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As whisky has exploded in popularity, producers have had to reevaluate some of the most basic facets of how we make and market spirits. For most of whisky’s history, age statements have been the most important mark of quality for consumers. Further, age has traditionally been the most important factor in marketing whisky. As demand for whisky has increased, however, we’ve had reason to reevaluate the role of age.
Increasingly, consumers and producers are looking to finishing as a distinguishing trait. I suspect that much of this owes to production efficiency. Bottlers can finish younger stock with only a year or so of secondary aging, rather than the twelve to fifteen years it would take to mature new aged stock. I think an increasing part of the logic, however, owes to the powerful impact finishing has on the final spirit. Some distillers attribute as much as 70% of the final taste profile of a whisky the cask used in its finishing, and it seems like consumers are in agreement.
This makes it interesting when you have something that has both an age and a finish. This offering I’m reviewing here from Aberfeldy features 15 year old single malt stock that’s been finished in California cabernet sauvignon casks after initial aging in a combination of refill casks. While stock with that age could stand on its own, it’s a testament to the value of finishing that producers feel that they can enhance their stock with secondary finishing.
It also speaks to the influence of Malt Master Stephanie Macleod. She has made a mark on the whisky world through her emphasis on blending and finishing. As a master blender for Dewar’s, she utilized a broad variety of finishes, including mezcal, rum, and Japanese mizunara. She had a particular interest in wine cask finishing, which she has carried into her work at Aberfeldy and this expression.
Ideally, an aged single malt scotch with a cabernet sauvignon finish should provide the best of both worlds. We’ll have to see how much these qualities play into each other.
Tasting Notes: Aberfeldy 15 Year Finished In Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Casks
Vital Stats: 43% ABV. Mash bill: 100% Malted barley. 86 Proof. MSRP 69.99 USD.
Nose: Like any good highland single malt, there’s an initial body of malted cereal. With a little exploration of the smell, I can find the influence of the cabernet sauvignon in the notes of rich, ripe grapes. As the combination mixes and settles, I get a feeling of jammy raspberry, like a good cabernet.
Palate: The grapes play strongly on the taste. It has the vinous quality that I’d recognize in a sherry finish, but with a richer and spicier quality. The taste evolves into notes of gingerbread and honey as the scotch asserts itself against the cabernet sauvignon finish. It finishes with a strong taste of malted barley and honey, leaving me with the strongest sense of a single malt scotch.