*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Once again we wade into those murky waters of Scotch whisky pronunciation and etymology. Allt-A-Bhainne is apparently pronounced “”allt-a-vanya.” Alternately, there seems to be no small amount of support for pronouncing it “allt-a-vane.” Just to be on the safe side, if for some reason, you feel the need to pronounce this one in public, try to find a sort of half-mumbled middle ground between the two. That should cover it. Whatever you do, do not try to pronounce it with a “b”, like “allt-a-bain.” These days, there are always snobbish whisky bloggers lurking about, most of ’em just waiting nervously to show someone up with their commanding knowledge of whisky minutia.
As for its meaning, Allt-A-Bhainne is Scottish Gaelic for “burn of milk”, meaning a creek, stream, river, or some kind of watercourse that flows with…milk. Where this name comes from, I have no idea. Obviously, there is no river made of milk, and you wouldn’t think a distillery would be interested in drawing attention to a nearby cloudy water source. Perhaps it’s just a bit of ready-for-the-label poetry: a bracing rill of water made sweet by its tumbling passage through the life-affirming highland heather. (That one’s not for free, Chivas/Pernod.)
So that’s that. This independently bottled expression from the Creative Whisky Company is a little over half as old as the distillery itself. Allt-A-Bhainne was founded in 1975 by Chivas Bros./Seagrams. It’s sole purpose was making whisky for blends. Today the distillery is owned by Pernod Ricard and its sole purpose is still pretty much to make whisky for blends, specifically the oh-so-popular-in-India 100 Pipers. This Exclusive Malts 1993 Allt-A-Bhainne 22 Year Old was matured in a ex-bourbon re-fill hogshead.
The Nose: Quite sweet and initially a little simplistic. Lots of honey and sweetened grain cereal, malt syrup, and brown sugars. There’s a fruity sweetness, too, but it’s less prevalent; apple juice and a little tinned pineapple. Subtler notes of vanilla syrup, warm cinnamon, a little clove and oak – both damp boards and polished furniture. A faint whiff of pepper and rubber tucked well in the background. While this doesn’t necessarily need water, adding a little bit plays up the grain and spice while toning down a bit of the overall sweetness.
The Palate: A somewhat lush, oily mouthfeel initially full of more sugared sweetness. More honey, brown sugar and fruit juice – apple, tangerine, and pineapple. Like the nose, that sweetness dominates the palate with a bit of vanilla syrup, perhaps a little orgeat as well, leading to some spicier notes. Much more oak here, grippy and rich, with greenish spices of vanilla bean, clove, coriander, nutmeg, and peppercorns. A little edgy and astringent towards the end. With a little water, the sweetness, wood, and spice feel a little more integrated and smooth.
The Finish: Not overlong, but not too short either. Continued tannic oak, honey, clove and pepper with a faint burnt/ashy catch towards the end.
Thoughts: Well, this one’s a tricky one to describe. The overwhelming impression is one of sweetness, but it’s not necessarily an overly sweet whisky…if that makes any sense. 22 years has done some very nice things to the rather solid, workman-like profile of Allt-A-Bhainne, but it does remain a little narrowly focused. A few odd edges appear with this one as well, which, for me, holds it back a bit. It’s nice to try an older whisky from this relatively young distillery, but ultimately, that’s not enough reason to lavish it with higher praise.