Podcast

Holly Seidewand from Aberfeldy Distillery

As Holly Seidewand, Brand Ambassador Of Single Malt for Aberfeldy, will tell you, it’s time to BEE aware and celebrate National Honey Month with them.

By: Tiff Christie|September 4,2020

September is National Honey Month, and to celebrate, we are talking to Holly Seidewand, the North American Brand Ambassador Of Single Malt for Aberfeldy.

To raise awareness between beekeepers and bartenders, the brand is highlighting its 12-year-old expression, which is known for its rich multi honeyed flavour profile, as well as launching their Gardening Give-Back Project.

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September is National Honey Month, and to celebrate, we are talking to Holly Seidewand, the North American Brand Ambassador Of Single Malt for Aberfeldy. To raise awareness between beekeepers and bartenders, the brand is highlighting their 12 year old expression, which is known for its rich multi honeyed flavour profile, as well as launching their Gardening Give-Back Project.

Thank you for joining us, Holly.

Definitely. Excited to be here thanks Tiff.

Now Aberfeldy is a Scotch whisky distillery that's been around pretty much since the late 1800s, yet a lot of people might not be familiar with the name. Can you tell us a little bit about the history?

Sure. We are one of the 120+ Malt distilleries in Scotland. There's quite a few hidden gems still, and I would say that we are one of them. So founded in 1898 just about an hour and a half north the distillery is, of Edinburgh, up near Perth in Perthshire. and so founded in 1898 by the Dewar's family, which some listeners and most people are aware of that name.

Oh really?

And so really they've been producing Single Malt there since day one. So always focused on Potstill malt whiskey, producing Aberfeldy up there. But it hasn't been a true standalone Single Malt offering until really the past five or six years. So it's been there for quite a long time, but we haven't always let it shine on its own and have its own face. So that's why we're very excited to have some of these programs running.

Now what changed five or six years ago that led to it standing on its own a bit more now?

Sure, and I think we've seen this in the Scotch whisky industry in general, and whiskey as well. But I think what's happened is obviously blended Scotch whisky, which Dewar's would fall in that category, and we can talk about production and what the differences are a bit later on as well. They're obviously a very important part to the Scotch whisky industry, but Single Malts have become very popular over the last decade. And I equate it to a lot of these consumer driven initiatives where as consumers, we have more questions around what food or alcohol or anything in general that we're putting into our bodies and wanting to know more about where it comes from and how it's produced. And Single Malt Scotch can really answer those questions very quickly. There's many strict rules around what Single Malt Scotch is, and you can physically go to those places and try those whiskys. So it's very consumer driven, and how we're looking at different types of alcohol and food groups that we drink. So Single Malt has really gone on the rise over the past 10 years or so.

Now as well as producing the Single Malt, I assume the distillery is still producing the blends for Dewar's.

Yes. So what's great about the blended Scotch whisky category is that a blended Scotch at any time can be potentially 20 to 40 different Single Malt whiskys all married together, plus corn or wheat whisky. So it's an orchestra. It's lots of different flavour profiles and different styles of malt whiskey all playing together, where a Single Malt Scotch is from one single distillery and all a hundred percent multi-barley. So it's a very focused flavour profile to be more of the solo act. So Aberfeldy has, and as far as I know always will be, in the Dewar's blend, will always be a component, but there are also going to be dozens potentially of other malt whiskeys married together to make that Dewar's blend. So that's all up to our master blender, Stephanie McCloud.
So we don't actually blend the Dewar's blend onsite at Aberfeldy Distillery. It's still only focused to produce that one style of malt. But we have made it the home of Dewar's, or the spiritual home as some people have seen it or if they've visited, and that's so that we can tell the story and the history of the Dewar's family while having you taste Dewar's and Aberfeldy Single Malt side by side.

Okay. Now having produced the single-malt for Dewar's for such a long time, are people going to recognise a little bit of that in the Aberfeldy that they taste? Or does it have a distinct flavour profile from what goes into the Dewar's?

That's such an interesting question. Our palate and our taste buds are all so different. So some people... I don't know if it's a mental situation where they know the connections so they can just taste Aberfeldy in Dewar's, and some people don't notice a difference at all. And sometimes different age statements of Dewar's, they tend to taste more of that Aberfeldy component. But really, most of the time Aberfeldy truly is a standalone flavour profile. It's quite bold in those honey baking spice sort of qualities, and so it really does standalone as its own Single Malt. So there may be some similarities, but it can really stand on its own for sure.

Now I assume that what gets blended into Dewar's starts off as a Single Malt. So there's not going to be much of a difference between how the liquids are produced. But why don't you take us through a little bit about their distillation anyway?

