“My Mama always said, life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Forrest’s mama had a deeper meaning to that when she spoke those words to him. However when I drove from Keith to another small town called Aberlour these words kept swirling in my head. Here I was at the Aberlour distillery, in Scotland, for the founders tour, the culmination of which, i’d heard was a luxurious chocolate tasting experience, with their double cask beauties !
We were ushered into the Fleming room or the hospitality suit, a room which was originally the brewer’s room and got completely burnt down in a distillery explosion of 1998.
So while we savoured the Aberlour 12 Year Old, often referred to as the breakfast malt of the range, we were filled in with stories of James Fleming, the founder.
A large painting hung on the wall and it was amusing to see how the painter was a bit delirious with his history, since behind Fleming he painted the famous Aberlour Fleming bridge. This is the same bridge which we were told got built posthumously with the money he donated to the village. That flaw cannot part Fleming’s immense give back to his village, where he is still well regarded and remembered !
This was the time when my box of chocolates got unwrapped, in the manner quite contradictory to my emotion at the beginning of this tour.
Throughout the walk I kept noticing how this cozy little distillery was distinctive than the others i’d visited. Not always do you cruise through a distillery and read moral messages on the walls, its usually brand, production, distillery information. Let the deed show, the modest family motto !
I guess, the entire aura was reminiscent of a creation by a good businessman and a respectable philanthropist.
While for most parts in distilleries, the basic production process do mirror each other, barring a few details at few places. However, for me at the distillery, the most fascinating & distinguishing aspect was The Whinstone Towers. It is a system used to treat water from the distillery to ensure it is as pure as it was when it was taken from the burn. The towers are filled in with Whinstone and coke, as the water trickles down any waste is biodegraded by tiny micro-organisms living on the stones. Science, magic and a give back yet again !
With that we progressed to our box of chocolates that awaited us !
Most of the Aberlour whiskies are double casks, Bourbon & Sherry proportions vary amongst expressions, however. An experience like this allows you to understand the malt in isolation as well as at times transforms into multilayered tastes on your palate.
We began this journey straight from the stills, well what I mean is the brand new spirit, un-aged, however safe to drink at 67.6% ABV. It’s sweet, fruity, does not quite feel like whisky. In fact, some of us even called it schnapps or grappa for our friends from Italy !
Release a few drops on your hands and rub them, you instantly know on the first sniff whats it made of, your clean hands reek of MALT !
This one was paired with a delicate handmade white chocolate, with a Raspberry dust on it and coconut filling on it. This kind of a chocolate pairs well with the delicate nature of the spirit. The sweet gets enhanced and the coconut yanks out the fruit further in the whisky.
What followed ahead was the indulgent experience starting out with the Aberlour 18 Year Old.
Aberlour 18 Year Old is a double cask matured scotch whisky, which develops a complex rich character and depth owing to its maturation in both Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry casks over a period of 18 long years. A beautiful amalgamation of spice, peach, bitter orange, soft apricot, toffee, all of this, with a halo of the oak and honey.
With that as the whisky, the accompaniment to go was a milk chocolate with a lovely apricot in it. A creamy combine with the apricot flavours almost swelling on your palate. The chocolate plays beautifully on the bitter orange notes of the scotch, almost wielding it out. I would call this a ‘scoop it out pairing’.
Next in line was an expression i’d never tasted before Aberlour 15 Year Old matured solely in a Bourbon cask, 54.5% ABV, nice golden straw colour, honeyed, creamy on the mouthfeel, signature butterscotch, vanilla emanating from the Bourbon cask, mild orange zest and almonds.
This was married well with a square, neatly striped chocolate holding a mandarin cream centre. The creamy centre balances well with the smooth, honeyed and butterscotch notes of the whisky. The mandarin adds a nice zest to the combine. For me this was a ‘harmonious pairing’.
Our last whisky for the evening was a 16 Year Old Aberlour Matured exclusively in first fill Oloroso Sherry cask. 59.1% ABV. Color, was simply beautiful, deep matured amber. I would say whenever you get to enjoy this, which is only if you travel this far, only add a drop or two of water, now savour the dram with the inherent notes of gentle spiciness, plum fruitiness, raisins, nuts, hint of oak. It’s sherry in its full bloom.
A bitter chocolate with candied orange peel and it could not have been better. This synthesis brings christmas alive on your palate and you can’t help but say hallelujah !
With the finale my bent towards the sherry smashers could not be hidden, the last two expressions were without doubt available only at the distillery, however you could hand fill them for yourself.
The ritual of filling one in my own name, something that still proudly sits in my bar, bearing my name, a batch number, year of filling, 16 Year Old and the fact that it is purely been filled up in a Oloroso Sherry cask, makes the silent bottle speak volumes, it is of course Aberlour….Gaelic for ‘the mouth of a chattering burn’.