Monday, April 4, 2011

Review: Aberfeldy 12 year old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky

Aberfeldy 12 year old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky

I must confess that my psyche is burdened by the weight of that old adage that you always get what you pay for.  Go cheap on those shoes and they will be pinching your toes like the cheek of a saucy school boy by a nun at Catholic school.  Buy 'no-name' cola and you will taste the difference.  So, it should not come as any surprise that if I can buy a 12 year old single malt that is cheaply priced, I will have serious reservations.

An acquantance of mine, Frank, had recommended Aberfeldy 12 years as a great value scotch.  I was naturally suspicous for the aforementioned reason, but since Frank operated a bar with a couple hundred single malts on the menu, I was willing to take a risk.

Peaches, honey, peat and heather.  No! Those are not terms of endearment.  The scotch really displays those aromas.

Strong honey, pancake syrup, heather, and spice.

Drying citrus/oak with a gentle spiciness, held in a warm embrace of cigar smoke, and a little vanilla.

General Impressions
The more I drink of this malt, the greater the smoke on the finish.  Starts gradually and then becomes builds into a most powerful flavor crescendo, kinda like devouring tandoori chicken .  At first, like an idiot I say to the waitress, 'ahh Indian food isn't that hot.'  I keep eating and before I know it my Indian waitress smiles and starts delivering the glasses of water, one after another as the curry flavor builds and builds while sweat beads on my forehead.

Aberfeldy 12 does the same in terms of smoke.  Not a smoke bomb upon initial tasting, but keep sipping and before you know it, you are wondering who gave you the Cohiba

Never Heard of Aberfeldy?
Not a well known malt.  The distillery is owned by John Dewars and Sons.  Aberfeldy is an old distillery dating back to 1898 and was established to ensure a ready supply of single malt to be used in the famous blend, Dewar's White Label.  It, along with approximately forty other single malts, is blended into the White Label.  Since 90% of single malt production is typically used for blending, the owners of the distillery may not be overly preocuppied with promoting the single malt.  This might explain that the bottling of the 12 year old Aberfeldy only began in 1999. 

This malt is rather sweet.  It does dry towards the finish though.  I could understand someone finding it simply too sweet to their liking.

Aberfeldy 12 years is not sherried.  Not in the least.  No surprise once you learn that the new make spirit was aged in American oak ex-bourbon casks.  Hence, the vanilla sweetness.  The lack of sherry in the flavor profile is not what I would consider a flaw.  Just an observation for you to consider.

Great Value Play
For the price, you are actually getting a fair bit of flavor complexity.  Something not seen in other entry level 12 year old single malts at this price point like Glenfiddich 12 years.  The complex weaving of honey and heather upon the palate is surprisingly good for the low price.  The value of this malt is particularly obvious if you consider that the 12 year old Dewars blend, Dewars 12 year old "Special Reserve" is a dollar less in price (at least where I live).  The 12 year old blend is terrible, whereas this single malt is not.  Of course, pricing will depend where you live.

This malt offers great appeal to the novice, yet because of the complexity, it will please the serious malt nut.  Do give it a try!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.  All photos by Jason Debly except photo of Cohiba cigar.  Cigar photo taken by Matthew Lowery copyright 2011.


  1. Regional pricing is interesting, don't you think? Where I live, Aberfeldy comes in at $52 US a bottle. Basic expressions (10-12 Years) of Glenfiddich, Glenlivit, Glenmorangie, Macallan Fine Oak all list at $40, and Aberfeldy is still more expensive than Highland Park, Laphroig (both $45) or Ardbeg ($48).

    Of course, the real value malt in my state is Aberlour Double Matured 12, coming in at $37. Took me a few glasses to get into (it's a little sharp), but I greatly enjoyed my bottle and will probably go back to it in the future. It's another of those I'd recommend if the price points line up well, at least for those who don't mind sherry.

    1. I agree, really like Alberlour, and The Balvinie Double Cask.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. I see this malt on many supermarket shelves but never actually took a chance. Perhaps next time.

  3. Bitterfig, you raise a good point about regional pricing.

    Aberfeldy 12 is certainly not in the league of say Highland Park 12 or Laphroaig. Where I live those are priced a fair bit higher.

  4. Makes a great Rusty Nail! Funny, I did not get the same level of sweetness that you did. I found it a bit dry on the initial taste and it never developed much from there on. Makes me wonder about the variations inherent in single malt production.

  5. Jason, thanks for the review. I stumbled upon it on The Whisky Exchange site, read the notes (peaches, honey, pancake syrup, rather sweet) and I thought -- wow, this guy really nailed it! Sure enough, it was from Jason's Scotch Whisky Reviews!

    I had opened the bottle last night, and I tasted it back to back with a Glen Garioch 10, one of the best distilleries nobody knows. After the nice, malty nose, I found the taste of Aberfeldy too sweet and the body a bit thin (almost like a blend). I'll have to retaste it on its own, since Glen Garioch excels by being a very warming, malty, but dry dram, with a firm body, one of the best out there. It just wasn't fair!

  6. Hi Florin!

    Glen Garioch is on my list to review at some point too.

