Aultmore is a bit of a below the radar operation, or at least for me it is. And I’m not sure owners John Dewar & Sons don’t look at their Speyside distillery in the same way. For a while now the Aultmore website is just one static page with the promise of a new one “coming soon”. A few years ago they released a flurry of Aultmore as part of the company’s Exceptional Cask Series, but that well seems to have dried up. And so it seems to be forgotten somewhat.
I don’t know why that is, because by all accounts Aultmore can be a characterful single malt. It usually is slightly delicate but also robust and substantial. And a few years ago in 2014 it was marketed heavily as part of a campaign called ‘Last Great Malts of Scotland‘, so at some point John Dewar & Sons certainly saw a lot of commercial value in single malt from Aultmore. It’s hard to tell if that promise really panned out in the last 6 or 7 years, as I’m not privy to hard sales numbers, but it doesn’t seem to have.
Which brings us to marketing. It’s always easy to blame marketeers, which is not what I’m going to do here. I have respect for people that truly understand marketing, sometimes even envy those that are able to cleverly market a product or themselves. It’s not something I’m skilled at, but I sometimes would like to be.
Also something you should know is that I was trained to dislike marketeers. Or communications specialists for that matter. That’s what happens when you sign up for a Bachelor in Journalism: you’re told they are the enemy and to question everything they say. Even when that might not be totally fair. It’s something that has become ingrained in me and is hard to get rid of.
One of the best marketing efforts the Scottish whisky industry has ever seen is the Classic Malts of Scotland. They were introduced in 1988 by United Distillers (now Diageo) and the campaign played a major role in popularizing Scotch single malt whisky, elevating distilleries that before were only known by few into instant classic status.
I’ll admit that it certainly managed to capture my attention when I first came across the Classic Malts marketing material and whiskies. To be totally honest: initially I figured they were chosen by some sort of committee to be part of this exclusive group of just six distilleries. It wasn’t until I did my own research that I learned otherwise.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Last Great Malts of Scotland campaign was inspired by the Classic Malts. After all, it likewise was designed to lift a group of relatively unknown distilleries out of obscurity. For some reason though, it didn’t quite take. And after that initial marketing push in 2014 and 2015 I’ve not heard much about the Last Great Malts of Scotland.
It sounded so impressive and at first glance the name carries the same sort of gravitas as Classic Malts of Scotland. But it’s also quite a promise to call your whiskies the Last Great Malts of Scotland, so you better be sure that your whisky is as good as you make it seem. And I’m not entirely convinced that has been the case.
When the Classic Malts were first launched, single malt was a young, upstart category with not much competition. Whisky geeks barely existed. Fast forward almost 30 years and the single malt market looks very different. Consumers are educated and have so much more choice. It’s not enough to simply proclaim your product as great. Because if you do, they better be.
That brings me back to the Aultmore 11 Years Exceptional Cask Series, or the Exceptional Cask Series in general, as John Dewar & Sons have used this series for three of their other distilleries as well. Using a word like exceptional is ballsy much in the same way the term last great malts is. So, this whisky better be almost otherworldly, otherwise it underdelivers. And that’s a mortal sin.
Aultmore 11 Years Exceptional Cask Series (46%, OB, 2018)
Nose: Notes of aniseed, cherries and fermented grapes, as well as a slight metallic touch. Whiffs of marzipan and cotton candy, but also some grassiness accompanied by dried strawberries. Taste: Sweet arrival but immediately quite wine-y, somewhat resinous and a touch dry. A hint of ginger, pepper and fermented red fruits, as well as some sandalwood. Finish: Plenty of caramel and toffee. Medium in length.
Who am I to say this is not an exceptional cask (or casks, because this is clearly a vatting)? That’s for other people to decide, but it clearly isn’t as extraordinary as that moniker suggests. A good whisky nonetheless, just relatively young-tasting and a little too oak forward.