Based in Abergwyngregyn (Ah-burr-gwin-greg-inn), and named after the nearby waterfall, Aber Falls Distillery released its first single malt whisky in 2021 and, by doing so, became the first distillery to officially produce whisky in North Wales for over 100 years. (See notes on a historic month in North Wales whisky here.)
[NB: It’s predecessor was the The Welsh Whisky Company’s Frongoch distillery in Bala – the back story and recent reincarnation of which can be found here.]
After a successful inaugural release in May 2021, the distillery quickly released its first core range whisky, simply under the Aber Falls Single Malt Welsh Whisky brand with the “2021 Release” moniker.
My particular bottle comes with an additional tag containing more information about the expression:
That “Made in Wales” note is reiterated in several places throughout the packaging to emphasise the provenance of the their project and product, especially with this grain-to-glass statement:
The 2021 Release is a no-age-statement expression (albeit featuring max 3-4 year old spirit) aged across a combination of Olorosso, Pedro Ximenez, bourbon, and virgin oak casks, bottled at 40% ABV, and available at RRP £28.
An initial burst of malt, oranges, and lighter flowery flavours. After giving it a chance to breathe it reveals toffee apples, vanilla, and a slightly musty cocoa bean type flavour that reminds me of Green & Blacks’ dark chocolate! There’s a nice dry Sherry (or at least Sherry oak) flavour in there too and a touch of spice. Overall quite a light nose but with little influences each playing their part.
For all the sweetness of the nose there’s a surprisingly rich set of fruit flavours unfolding at first: raisins, figs, cherry, and a big tangy marmalade flavour. A strong nutty (walnut?) flavour is joined by a little bit of clove and ginger spice towards the end there too. Several sips in and the spices start to take over and are joined by some cinnamon and nutmeg.
Quite a drying, nutty, woody, spicy, and slightly bitter finish at the end. The sweet fruits disappear fairly quickly and those clove and ginger spices really amp up and linger a little once the boozy fizzle has gone.
For an opening release and light nose, this whisky has quite the variety of flavours in play. Aber Falls’ cask choices are already displaying some maturity without the years to necessarily back it up yet. There are fruits, spices, and oak characteristics all the way through.
There is a little rasp and fight to it but there is also a pretty silky texture and some sherry fruit flavours easing it all up already. Halfway through the bottle and there is still a little late bitterness / astringency / young oak punch to it but that will be easily ironed out with age. As most people tend to say about a new whisky, it is showing promise, but I already quite like it. This bottle will not last long.
I have been aware of Aber Falls Distillery for a couple of years now since their brightly coloured gin bottles and multiple varieties have been popping up throughout Wales and so I’ve been looking forward to their first proper whisky. So too were a lot of other people it seems, as I was unable to bag a bottle of their inaugural release on the day it came out – you know the usual website crashing type issues. [ed: I even had a bottle in my basket but it disappeared and flagged as sold out once I’d got my details in!] Never mind. The fact that they had chosen to sell it at a reasonable price (£45) was really encouraging too. Having seen some new distilleries slapping £80-100+price tags on what is essentially 3 years + 1 day whisky does seem like a total cheek – but clearly there are people minded to pay those sorts of prices to catch (and probably flip) those pieces of distillation history.
Speaking of price, this core release comes with an RRP of £28, but I have already seen it regularly discounted to £25 or even £20 within the bigger supermarkets to help shift those initial units. That again, talks to the pragmatic and level-headed mentality that Aber Falls are showing with their releases to date: make it accessible, be open about what’s inside, and recognise that these are early days on what will hopefully be a long and successful journey.
One other thing that needs to be mentioned about this early release is that it has been housed in a fantastic bottle, which I am sure they are to continue. With the bold red colour on the bottle, central golden welsh dragon on the neck, and an embossed Celtic knot filling the majority of the squat bottle, this makes for a really eye-catching (and satisfyingly tactile) addition to the whisky shelf.
The fact that they have looked to make this with 100% welsh ingredients and process adds to the provenance (and probably will encourage more welsh punters, if no-one else). Add into the equation they try to make it as sustainable a process as possible to make the whisky, carry a green mission statement, and do so whilst supporting local businesses, then I think that these guys are ticking a lot of boxes and are one to watch.
What I also really like and appreciate is the idiosyncratic Welsh honesty behind the marketing – that sort of “I’m not gonna lie to you” opener that Ruth Jones’ Nessa from BBC’s Gavin & Stacey brought to life. The labels on the packaging talk about how this release is “showcasing lots of potential character from this young North Wales distillery”. The larger tag wrapped around the bottle talks about how Aber Falls are “proud to present this early release of single malt welsh whisky” and of “this 2021 release developing our expression”. There are a lot of milestones ahead of them, and they know that. They’re not pretending that this is their best stuff ever, but it is the best that they can make right now, and they are inviting you along for the ride, whilst being transparent about it – and it is a good start in my book!
Sample disclosure: I bought this bottle earlier this year at a steal for £20. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whisky itself, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.