I’ve noted on more than one occasion that I know nothing about certain distilleries, and I know I shouldn’t make a virtue out of ignorance, but of all the distilleries whose malts I’ve sat down to review I know least about Allt-A-Bhainne. Not only do I not know where it is located or how the name is pronounced but I have to keep checking to make sure I’m spelling it correctly. Well, it turns out it’s in the Speyside and is owned by Chivas Bros./Pernod Ricard, isn’t very old (founded in 1975) and, improbably, its name is pronounced exactly as it’s spelled. It produces for Chivas Bros.’ blends and I’m not sure if an official malt is even available.
This is also a 200 ml bottle from the Cadenhead’s shop in Edinburgh that was carted back for me by a friend last month along with the recently reviewed Tamdhu (and a couple of other things that’ll show up here next month). I gather it is from the set of recent small batch releases, some of which came to the US (though not this one) and a further subset of which I reviewed in early January. It was also recommended by the notorious Jolly Toper and so I expect it will be interesting at the least.
Allt-A-Bhainne 21, 1992 (54.4%; bourbon barrels; from my own bottle)
Nose: Spirity at first and then a little dusty but there are some nice floral and fruity notes lurking below. Malty notes too which come to the surface in short order. The fruit is in the berry family mostly (strawberry?) and just a little bubble-gummy with some sweet apples mixed in too. Cream and vanilla emerge with time and there’s a touch of lime under the sweetness now. With time the lime gets a little stronger. With a drop or two of water the cream expands and that dusty note comes back too.
Palate: Thick malty sweetness first on the palate and then an unexpected turn towards richer, muskier fruit than was advertised by the nose. Starts out with ripe peach and then begins to get a little tropical with a bit of mango. On the second sip there’s pepper and lime and just a bit of oaky bite. Very nice texture too. Water brings out cream on the palate too and more of the lime and pepper, but, alas, it also pulls out stronger soapy notes.
Finish: Long. The rich fruit lingers with peppery, slightly woody edges. Just a touch of soapiness as it goes–I hope water won’t make it too pronounced. And, indeed, water does it make it much more perceptibly soapy.
Comments: This was a nice surprise, especially on the palate. The nose was fine but it didn’t seem like it was going to be anything special but the combination of the malt and musky fruit on the palate is really nice. Hold the water–it’s perfectly drinkable neat and water makes the soapy notes hard to ignore.
Rating: 87 points.