Monday, 7 November 2011

Let The Battle Commence... Aberlour 12 Year & Cadenhead’s Aberlour 21 Year

Well it was inevitably going to happen; this blog-post is my first bourbon versus sherry wood comparison. For the uninitiated, whisky is matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years. The majority of a whisky’s flavour and its entire colour come from the time in the cask. The more you immerse yourself in the world of whisky the more different types of cask you will hear about; from Madeira to Amarone, from hogsheads to puncheons – there are a lot. However two types of cask are most widely used to apply flavour to a whisky. The first are ex-bourbon barrels from the United States, these give vanilla flavours to a whisky and the other are sherry barrels from Spain that can give an array of flavours but dried fruits and spices are classic examples. Originally sherry casks were the dominant cask type as they were more accessible than bourbon casks, but with better transport links bourbon has overtaken sherry in the race to supply the Scottish whisky industry. I have been told that a bourbon cask is about the fifth of the price of a sherry cask, hence why they now dominate the industry (although a revival of the sherry cask is well underway). In fact, George Grant of Glenfarclas told an audience of a tasting I was at that the sherry industry now exists solely to provide barrels for the whisky industry, as in this day-and-age fewer people are drinking sherry. Commonly a combination of each cask is used to get the right balance of flavour. Today I will be reviewing a sherry cask and a bourbon cask and comparing the two.

Aberlour 12 Year Old
48% - Predominately Sherry Cask – Exclusive French Bottling
Nose: Toffee and red apple (toffee apple?) with rich spices tingling.
Palate: Rich and dry with raisins, cinnamon and that recurring toffee flavour.
Finish: Slight off-wood I sometimes get with sherry cask whiskies, but rescued with ample amounts of wood spice.
Overall: A good whisky, classic sherry flavours, a little uncomplex but would be a good whisky to have if you don’t want to consider it too deeply.

Cadenhead’s Aberlour 21 Year Old
57.5% - Bottled by Cadenhead’s – Bourbon Hogshead – 282 Bottles Produced
Nose: A buttery’s worth of butter, spiced with nutmeg and vanilla, with hints of that classic Aberlour red apple.
Palate: Creamy with all that butter from the nose, heavy on the vanilla and spice.
Finish: Long but hot thanks to the high ABV, tobacco concludes this boisterous dram.
Overall: The rich butter and vanilla qualities offset with the spice lead to an intriguing and questioning whisky. The 12 year old was pleasant but this whisky is the winner. Probably the biggest unpeated bourbon cask whisky I’ve tried.

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