Whisky Review: Aberfeldy 16 Year

10 03 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

If you’re John Dewar & Sons, whisky arm of the global Bacardi empire and well-known large blend label, and you’re sitting on five hitherto unheralded but longstanding Scotch whisky distilleries waiting their turn in the single malt spotlight, how do you introduce them into a crowded, conservative, brand-dominated marketplace?  How do you leverage their old-school authenticity and stores of matured stock in a spirit category largely controlled by blends and Glens?  You turn their relative anonymity into mystery and you pique curiosity, like this:

Tell me that isn’t marketing mastery.  I actually heard about this project before I was sent a bottle and wanted to give these whiskies a try on sheer force of good branding alone, which is not exactly a forte of the staid Scotch whisky scene.  Then when I got the chance to give these malts a try, the deal was that not one bottle but two would go out:  one addressed to me, from John Dewar & Sons, and one addressed to a person of my choice, from me.  Genius.  I was hugely pumped about this distillery I had never previously heard of before the bottles even landed.

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So where did these five Last Great Malts distilleries come from, and what have they been doing all this time?  Well, there are numerous well-established workhorse whisky distilleries in Scotland whose products never grace a shelf under the distillery’s own name, instead ending up in large blends under more recognizable labels.  Many of these worker bees produce top quality spirits in their own right, and Dewar’s is now giving this quintet their star turn after (in some cases) more than a century in a supporting role.

This bottle comes from the Aberfeldy distillery, which is noteworthy as being the only distillery actually built and run by the Dewar family themselves:  it was established in 1898 by John Dewar’s sons Alexander and Tommy, and still remains the core of the Dewar’s blend releases, with some in every bottle that Dewar’s puts out.  Named after its town of Aberfeldy, located in dead-central Scotland, due north of Glasgow, the distillery uses water from the famed Pitillie Burn, which is known to lore for carrying traces of real gold (and, as the Aberfeldy’s website helpfully points out, salmon).  Aberfeldy malts undergo a longer-than-usual fermentation that produces softer, fruitier flavours.

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I gave my gift bottle of Aberfeldy 16 to my friend and whisky mentor Tyler Derksen on the condition that he too write up his impressions for the blog – if Dewar’s shares the love, we will share it right back!  Here’s two perspectives, which were written in isolation of each other, about one pretty impressive Last Great Malt.

Tyler’s Thoughts

“Nose:  Strong notes of honey.  I also got parchment, angel food cake, dried grass (on the ground, not cut), vaguely floral and a bit of dried fruit.

Palate:  When I first tasted this scotch, I thought it would have been better served if it had been bottled at 46% abv and not 40%.  While I think this is still true, it wasn’t as noticeable this time around.  On the palate I tasted honey, baked apples, sourdough bread, and dried apricot.  If Ardbeg is an old cabin in the woods at night, with a wood fire burning in the fireplace, then Aberfeldy is a meadow later in the afternoon when the sunlight is golden and soft (that’s the picture I got in my head while drinking it).”

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My Thoughts

The Aberfeldy 16 was an arresting burnished orangey-gold colour in the glass and carried its hue over to its nose, where predominant notes of apricot, Fuzzy Peach and carrot cake were joined by honey, golden raisin, vanilla and cinnamon sticks, all enduringly clean and pleasant aromas.  The whisky was soft, sweet and expressive on the tongue, with warm fruit (orange zest, marmalade, even corn), floral tones and brown sugar lifted up by herbal spice (fennel, ginger) but grounded by a slightly salty tang on the finish, which lasted for a good minute after I swallowed.  All in all, a breezy, silky, beautifully approachable dram, nicely mellowed with age without losing its fruitiness.  It goes down VERY easy without seeming remotely simplistic, which is quite the feat.  A Great Malt indeed, and hopefully not the Last one.

91 points

$90 to $100 CDN

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