Tommy and John Alexander Dewar build their whisky distillery in the heart of Highland Perthshire, on the outskirts of the village of Aberfeldy and it has been producing continuously since 1898 except for 2 years during the Great War.
The Pitilie Burn (or small river) which runs past the distillery into the River Tay, is a superb natural water source its waters laced with gold. Hence Aberfeldy is sometime called the Golden Dram. A fitting title.
Transport links by train to nearby Perth, brought fuel and barley to the distillery, and returning the finished product to be blended and bottled. The line is no longer open, but a steam engine with carriage bearing whisky barrels remains on the site.
The humble croft where founder, John Dewar, was born, is just three miles west from Aberfeldy in the small hamlet of Dull.
The first time I tasted an Aberfeldy cask strength distillery exclusives I remember thinking this is the best whisky I have ever tasted by some way. After that I tasted a different one which immediately surpassed it. I remember the first was a Bourbon cask and the second Sherry. They were I think 13 year old whiskies.
Aberfeldy are one of the advocates of age statement whiskies in a world where NAS editions appear pervasive. It is great to have the choice. Personally it is cask strength distillery editions that I love.
The smooth creamy multi-dimensional Aberfeldies still hold their own, so I was excited to be invited by Greg Dillon of Great Drams to join a tasting which included the 20-year-old exceptional cask and to celbrate the lunch of the new 40 year-old cask strength expression.
We started the evening with two of the core range malts, the 12 year old and the 16, two whiskies I am very familiar with. The 12 while it remains economically priced is a classic 12 year-old Highland whiskies. One always to have on your shelf.
Aberfeldy 12 year old 40%ABV
Nose: Creamy, plums with custard, golden syrup, hazelnuts. A good nose that promises more….
Palate: Sweet, malty, honey the mouth feel is nicely waxy with vanilla, peaches in cream and subtle oak. Hints of ginger. There is depth and quality present here. Every Aberfeldy has layers of flavour worth taking the time to explore. They always makes me think of the honeycomb you find in a Cruchie Bar, the power of their ex bourbon casks.
Aberfeldy have truly exceptional casks in good supply.
Aberfeldy 16 year old 40%ABV
Finished in Oloroso Sherry casks which make this a smooth, sweet, complex dram.
Nose; raisins, sherried note, balancing the butterscotch, nutmeg and caramel with hints of chocolate and a sophisticated leather note.
Palate: great spice, ginger and white pepper mellowing to caramel, pears and smooth honey great balance between the spice and the sweet with fruity undertones.
Aberfeldy 20 year old Exceptional Cask 54.1%
Finished in a single sherry butt for four years.
Nose; starts with white chocolate, then blackberries. It smooths out to layers of malt loaf, vanilla, cherries, and cinnnamon,with a hint of polish at the end, A lovely nose with real quality.
Palate: spicy chilli on the tongue which I love then liquid fruit cake, toasted marshmallows, caramel and honey with a hint of liquorice and cigar. An immense sweet and savoury treat! Such a complete dram every aroma and taste group is there and in complete harmony. I love this Whisky – exceptional in every aspect.
Aberfeldy 40 year old 50.1%ABV
Rested in Oak since 1978, to be released in 3 single cask editions.
Nose; honey, oak, vanilla, the merest hint of rose Turkish delight, blossom, honey, nutmeg, pineapple and pastry, A journey from Asia to the West Indies.
Palate: Stunning ginger, orange zest. Then I detect strongly the flavours of lemon puffs. A lovely waxy mouthfeel, it almost squeaks. It develops into malty barley sugar notes , a lovely, lovely dram. Patience allowed more to develop on the nose and the palate. A dram to sit by the fireside and truly savour.
It is difficult to describe what a fabulous dram this was. To top the 20 year old really took some doing. It is reassuring that the progression through these 4 whiskies with each provided something more at each turn but always the core strengths of Aberfeldy were evident but delivered exquisitely developed and enhanced by quality casks. Both the 20 and 40 represent exceptional examples of their type.
Aberfeldy at cask strength from casks they pick out from their supply produces exemplar whiskies which always feature in my best whiskies of the year list. Both the 20 and 40 go straight in near the top. At £250 and £2500 if that is your budget these are great value in their category.
I really must also mention the distillery itself. It is a must visit and conveniently sited in the most beautiful of Perthshire country side whether accessed from from Crieff or from Birnam through the Sma’ Glen or from Pitlochry. Aberfeldy is surrounded by some of Scotlands loveliest woodland scenery. The distillery is easily accessed and welcoming offering an exceptional range of tours and tastings. There is a tour for every visitor whether a tourist, a beginner an expert or aficionado if you can imagine a type of tour Aberfeldy can deliver it, cask tasting, blending, heritage, chocolate, luxury all feature. In the large comfortable lounge there is a tasting area a shop and cafe with some excellent local food but most noticeable always assisted by friendly knowledgeable staff. I have always felt that making visitors feel comfortable and welcome comes top priority as well as sharing the whiskies they all care passionately about.
I can visit dozens of distilleries but I would never drive past Aberfeldy without stopping. I can give it no higher recommendation.
With thanks to JohnDewar & Sons, Aberfeldy distillery and Greg – Great drams for the samples.