With the world on lockdown, it’s difficult to get together to drink booze. However, while we might be siloed and self-isolating, that’s not stopping us drinking in company. During the past three weeks, I’ve been ‘out’ drinking with friends more than I have in the past three months, all from the comfort of my own flat – the virtual tasting is very much a thing.
To celebrate Easter, Dewar’s single malt ambassador Georgie Bell dragged together a random band of whisky fans, colleagues and her parents on Zoom to try one of the latest distillery-only bottlings from the distilleries she looks after – Aberfeldy 20 Year Old Exceptional Cask.
Aberfeldy 12 Year Old
One whisky does not a tasting make, so we kicked off with Aberfeldy 12. It’s a mixture of first-fill bourbon, first-fill sherry, refill and recharred casks. It’s also a dram I’ve not tried in a while.
Nose: Floral and fruity, with travel sweets, candied flower petals and red apples. Musky honey and toffee notes develop. Soft spice sits at the back, with a touch of green banana, creamed coconut and sultana.
Palate: Very soft and creamy, with a touch of apple peel quickly swamped by toffee. The spice is very soft with a touch of honey. Fruit notes build: stewed apple and sultanas with a dusting of nutmeg.
Finish: Heather honey and green apples.
A big kick of orchard fruit backed up by the honey and toffee that I more normally associate with Aberfeldy. This surprised me, as I don’t remember it being quite so fruity. Eminently drinkable, with well-balanced fruit and sweetness.
Aberfeldy 20 Year Old
The main event. This was matured for 16 years in ex-bourbon casks, before reracking for a final four years in a single first-fill oloroso sherry butt. It was distilled on 27 April 1998 and bottled on 11 July 2019. The cask yielded 618 bottles at 54.1%. We drank bottles 203 and 204.
Nose: Rich sherry-cask dried fruit with a contrasting apple sauce note – red and green apples stewed down to a sweet and sour sauce. A touch of polished oak, incense and stewed orange with honey follow. The citrus continues to build, with orange pomanders and dried orange peel.
Palate: Big spice and rich milk chocolate lead, with the orange from the nose quickly catching up. Glacé cherries and dark, dusty oak develop, along with even more chocolate, cinnamon heat and fruity travel sweets. Bitter liquorice pastilles, charred oak and a touch of blackcurrant hide underneath.
Finish: Raisins, cherries and sultanas with a bit of chocolate – Rocky Road with a liquorice edge. That fades to leave char and fruit cake, and lingering toffee apples.
I’ve had some Aberfeldys where the distillery character has been entirely driven off by sherry, and many of them were very nice. However, this 20-year-old Exceptional Cask is much more my style of whisky – there’s still some Aberfeldy in here, with apple and honey notes carefully balanced against a decent and not-too-active sherry cask.
A very good dram, although it feels a little pricy at £250. Aberfeldy 21 Year Old (my usual favourite of the distillery’s range) comes in at around half the price and despite this one’s extra strength and complexity, I’m not sure it quite justifies a doubling. If you want to grab one and can’t get to the distillery (which at the moment goes without saying), you can buy online – Aberfeldy 20yo Exceptional Cask.
However, the surprise for me was Aberfeldy 12 Year Old. It’s one I’ve overlooked and a whisky I will now be popping into tastings when I need something with a bit of orchard fruit and honey. An unexpected winner.
Thanks to Georgie Bell, and whisky-liberator and Aberfeldy visitor centre boss Jonno Wilson for sorting the tasting. And to Georgie’s parents, just in general.