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Cask-strength whisky

Cask-strength whisky

Mark Feit at the Balvenie distillery during a visit to Scotland

Mark Feit at the Balvenie distillery during a visit to Scotland.

The best thing about being a scotch lover is meeting other whisky fans.

Early in my scotch journey, that’s how I was introduced to cask-strength whisky. I was still in radio then and was the emcee at a benefit show at P.O. Pears. The Wheezetones were playing, and Doug Dickeson was in the band. Doug also works at Lincoln Public Schools, and we worked the “Thank You Teacher” event together for years at the Governor’s mansion. Doug found out that I liked scotch and asked, “Have you tried ...?” He bought me a glass of Aberlour A’Bunadh (Uh-BOON-uh), and I was hooked.

The legal minimum ABV for Scotch whisky is 40%, and for decades that’s where it was bottled, simply because adding water to bring down the ABV increases the amount you can bottle and sell. A’Bunadh was one of the first widely released scotches in the U.S. to be bottled as it comes from the barrel, at around 60% ABV. When it comes out of the still, it’s around 68-70%. Through contact with the wood and evaporation, every year that the whisky sits in the barrel it gets more flavor from the wood. It also loses 2% of its alcohol content, called “the angel’s share.” By the time a barrel hits 4-5 decades, a barrel can dip below that magic 40% number and must be married with a higher ABV spirit to be sold.

Aberlour A’Bunadh is a non-age-statement (NAS) sherry bomb, matured in first-fill Oloroso sherry butts. It’s an awesome winter dram with allspice, spiced orange and heavy sherry on the nose. A sip brings notes of orange, black cherry, ginger and spice. A hint of chocolate and that sweet, creamy sherry flavor. The finish is long and velvety with dark chocolate. A fantastic dessert dram.

At 60%, it can handle some water. If you want to try an awesome pairing, eat a piece of dark chocolate and coat your mouth with it. Then take a sip. It’s a completely different experience than tasting it on its own.

Other Aberlour offerings include 12-, 16- and 18-year-olds. The 16 and 18 are two of my favorites. They also have a few other NAS releases – Casg Annamh, and a new A’Bunadh Alba, referencing the Latin name of the tree the oak casks come from, Quercus Alba, otherwise known as white oak most commonly found in Missouri. They are both less sherried than the A’Bunadh.

Whisky news and notes

Glenfiddich released a new 23-year-old, finished in French cuvee casks, called Grand Cru. Macallan Edition 5 is the fifth annual NAS release from The Macallan. Each year sports a different theme, and this year it’s color – not only of the liquid inside, but a “bespoke” Macallan label color created by pantone, a shade of purple. Ardbeg Supernova was released in 2015 as that year’s Ardbeg Committee release. It will soon return to the U.S., if heavily peated whisky is your thing.

Next time: the eight bottles of the Game of Thrones collection. Slainté!

Mark Feit is a Certified Whisky Ambassador and has visited 57 distilleries in Scotland with his father, Bob. You can reach Mark at


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