For my next review I will be taking a look at a whisky from a distillery very close to my heart, the Aberfeldy Distillery. I was born and raised in Aberfeldy, in highland Perthshire, and the distillery plays a big part in the local community. From being the largest employer in the area to sponsoring countless local events it is an ever present feature in the community. I remember going on walks with my family in the woods behind the distillery when i was younger, the smell of the fermentation drifting through the trees. I absolutely hated it – believe it or not I wasn’t a big whisky drinker aged 6! – but the distillery was a part of growing up in the town. It’s nice that a distillery, even when owned by one of the largest companies in the drinks industry (Bacardi), is so involved in a small rural community.
Aberfeldy is owned by John Dewar & Sons, part of the Bacardi group, and is the only distillery to be built by the Dewars family. When John and Tommy Dewar’s took over the business from their father in the 1880’s their sales were on the rise. They took a lease at the nearby Tullymet distillery in order to meet fillings for theirs blends but within time the demand outstripped it’s capacity. So in 1886 the brother enlisted the famed architect Charles Doig to design their distillery, purpose built for creating their blends, half a mile outside of Aberfeldy. The first spirit ran off of the stills 2 years later, in 1898, and ever since the malt has been used as the heart malt of all of the Dewar’s blends. Only relatively recently has this whisky been available as a single malt, and in my opinion the best are the distillery exclusive single cask bottlings which are always of a high standard. Today we will be tasting the latest of these exclusives, a 2001 vintage (so a 15/16yo depending on distillation date) single cask Aberfeldy bottled at 56.95% ABV from an ex Bourbon barrel. This particular cask is cask number 21426 and is a refill barrel. Let’s get to it.
Plenty of sweetness upfront on the nose, and a heavy, fatty note of almonds or almond butter. There is a strong, bitter note too of tannic wood and a fresh sap-like aroma. Muskier notes mingle with the wood, reminiscent of being in a dunnage warehouse, with earth, oak, tobacco leaf and an ashy, dying bonfire, note. It has a nice floral acidity to the nose with wild broom, gorse, pine needle tea, grape fruit rind and hay. Icing sugar/powdered sugar brings more sweetness through the slightly acidic and sappy aromas, and is backed up with white chocolate and vanilla ice cream. It’s also really hot and spicy on the nose with fiery ginger, green chilli, and black pepper. The spice, wood and alcohol give this whisky quite a closed off nose but water dramatically lifts this. With a splash of water a lot more citrus fruits come through with more sweetness but the usual honeyed characteristic that you get with Aberfeldy seems to be absent. There also is a sweet carrot-like note which, with the spice, gives an impression of carrot cake mix.
This has a huge arrival, and the strength of the whisky comes across a lot more than it did on the nose. On the palate there is plenty of sweetness and citric fruits upfront. The sweetness of caramelised demerara sugar and sugar syrup mix with notes of Seville oranges and candied mixed peel. This is a thick and viscous dram, which has a very luxurious mouthfeel. Through the development it becomes almost fizzy, as well as being quite bitter and acidic with lemon sherbet and rich oak tannins. This fizzy oak character dominates the palate but as with on the nose a drop of water has a huge effect. More sweetness comes across with a slight dilution with an earthy honeyed sweetness, dark chocolate liqueurs and a curl of wood smoke at the last.
On the finish the sweetness builds from the palate with a real hit of dried orange rings and cinder toffee. The oak is ever present with this whisky, and it is joined by an ashy/wood smoke note that I always get with aged Aberfeldy. The Finish is medium in length with a nice sweetness, which helps to balance the intense spice and wood.
Another very good distillery exclusive from Aberfeldy. They always have 2 different options at the distillery, one which has been matured in a refill barrel and the second is some form of Sherry matured Aberfeldy, be it finished or fully matured in ex Sherry Butts. This bottle of cask 21426 costs £90, which for a 16yo official single cask bottling is actually really well priced. If you are ever in the area I would definitely recommend popping in for a visit as it is a gorgeous distillery, even if just to check out what exclusives they have on offer at the time.