Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A Fine Balance: a review of Aultmore 12 Year Old

There's something of a paradox in the world of Scotch whisky. The brain-trusts who market malt whisky lean heavily on the allure of "Old World" charm, Scots-Gaelic names and the lore often associated, rightly or wrongly, with Scotland. There are frequent appeals to "age-old" family traditions, legends of self-made men, defenders of kings, reaving Viking founders and so on...While these stories aren't always outright fabrications, they're often just partly true (at best). Single Malt whisky, as we know it today, is informed and inspired by tradition, but has benefited from being a product of the industrial age. Producers have kept some age-old traditions; the Romans were barrel-aging wine 2000 years ago, and the pot-still is hardly a modern innovation. but there's an equal amount of modern efficiency and precision in the world of scotch. Not that it's a bad thing. With the popularity of single malt scotch these days, some malts that were once the sole purview of blenders are being bottled and appreciated in their own right. Such is the case with Aultmore 12 Year Old. What was once only found in the blended whiskies of John Dewar & Sons (Dewar's White Label, Dewar's 12 Year Old, Dewar's 18 Year Old) can now be enjoyed on its own.

A Nip of the Buckie Road

A glance at the bottle of Aultmore 12 reveals the following text:

A secluded site once known for smugglers and illicit stills, the FOGGIE MOSS, conceals our water's source and filters it through gorse and heather, purifying it to the profit of AULTMORE'S refined character. Our malted barley has no hint of peat smoke, ensuring the smoothest, cleanest taste.

This rarest of SPEYSIDE classics has been distilled in handmade copper pot stills since 1897, yet for over a century it was only sold in limited editions aimed at collectors.

Sometimes a sly taste of AULTMORE could be found in a few local bars, but only if you knew to ask for "a nip of the Buckie Road."

Scottish distilleries: the expectation
Evocative prose, indeed. You would be forgiven for thinking the distillery looked like something right out of Outlander. Mayhap you can picture the Fraser clan hiding precious casks of whisky from a garrison of redcoats hell-bent on invading Lallybroch. Jamie playing it cool, Jenny giving no ground and refusing to be intimidated, Claire trying to be sensible. Something like this picture? Am I close?

The actual Aultmore distillery doesn't offer tours. It was re-built in 1971 with a more functional goal in mind; producing a consistent, reliable product to serve as a workhorse in Dewar & Sons' blends. If the marketing types want you to imagine the embodiment of scotch distilling as a brooding, quick-tempered, six foot, three inches tall, red-headed Scot like Jamie Fraser, the reality is rather mundane and less provocative. Aultmore distillery is less Jamie Fraser and more Frank Randall.

Aultmore distillery: the reality
But how does Aultmore taste? That's the important part, isn't it? Stories and imagination are all fine and good, but the quality of the product is paramount, in my humble opinion.

Tasting Notes

I have to say I was thrilled to see this bottled at a respectable 46% ABV, not chill-filtered and left at its natural colour. These may seem like little, inconsequential details, but those little details provide a very favourable first impression to this enthusiast.
  • Nose (undiluted): this is a classic Speyside, light and floral with some green fruit notes (pears, green apples, green grapes), there's a touch of vanilla, but it's balanced by a clean citrus note. It's not a bruiser like Laphroaig, but it's very well-balanced.
  • Palate (undiluted): slightly sharp arrival, medium-bodied and creamy, with more pear and green grape notes, there's a hint of cereal (barley) sweetness, but it's subdued and doesn't dominate
  • Finish: clean, medium length finish, with a slightly drying astringency, there's a bit of lingering floral honey-sweetness at the very end which makes this very easy to sip.

Adding water opens up the flavour. The nose is a little less fruity, more floral while the water allows the sweetness of the malted barley to come forward a bit. The sharp citrus notes are subdued when drinking Aultmore diluted and the vanilla and floral notes are more prominent with water. I prefered it neat, as it's bottled at 46% ABV, right in my sweet spot (anywhere from 45% to 50% ABV). This whisky is subtle, but very well-balanced. "Clean" is a word that comes to mind quite often. There are no "off" or "stray" notes. This may be a positive or negative, depending on your perspective. It's not incredibly complex, but what Aultmore does, it does very well. If you only appreciate big, bold and complex whiskies, you may find Aultmore 12 worthy of the derision that gave rise to its detractors' pet name for it; AultSNORE. I disagree. It's nice to have something in the vault that isn't a punch in the mouth. It doesn't differ much in price from Glenmorangie 10, it has a similar profile, but I'll take Aultmore over the basic Glenmorangie any day.


This whisky will not be everyone's darling. Heck, my bottle was donated to me by an online acquaintance who happens to live in my town. He had the bottle for over a year and only took two or three drams from it before deciding it wasn't for him. He offered the bottle when I asked, in a forum, if anyone had ever tried it, as I was curious. Andrew, if you're reading my silly little blog, I truly appreciate the gift. Unlike my benefactor, I enjoyed this whisky. It may not be among the smouldering, sexy, powerful whiskies of the world, like Ardbeg Uigeadail, but it's a well-crafted, clean and enjoyable drop. I'll take a nip of the Buckie Road any time.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches

Here's to cheating, stealing, fighting, and drinking.
If you cheat, may you cheat death,
If you steal, may you steal a lover's heart,
If you fight, may you fight for a friend, 
And if you drink, may you drink with me.

Slainte !

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  1. This is $80 in my neighbourhood. I've been eyeing it for a while now. Is it worth that price?

    1. Hard to say. I got it for free. It’s a very well-balanced whisky, but it’s not any kind of “bomb”. There’s no Sherry or peat. But as far as a “regular scotch”, it’s better than Glenmorangie 10, which is about $73, I think.