Leather. Tweed. Cigars. Poker. Whisky.
When it comes to whisky, I fell a while back. Against my will, a bar at home was stocked with elixirs rich in peat, smooth singles from the Highlands and luscious blends that needed little more than a spritz of ginger ale and a ready mouth. I assumed I wouldn’t like it – what an ass, etc.
Just as Texas Hold’em is my favourite card game, a dram of single malt is now my digestif of choice. Straight up, if you please. I’m a sucker for complex, strong flavours. This is not cordial, there’s no H2O required.
Or was I wrong (again)?
While at a tasting at Aberlour in Scotland, master distiller Douglas Cruickshank encouraged the addition of water to enhance the flavours and to bring the drink to its correct strength. Just a few drops, mind. No glugs, please.
And, naturally, he was right.
The classy A’Bunadh iteration, for example, is a gasping hit of punchy tones that, once slightly diluted, bubbles with intense spice, dried fruit and chocolate. I’m still waxing lyrical.
For all my poetry, however, I didn’t know much about how the putative ‘water of life’ was finagled. Thankfully, Mr Cruickshank was again to hand.
There is something very beautiful about whisky making. The much-lauded spirit only requires three essentials – malted barley, water and casks.
For Aberlour, the water comes from the the Lour Burn (stream) that begins its life as raindrops atop Ben Rinnes before chattering its way past the distillery to the River Spey. Douglas sources the barley locally and handpicks the oak casks (a barrel is a type of cask, for those pub quizzing friends among us) in the US (where they’ve been used for bourbon) and Spain (where they’ve been coddling Oloroso sherry). If the casks need repairing, the work is completed at the Speyside Cooperage.
The barley comes to Aberlour pre-malted, but all the other processes to make the new product – the clear spirit that is then casked – is done on site. The grain is milled to isolate the ‘grist’ – a starchy flour. Water is added and mashing begins. Fermentation is up next. The liquid is then piped into one of the four copper stills for double distillation. Once perfect, only the berry-flavoured ‘heart’ (the ‘head’ and ‘tail’ are returned to the still) is casked. And then we wait.
Aberlour is left to age for at least 10 years, but the longer it stays in the casks, the more complex the flavours become. In addition to the aforementioned A’Bunadh, the distillery’s core range includes 12, 16 and 18 year olds.
I couldn’t decide on a favourite, so I plan to drink the A’Bunadh for its kick, the 16 for its mellower flavours, the 18 because I can, and the 12 on any day ending in ‘y’. For special occasions, I’m saving the single cask, sherry aged tonic I bottled myself.
To learn more about Aberlour Whisky, including their other niche products, click here. And, if you find yourself in Speyside, be sure to book into one of the many tours the distillery offers. There’s also a brilliant walk along the Lour Burn that takes in a waterfall and a new photographic art installation by European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, David Maitland.
But wait, there’s more: coming up on the blog is a special recipe I’ve devised for a dessert using the Aberlour 12yo. It’s a doozie. Promise.
Aberlour Whiskys are available from Waitrose.
Kate travelled to Scotland as a guest of Aberlour and Pernod Ricard.
© Kate McAuley