strongest a’bunadh I’ve tried. As always, this is aged exclusively in Spanish oloroso sherry casks and bottled at cask strength with no chill filtration.
Nose: Deeply raisiny, with more rancio and balsamic than prior batches. STRONG nose tickle – need to keep nose out of the glass. Smells drier – less fresh/vibrant fruit and more oakiness and dried fruit. Deep in the glass – if you dare – there is a layer of unctuous gooey caramel and fudge brownie.
Palate: Syrupy body. Salted caramel, and… OH GOD IT BURNS. Ok… once that’s out of the way, the seared remnants of my tongue pick up deep sugary oak (maple syrup but not maple), dusty dried prunes and raisins, faint fig jam, sawdust, and birch beer.
Finish: A layer of sooty charcoal that resolves into mouth-drying tannins, cocoa nibs, and an odd absence of fruit. Further sips confirm – lots of chocolate and oak, no fruit. Weird.
With Water: Several drops of water amps up the nose tickle, but also sweetens the aroma, adding fudgy frosting and a touch more fruit. It still burns like fire on the tongue, but the few fruit notes are brighter – more jelly than jam. The finish picks up a nice apple/cinnamon note, and isn’t quite as dry. This batch benefits immensely from water. At this ABV you could probably use splashes instead of drops, but taste as you go.
Overall: I have to say, as much as I love a’bunadh, this is not my favorite batch. I’m a sucker for big, fresh fruit in my sherried drams, or heavily jammy/concentrated fruit flavors. This has neither. Although the chocolate notes are welcome, and the flavor is as powerful and dense as always, the whole comes across as drier, woodier, and with less fruit than usual. Reminds me more of a mid-aged (~15 yr) Glenfarclas than an Aberlour. Still a good dram, just not up to my usual a’bunadh standards