Chieftain’s 1996 Allt A Bhainne 16 Year Old – Review

*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Ok, this makes the third review in a row where the whisky has come from a distillery that’s younger than I am. This is the last built-in-the-70’s review I’ll do for a while, partly because I’d like to get back to learning a little something about distilleries that pre-date the Ramones and partly because at the moment I don’t have any more whisky from distilleries built in the 70’s.

Allt A Bhainne was founded in 1975, built to be another large-scale whisky-making factory solely in the service of Chivas’ blends. Similar to another 70’s Chivas effort, Braeval, Allt A Bhainne’s process is so efficient it can be run by just one person. Being a whisky-loving, somewhat sensitive misanthrope, this sounds like a pretty heavenly job to me, though perhaps also a little lonely. Unlike Braeval, Allt A Bhainne’s thoroughly modern interior is matched by a rather sterile looking modern exterior, replete with highly stylized roof-vents that owe a little to the Doaig Pagoda roof, but look more like they belong in an industrial park. Like Braeval, Pernod-Ricard mothballed Allt A Bhainne in 2002 after taking over the Chivas line in 2001. Unlike Braeval, Pernod-Ricard re-opened Allt A Bhainne in 2005, though as before, its sole purpose was to make whisky to be used in blends.

There have been no official distillery releases from Allt A Bhainne, just the occasional independent bottling. This one, from Ian MacLeod’s Chieftain’s range was aged for 16 years in a re-fill hogshead resulting in 300 bottles of non artificially colored, non chill-filtered single malt whisky.

The Nose:  A fruity yet slightly herbaceous nose, honey, juicy grapes and tinned pears in syrup with a bit of flower blossom, fresh-mown grass and subtle mint. Behind these initial notes, slightly beery malt notes and green sawdust and soft, crushed clove from the oak provide an interesting counterpoint.

The Palate:  Slightly syrupy mouthfeel with heavily spiced, tart applesauce to start. Honeyed malt is quickly joined by lots of spice from the wood, cinnamon stick, tannic drying clove, white pepper, sweetened fennel and just a touch of mint. As on the nose, there’s an earthy, almost green hint here that’s hard to pinpoint, herbal and a little raw.

The Finish:  A very juicy yet tannic finish, more grapes, more clove, a little white pepper, and just a touch of that beery grain from the nose.

Thoughts:  A decent malt, mildly interesting because of the juicy, fruity quality mixed with earthy, heavily wood spiced notes. The sweetness does a nice job of standing up to the swell of spice on the palate and carries on into the finish. That “green”, herb-y quality makes this feel a little younger than it is despite some strong spice and tannins from the oak.

Chieftain’s 1996 Allt A Bhainne 16 Year Old, Speyside

46% ABV

Score:  81

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