Aberlour: Inside the Distillery

Cat Byers |

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What is it that makes whisky such a bewitching drink? We headed to the Aberlour Distillery in Speyside, Scotland to find out...

Few drinks evoke such passionate devotion as whisky - George Bernard Shaw described it as ‘liquid sunshine', Margaret Thatcher eschewed sleep in favour of a double, and Ava Gardner wished to die with a glass in her hand. As more and more people begin to embrace whisky (including rising numbers of women, breaking down the Sean Connery-esque stereotype), we thought it high time we went behind the scenes at one of Scotland's best distilleries. Nestled in the beautiful, dramatic scenery of Aberdeenshire, Aberlour village is where the Lour burn meets the River Spey, giving the area exceptionally pure, soft spring water. The distillery is known for producing subtle and elegant whiskies, and is one of the most consistently awarded single malt whisky brands in the world, receiving more than 185 awards for the range since the 1980s!

What struck us most on our visit was the infectious sense of community and enthusiasm at the distillery. The blenders and distillers here tend to stay for life, and are often not the first person in their family to work at Aberlour. The Distillery Manager is passionately devoted to the product, and this shows in every bottle they create.

Aberlour-49 copy Aberlour-23 copy [caption id="attachment_4481" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-50 copy Burial place of James Fleming, founder of Aberlour[/caption]

A Brief History of Aberlour

The distillery was founded by James Fleming in 1879. The son of a local farmer, Fleming had originally been a grain dealer, but his custom with many whisky distillers inspired him to create his own range. He chose the site on which the distillery still stands for its reliable supply of pure, soft spring water, and the mysterious heritage of this 1,400 year old community. It seems he had made a good choice - within a year,the distillery was capable of producing 7,273 litres of whisky a week. Fleming continued to improve Aberlour and support the local community until his death in 1895, and was honoured with a plaque in the village cemetery. Every year on the anniversary of the founding of the distillery, employees visit the plaque to share a bottle of Aberlour with the spirit of James Fleming. Aberlour-21 copy Aberlour-20 copy [caption id="attachment_4483" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-46 copy Linn of Ruthie, on the Burn of Aberlour[/caption]

Creating the Whisky

Despite the complexity of flavours in whisky, only three ingredients are necessary to create it: barley, yeast and water. As a result, all of these must be of the highest quality. Aberlour's water from the Burn of Aberlour is particularly pure, while the barley and yeast comes from trusted suppliers and is checked regularly for consistent quality. Firstly, the barley is transformed into malt through a process of germination, which involves soaking and drying. The malt is milled into a course flour, then added to warm water in the mash tun. Here it is stirred for a few hours, until the starch in the malt turns into sugars. This sugary liquid is then drained through the seive-like floor of the mash tun. This liquid is cooled, and transferred into a wash back to ferment once yeast has been added. The sugar converts to alcohol during this process, and the overall flavour of the spirit is altered by the length of the fermentation. Next step is the distillation, which occurs in large copper stills in the still room. In Scotland whisky tends to be distilled twice, and the size, shape and number of stills will all influence the flavour of the final product. Finally, the spirit is transferred into oak casks for maturation. [caption id="attachment_4484" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-10 copy The barley once it has been transformed into malt.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4517" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-14 copy The mash tuns at work[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4485" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-12 copy The temperature of the mash tuns are carefully monitored via computers[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4486" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-15 copy Inside the mash tun[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4487" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-17 copy The copper stills[/caption]

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Choosing a cask

Choosing the right cask is absolutely vital when creating whisky, as any flavours remaining in the wood will be absorbed into the liquid and affect the final result. Aberlour use traditional oak ex-sherry casks from Spain and ex-bourbon casks from America, which add depth and richness to the whole range of whiskies. While some of these come directly from bourbon distilleries and sherry makers, many of them are sourced from the Speyside Cooperage, just a few miles from the distillery. The last working cooperage in the UK, coopers here must train for at least four years before being fully qualified to make and repair casks. The work is tough and skilled, and the coopers incredibly efficient. Casks are also made into furniture, tables, and plant pots to be sold in the cooperage shop. [caption id="attachment_4489" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-30 copy The casks maturing in an outhouse[/caption] Aberlour-32 copy Aberlour-31 copy [caption id="attachment_4494" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Aberlour-35 copy Coopers repairing casks at the Speyside Cooperage[/caption]

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The Aberlour range: Tasting notes

 The Aberlour 12 Year Old: The rich and sweet one

The youngest whisky in the range, the is spirit is notable more subtle than the others, with light citrus notes and a hint of sherry from the use of ex-sherry casks.

The Aberlour 16 Year Old: The deep, soft, fruity one

After four more years of maturation, the fruitiness of the Aberlour spirit is more prominent, with dominant sweet, syrupy note to this whisky.

The Aberlour 18 Year Old: The mature, deep, spicy one

More years have added a deeper sherry influence, leading to spiciness and a liquorice tang. The fruitiness has developed into a rich raisin flavour.

Aberlour A'bunadh: The hand-crafted one

This unique whisky is hand-made from start to finish, with each batch being created from scratch. Considered to be a cult whisky, the A'bunadh is challenging to make and not for the faint-hearted!

The distillery is open all year round for visits, tours and tastings. Find out more here.

Aberlour-5 copy Aberlour-48 copy Aberlour-6 copy Aberlour-26 copyAberlour-33 copy Aberlour-53 copy   A huge thank you to Distillery Manager Stuart Pirie, International Brand Ambassador Ian Logan and International PR Manager for Aberlour and Chivas Brothers Amy Grantham for their kindness, hospitality and whisky expertise! 
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