Distillery of the week: Aberlour distillery, Speyside

The classic Speyside distillery that offers some of the best sherry-matured whisky around.

Published 5th May 2015
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Obar Lobhair or Aberlour, means 'mouth of the chattering burn' in Gaelic, and really encapsulates where the journey of the Aberlour distillery begins.

There's an old saying in Scotland - mainly used to give comfort to those of us who abhor the inclement weather - that reads 'today's rain will be tomorrow's whisky', and water, and the sourcing there of, is an important factor that many overlook when it comes to whisky production.

The water used to create our national drink is often as important as the barley, distillation process or the casks used for maturation.  

Aberlour is ideally fixed in this regard, located not far from the foot of Ben Rinnes, that wonderful rain water we discussed before flows down the mountain's pink granite slopes to eventually form the 'Lour', the chattering burn that gives the distillery its name. This water is - according to the distillery - exceptionally soft and pure, which makes it perfect for whisky production and would certainly have provided more than enough inspiration for James Gordon and Peter Weir to found their distillery near such a source.

Add to this the romance and rich history surrounding the area - St Drostán is said to have held a baptistery there - and you have the beginnings of a wonderful story.

It was not all to be plain sailing though, because in 1879 a fire devastated most of the distillery and James Fleming, the son of a local farmer, was forced to rebuild it a few kilometres upstream. Interestingly, Fleming not only used the Lour as a source of water but also as means to power the distillery, utilising the rushing stream to drive his freshly constructed waterwheel.

Once again, fire was to play as much a part as water in the shaping of Aberlour and, after being sold to Robert Thorne in 1892, the distillery was once more almost destroyed by a second fire. This time the redesign of the distillery fell to architect, (and creator of the ubiquitous pagoda chimney) Charles Doig.

Aberlour then changed hands several times before settling under the ownership of Pernod Ricard, who have seen the brand grow from strength to strength to become one of the best known and easily recognised of the Speyside malts.

Aberlour has, in recent years, solidified its grip on the French market where it is now the highest selling single malt. This is important for several reasons. First and foremost, France is one of the world's most important single malt markets and helps solidify Aberlour's status as one of Speyside's most successful malts. Secondly, it helps to identify the preference for softer, fruitier malts in Southern Europe.

As the Fleming family motto says: “Let the deed show.” And to this day, Aberlour do just that, continuing to provide exceptional malts at great prices.

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Aberlour 12: One of the best value Speyside malts around - normally coming in at just under the £40 mark, the Aberlour 12 is a wonderful hit of sherry-kissed bliss. With warm toffee and spiced Christmas cake notes clashing with light citrus fruits, the Aberlour 12 is definitely one to enjoy with friends.

Aberlour A'Bunadh: Now on its fiftieth batch - yes it is that popular, and rightly so - this Aberlour cask strength comes in at a whopping 59.4% abv but is still infinitely drinkable (even without adding water). Matured entirely in ex-Olorosso casks, the A'bunadh offers nuts, fruits and vanilla in abundance. If you like your whisky sherry-matured and cask strength, there are very few other bottlings that can compete, especially at this price.

Aberlour 16: The 16-year-old enhances what the 12-year-old began, removing some of the spice and adding richer fruit notes like plum and raisin to compliment that toffee. The balance between wood and spirit is perfect at this age and the 16-year-old is a great showcase for what Aberlour can do.

Aberlour 18: Previously only seen in France, the award winning 18-year-old was finally released to other markets in 2008, and thank goodness for that. Now one of the shining lights of the core range, the 18-year-old is deliciously rich, warm and takes those dried fruit tones to the next level. One to spoil yourself with.

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Try Aberlour if you like: The original Macallan range, Glendronach, Mortlach or Auchentoshan

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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