English Whisky

Review: Aberfeldy 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

12 yrs; Ex-bourbon and ex-sherry
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Aberfeldy (Aberfeldy, Scotland)

Part of the “last great malts” collection from dewars. Recently re-marketed along with a number of relatively recent releases (Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Aultmore). The distillery was developed alongside a railroad, providing easy access to Dewar’s bonding and blending facilities in Perth from which Dewar’s was exported. The distillery really came from Dewar - John Dewar was a wine merchant and established a blended whisky before the firm opened Aberfeldy in 1898.

Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Lots of fruit – very ripe apricots, peaches, apples, alongside cereal notes, honey, beeswax, and the earthy tones of barley. Light vanilla rounds it out – very pleasant, vibrant, and easy. Some interesting grassy notes too – minty, perhaps – but, actually, maybe patchouli? The freshness of the fruit sometimes drifts more to stewed fruits – particularly apricot.  The palate follows the nose, with lots of honey, cereal, peach, and hay notes. A light sherry note is present, too, but it can be quite subtle. The grain is quite central, and it works very well. Vanilla, stewed apricot, and sweet malt on the finish with the grain really coming through. And lightly nutty. A nice, medium body even at 40%. If you are a seasonal drinker like me, very much a springtime dram.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $60.

The Value Score: 2.0 by Jason Hambrey

Of all the features of my website, the most feedback I get is about my value score - it's a mathematical formulation of value based on the average cost for a given rating and a deviation from it - i.e., if, based on standard "market" values, a whisky rated 85 is worth, on average, $53, then if the whisky is cheaper than $53 dollars, it is of high value, and if it is more expensive - it is of low value. The statistical formulation is shown in a previous blog post here, if you want the details. Because of the interest (and importance) of a value score, I have added a page to the website describing the best value whiskies. Check it out!

The story of how it came about is simple - I decided to graph all my whiskies which I had rated according to price and value. What I found, surprisingly, is that there is a rough trend - higher scores, on average, came from whiskies that cost more. After carefully selecting 300 standard whiskies which I had rated, I came up with an "average" line. You can see what I mean in the graph below:

The value score has served well, and I enjoy the result: I only rate the whisky, I input the cost, and mathematics does the rest. However, it relies heavily upon assumptions (of which there are many) - how the average line is defined, what whiskies I consider "standard" to set the market value, and what standard deviation to use (I am an aerospace engineer, so please forgive the jargon if you are lost). The implications of each assumption is actually staggering- so it has taken me some time to digest the score methodology itself. However, given my data of 500 or so whisky reviews, I don't have enough data to let stats do all the work - so these assumptions are necessary.

There has been one outstanding issue with the score as is - I have found that higher rated whiskies are not quite highly rated enough. For instance, a Longmorn 18 year old, at a price of $140,. which I rated a 92, was a bottle I bought two of even though it would have a value score of 64. That being said, it's not a bad value score and $140 is a decent amount to spend.

This lead me to look at options to tweak value scores at the higher end of the scale - by increasing the "average" line of what a whisky is worth for higher scores, or by changing the standard deviation for higher scores - meaning that a greater difference in price from the average cost of such a whisky matters less. But, as I said before - is this valid? Really, it implies that for higher rated whiskies value doesn't quite matter as much dollar for dollar. And then, you think, is it value? After tweaking around with the analysis, doing some more number crunching, I realized that, on a global scale, interesting tweaks help a little, but not a lot. So, the options for me: continue to refine and adjust my assumptions to try to come up with something "perfect" or just use the value score as a rough indicator, rather than the law. Coming up with more assumptions to adjust the score just means that it is more fine tuned to myself, specifically. Option 2 is way easier, and way more appropriate - it is a relatively simpler formulation of how I regard value which actually fits a broader population than just me. All this to say - despite its flaws, I have decided not to change the value score. A few considerations:

  • Beyond the assumptions, which I deem to be reasonable, the only subjective part of the value score is my taste rating of a whisky (which, indeed, is subjective - palates are incredibly diverse).
  • All prices are set to the Canadian Market. Thus, whiskies may be more valuable in different regions of the world as certain whiskies are cheaper than others depending on the market. I always say what the price is based on, but all scores are adjusted for inflation/increase in value so that the value score remains consistent with how the market value is increasing.
  • For different areas of the world - take a look at the average line in the graph above, representing the average cost for a given rating. This line corresponds to a value score of 72. If your whisky is the equivalent of $38 (the standard deviation) more expensive than this line, its value is 40/100. If it costs $38*2 = $76 less, its value is 15, etc. If it is $38 cheaper than the blue line for a given rating, its value is 91. If it is $76 dollars less, its value is 99. Etc...if you are in to this send me an e-mail.

Review: The One British Blended Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Grain & Malt Whiskies
Distiller The Lakes Distillery (Embleton, England)

The Lakes Distillery just opened recently, in the Lake District – an absolutely beautiful region of England – my favourite area in the world. A few winters back, I had the chance to drop by and try their blended whisky, which is a blend of whiskies from all over the British Isles – rather than simply a Scottish or Irish Blend, though most of the components come from Scotland. The distillery itself is quite spectacular and care was certainly taken in planning and building it. They will be making a single malt but it is still maturing and will be ready in 2017; they also make an absolutely fantastic toffee vodka (I know, I know...)

Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Nose: Pear, light smoke, and a decent kick of maltiness. Sometimes, there’s a bit of light bitterness too. The smoke seems to come out better with time and improves the nose.

Taste: Fairly sweet, with malt leading the way and some light earthy peatiness coming in right at the end. Some vanilla and nuttiness underlie the whisky as well, with a touch of dried fruit, and smoke, which seemed to grow as I continued with my sample. The body has quite a decent feel on this whisky. At first I thought the sweetness was too much but as I’ve continued I’ve thought it balances the profile well.

Finish: Light, a bit malty, with some nuttiness (almond particularly), dried fruits, and a tinge of bitterness which sometimes is quite detracting. Light spices too, and from time to time the peatiness makes a short comeback.

The whisky is quite light and easy going with key nutty characteristics. However, it’s quite plain and not that intriguing. The nuttiness and smoke are alright, and the body is good, but overall not that interesting.

Value: Low. It isn’t relatively that expensive, but I don’t really like the stuff much.