You can be forgiven for not recognizing the name Aultmore in the pantheon of Speyside whisky distilleries. Known locally as the "rarest of Speyside," the spirit from Aultmore distillery has long been a key component of Dewar's Blended Scotch and until recently, nearly all of the distillery's 2.1 million litre yearly output has been blended out with only a scant amount of single malt made available to independent bottlers.
Founded in 1897 by distillery magnate Alexander Edward, the distillery owes its name to a Gaelic phrase, "An t-Allt Mòr," meaning "big burn" referring to its water source, the Auchinderran burn located in the oft mist-shrouded area known as the Foggie Moss. Located just north of the town of Keith on the rolling road to Buckie, the distillery has led a mostly quiet life aside from a few closures attributed to the "Pattison whisky crash", the First World War, and a renovation in the late 1960s. The distillery changed owners four times over its life so far yet it has long been associated with John Dewar & Sons Ltd., now a subsidiary of global drinks giant Bacardi Ltd.
Despite its rarity, for more than 100 years it's known to have been a secret dram of locals and Buckie fishermen, who knew to ask at nearby pubs and inns for "a nip of the Buckie Road." In fact, with the exception of the 2004 release of a 12 year old at 43% ABV, there have been no original distillery labelled bottlings of single malt from Aultmore in recent history. A handful of independent bottlings of Aultmore have surfaced now and again but those were always destined to be limited runs with a set number of bottles.
Picking up on the growth opportunity and global demand for single malt, John Dewar & Sons Ltd. announced the release of the "Last Great Malts" range in late 2014 which would finally offer distillery label bottlings from 5 of the company's distilleries. Aultmore alone is scheduled to have 12, 21 and 25 year old offerings rolled out through travel retail and conventional shops.
Whisky fans may quibble with the marketing aspects and the similarity of the Last Great Malts strategy to that of Diageo's successful Classic Malts of Scotland product range but, from where I sit, this new range is a welcome addition to the landscape and I'm hopeful in my expectations that it won't be a collection of throw-away and garbage whisky.
The emphasis on quality is apparent in this new release of 12 year old Aultmore. From the packaging, to the on-trend practice of bottling non chill-filtered with natural colour at 46% ABV, this whisky has all the markings of a "new classic" but how will it perform in the glass?
Nose: On the lighter side with fresh, fruity and floral aromas that suggests pears, apples, Gorse flowers, and a touch of vanilla.
Palate: Light to medium-bodied and almost buttery which is pleasantly surprising given the delicate aromas on the nose. More apples and pears on the palate along with a dollop of vanilla custard anchored by toasted, woody, spice.
Finish: A brief, drying, fade out showing toasted hazelnuts, coconut and vanilla flavours with slowly receding fruitiness.
Overall: Until I received this bottle of Aultmore 12 year old, I can honestly say that Aultmore distillery didn't register in my list of Speyside distilleries. I could vaguely recall a Gordon & MacPhail bottling a few years back but aside from how well it paired with a vanilla poached pear I'd be hard-pressed to share anything more helpful. A quarter dram into the glass of this latest expression and I was hooked. Charmingly straight-forward, this aperitif-style whisky strikes an elegant balance that conjures memories of similar tasting malts from Glen Elgin or even Glen Grant. Recommended for those who love Dewar's and want to go a little deeper as well as those looking for a subtle and graceful malt to add to the shelf. Reasonably priced at $79.95 in the LCBO, the Aultmore 12 year old is a lovely introduction to this lesser-known distillery.
Thank you to Narrative PR for the sample bottle.