  7. Jason...thank you so much. I Love sinlge malt, every time I stray away I can not run fasgt enough back. I am, a self indulged brillent wine snob, but am and have found my way to the great varietals of single malt and the study of fine micro brew lagers, and your website/review. Please keep them coming.

    1. Dave, glad you like the reviews. Sometimes I am typing this stuff and posting it and thinking "what do the readers think?"


  8. Jason, Our local pub just finished a special last month on the Aberfeldy 12. At $7 per drink, it was value in a bar that few in our group could resist, and over several visits too. This is a very fine malt that I strayed from for years but never forgot. We chewed it and still called it our best recommendation as a "transitional" Scotch. It's got profile that is somewhere more interesting to go after the paths to the straightforward entry-level malts of Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Macallan have been tested by the newbie. There's just enough brine, peat, bitters, vegetal elements and fruits to be an ideal introduction to Highland whisky. It's a challenge for but not an over-testing of most young palates.

  9. Have to say I've been quite surprised by this single malt, especially for the price. Bought it on a whim at the duty-free store for something around 30$ - 35$ (canadian, not US) when I was traveling from Montreal to Ogunquit this summer.

    If you are new to scotch like me, it's a pretty good introduction to single malt, not too strong and kinda sweet. Even a friend of mine who doesn't like strong alcohol (he doesn't even drink beer) liked it.

    Unfortunatly, it seems like I can't even bought it on this side of the border, since the only Aberfeldy scotch available in Quebec are the 16 yo, 21 yo and the Aberfeldy 1991. The next bottle will be for the next trip to the USA.

    1. Thanks for writing about your impressions of this malt. It is available in neighboring provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario in case you travel to those regions.

      Happy Holidays!

  10. I have been drinking scotch for a little over 6 months and this was the second bottle of scotch I ever had and I loved it. Having previous only had the Glenfiddich 12 I found this to be much more full bodied. I have since tried other entry level single malts like Aberlour 10, Jura Superstition, Bowmore 12, and Glenlivet 12 as well as some blends such as Chivas 12, Teachers, Great King Street and Three Ships 5 yr and still find the Aberfeldy to be my favourite when seeking a non-peated/non-sherried flavour. Good stuff in my opinion.

    1. Hi Ben!

      Sounds like you are on a great journey with what you have tried so far. I have two suggestions for you to consider: Cragganmore 12 and Glenfiddich 15yrs Solera

      I think you will really enjoy those two. Thanks for taking time to comment!

    2. Thanks Jason! I'll have to try those when I get the chance. Love your bog by the way, I find I have similar tastes as you describe in a number of your reviews so your suggestions have worked well for me for the most part so far. I'll be sure to comment when I have had a chance to try a few more.


  11. Hi Jason.

    I bought the bottle on a whim yesterday afternoon at my local SAQ (in Québec). The bottle is 50$ here, and having never heard of it, combined with the dewar label, i was hesitant at first.

    I opened it after a large meal with friends and only myself and my main squeeze (she is as much a scotch enthusiast as I) had a few glasses. I have to say that I was sorely dissapointed. While the nose did have a strong honeyed note, with a very light grassy touch, I found that, in terms of taste alone, the scotch had very little to offer. With no finish whatsoever, and a closed dry scotch in mouth, I just didn't see the appeal. Perhaps it'll be better once its had time to breathe, but, at least in yesterday's tasting, I wasnt impressed at all.

    For the same price, I could have gotten a bottle of Arran Malt, which makes the purchase that much more frustrating. I could see the appeal if it was priced at 35$, but above that not So much.

    That said, I love your website, reviews, and your writing voice. Keep it up and thanks!


    1. Jacob, all is not lost.

      You write that you had this whisky after a "large meal." I have no idea what your meal consisted of but probably a lot of different flavors and if any of it was spicy, it could certainly affect your taste buds when you reach for this delicate single malt.

      Many times I have had large meals and the whisky that followed tasted off or was unremarkable, but when I return to the spirit another day, having had nothing to eat a couple of hours prior, the whisky is delightful.

      So, next time you tilt the bottle friend, make sure you have three hours of space from your last and ideally bland flavored meal, and I suspect you will enjoy this whisky much more so.

      Thanks for commenting!

  12. Well Jason...
    Was on the verge of buying the Mortlach yesterday.... Didn't. Such a High price for only 500ml couldn't be justified. What else can we try....hhhhmmmm. Aaah the Aberfeldy. Had been contemplating it for a while now... "Ah bugger it, why not" I said out loud...And nearly $30 cheaper!!
    My mate i and agreed it was on similar lines to the Cragg 12 which meant it goes on the 'buy again list' Very easy to drink. We got vanilla, apples, toffee, first thing I said while nosing was... Lollies (candy to you guys). Funny though.. I couldn't pick up any smoke. My mate caught a whisp of it ... Cragg 12 would sit a bit higher on my ladder.
    The Ab was still a delicious little drop. I'll wait on your Mortlach review....
    Thanks mate.

    AL (from OZ)

  13. Just bought this for 29.99 at the local liquor store. Very nice!