What is the lowest price you have seen for a new distillery release in the past couple of years?
The likes of Ardnamurchan, Torabhaig, and Raasay are leading the way by pricing their new releases at a not unreasonable £45 to £50. There are others that are substantially more than that, often for reasons beyond my comprehension. This new whisky from Aber Falls – the first release following on from the 2,000 bottle inaugural release earlier this year – is priced at an eye-catching £26.
OK, OK, it has to be noted straight away that this is being presented at 40% ABV, whereas the aforementioned distilleries bottle at between 46% and 46.8%. Even when you factor that in, £26 is still very good indeed. Owners Halewood have a thriving drinks business with a huge turnover in excess of £400 million, which I would assume is one of the reasons they are able to sell this at such a great price, one that other new distilleries may struggle to match. They can afford to take a bigger hit financially in the early days.
I was a big fan of the inaugural release from Aber Falls and gave it 7/10 in my review a few months ago. It was priced at £45 and bottled at 46% but sold out extremely quickly. I naturally assumed the next release would also be 46% and at a similar price point. I would have been happy enough had that been the case. When they announced the Autumn 2021 release was going to be 40%, my heart sank. I am trying not to be too negative, as we don’t know as yet what they have planned for the future, but I sincerely hope this isn’t going to be the way they move forward with all their Aber Falls releases.
The vast majority of Halewood’s other brands do get bottled at the minimum 40%, but I was expecting something different from their own distillery. I really hope that offering a higher ABV, unchill filtered, natural colour option for the ever-growing enthusiast sector of the market remains in their plans.
During the summer there was a 350 bottle orange wine cask release at 52% ABV. It was only available at the distillery, which caused large queues the morning it went on sale. Don’t worry if you didn’t manage to get one; I’m sure it will be available at auction very soon, as these things often are. It sold for £65 at the distillery, so I would urge you not to bid over that and give the flippers a sniff of a profit.
As well as retailing online, this latest release is being sold in selected Tesco supermarkets in Wales. With that in mind, I can understand what they have done here. If you want to break into the competitive supermarket space, you need to have a product that is priced accordingly, and 40% helps to achieve that. The striking bottle design will certainly attract plenty of casual supermarket whisky buyers, many of whom may be reluctant to move away from their usual purchasing habits. Aber Falls will be competing with established Scotch and Irish whisky brands such as Glen Moray, Tamnavulin, Jameson, Glenlivet and Old Pulteney, who all have bottles on the shelf at similar prices. There is competition from fellow Welsh producer Penderyn too, who are doing so well they are expanding from one to three distilleries.
Wales as a whisky producing country has been rather slow to get going. Consider that the first Welsh distillery in a very long time, Penderyn, launched in the year 2000… six years before the oldest of the current 33 English whisky distilleries was founded. There are a handful here now, and I am hoping it continues to grow as an industry and starts to build a reputation similar to what many of the excellent new English distilleries have been enjoying. I am certainly keen to taste and write about as many of them as possible.
The Autumn 2021 release from Aber Falls is a combination of Oloroso, PX, Bourbon, and Virgin Oak casks. Having only started distilling at the beginning of 2018, we can be certain this is a 3-year-old whisky.
Aber Falls Autumn 2021 Release – Review
On the nose: Sweet and fruity with lots of bright orange and mango coming to the fore. There’s also raisin, along with honey, toffee apple and icing sugar. Vanilla comes through, with tobacco and green tea, as well as a little bready, yeasty note and some damp hay.
In the mouth: The palate is also on the sweet side initially, with rich raisin, sultana, honey and orange marmalade. There’s a bit of youthfulness showing, and it does start to get a little bitter and oaky, with black coffee and a kick of black peppery spice too. Once this subdues, we get a nice vanilla creaminess and nutty almond. The finish is quite short and drying, with light oak, plenty of cream and ginger.
This isn’t a whisky packed with complexity – particularly on the palate – but it is enjoyable and very easy to drink. I certainly could get through far more of this than I probably should in a single evening! Sometimes we don’t need our whisky experiences to be full of complex smell and taste, and this suits those moments perfectly.
I find it a little too bitter and oaky in the middle of the development on the palate, possibly due to the virgin oak casks. I would rather it was reined in a bit. The finish is a little short too. Having said that: there are some nice fruity flavours, which along with the cream and spice works very well.
There are noticeable differences between this version and the inaugural release. First of all, visually: the colour of the liquid is much lighter here. The inaugural is also more striking on both the nose and palate, with tropical flavours much more abundant and leaping out of the glass. The mouth feel is thicker too.
I was tempted to give this a six because of the great price, but – as I try them side by side – it’s even more obvious that this is not in the same league as the inaugural release, so I can’t put them just a single point apart. This latest bottle does have plenty of similarities in its DNA but feels like a light version of that first ever bottling. The cask make-up is along the same lines with the virgin oak and sherry casks, but there is no orange wine here, and perhaps the quantities have been adjusted somewhat, with fewer of those sherry casks used (I am guessing, based on what I am finding in the glass).
It’s well worth a purchase, and it tastes like nothing else at its price point; perhaps even at any price point. It’s quite unique.
My last words are a plea to Aber Falls and owners Halewood. You have something very good here, and by all means produce these low price-point bottlings for the supermarket consumer, but please don’t neglect those of us that want a bit more from our whiskies.