So the Scotch Whisky Association has basically developed some different sets of rules for what Scotch whisky actually means, and its different categories. And Single Malt Scotch is actually the easiest to understand, and it's quite straightforward. So to be a Single Malt Scotch whisky, which Aberfeldy is, you have to be produced out of 100% malted barley, so it's very specific on the type of grain. And you have to be produced on Pot still's, so a very specific type of distillation method, and it all has to be produced at one single distillery. So it's very strict on being from one single place and produced out of one type of grain. Where blended Scotch whisky, there's really no one physical place that could be coming from because you'll pull from lots of different Single Malt distilleries, marry all of those malt whiskeys together, and then also add what we call a Grain Whisky in Scotland, just to make it a little bit more confusing.
But all that means is that for a blended Scotch whisky, you also are adding in a different type of grain whisky. So it could be corn or wheat whisky that is produced on a column still. So lots of different distilleries and types of whisky are going into a blended Scotch, where Single Malt Scotch, that single is the most important word. It means one single type of grain, which is that barley, and from one single distillery. So it's very focused on that one distilleries type of process.

Right. And then how has it aged?

So every distillery will have a different what we call, Oak management program. And Aberfeldy, we're very lucky again to have Stephanie really driving the ship. And she designed all of these Single Malts that we're drinking as well, so we're basically drinking what Stephanie likes to drink in a way, which is quite cool. So we were drinking Stephanie's favourite flavours, but she takes that what we call New Make Spirit. So a whisky is clear. Anywhere you produced in the world, it's clear liquid right off of the still. The colour is coming from those Oak casks. So some of that clear New Make Spirit right off of the stills at Aberfeldy will go into ex-bourbon casks, so casks that previously held our beloved US spirit of bourbon, and some will go into ex-Oloroso Sherry casks from Spain. So we use two different types of cask.

Now obviously the bourbon casks would be American Oak. Are the Spanish casks also American Oak?

Correct, yes. And that's interesting that you point that out because a lot of times when people hear Oloroso Sherry and Spain, and obviously being from Europe, they would think, "Oh, it must be European Oak." But actually most of the Sherry that we drink has been aged in American Oak as you had mentioned. So there could be sometimes a play with some European Oak, but in general, both casks will have been made out of American Oak.

Do you find that the different amounts of ageing affect how honeyed the liquid is?

That honey word ... a lot of times people think that we're actually putting honey into the whisky, which we legally cannot do, so we are not adding anything to the whisky. And that's another designation to producing Single Malt Scotch whisky is that you can only use three ingredients. So we can only use that barley, we can use water, and yeast for the fermentation. So we are not adding any honey to the process and we're not adding any honey during the maturation either. Where those honeyed notes are coming from is a naturally occurring process. So at Aberfeldy Distillery, that first flavour impact of honey is coming from our fermentations. So when we are utilising that barley and letting the yeast actually work on the sugars that are in that barley seed, we're going to make a beer. And we tend to have very long fermentations at Aberfeldy Distillery, and the longer the fermentation, the sweeter more floral notes you're trying to encourage.
So we're quite different from other distilleries within Scotland with our longer fermentations. So that's step one, we already have a sweeter base point. And then we run through distillation and we already have some of those sweet notes coming right off of the still. So it comes through all the way from that beer. And I've tasted the New Make Spirit many, many times from Aberfeldy and it already has this kind of honeyed multi-fruity quality to it. So about 30% of flavour profile of a whisky is going to come from that fermentation and that distillation. So we already have that honeyed base point for the whisky, and then when we mature it in those Oak cask. Oak naturally... Especially Oak that has held bourbon, as we know bourbon has a lot of honeyed vanilla sweeter qualities to it, we're really just amplifying that already sweet Aberfeldy that we put into the cask.
So that's really where you're continuing to get and harness those sweet honey notes that we always talk about. Everyone would be a little bit different, but I would say the 12 and 21 year olds have the core range of Aberfeldy really push those honeyed notes. The reason that the 16 year old is a little bit unique is that we still aged in the same way as the 12 and 21, but we finished that expression further for six months in first-fill Oloroso Sherry cask. So the 16... You can still taste the honey, it's still there. It wants to shine through, but a lot of those heavier baking spice qualities from that Oloroso Sherry are kind of stealing the show, in that expression. So I would say the 12 and 21 have the most dominating honeyed qualities.

Okay. Now just going back to the fermentation, you said that you ferment for longer. How much longer?

So in every country, they view and speak to fermentation a little bit differently. But typically in Scotland at Single Malt producing distilleries, they'll range from anywhere from maybe 50 to 60 hours, is your classic fermentation. Some are a little bit less, some are a little bit more. Everything at Aberfeldy Distillery as a fermented for at least 80 hours, and so we're really trying to encourage that longer fermentation.

And is it an open fermentation, where the vats are open, or are they closed?

So we have a handful of Oak fermentation vessels, or washbacks as we call them, and then we do have a few stainless steel vessels as well. Both would be closed, but the Oak vessels... Of course, when we say closed, it's a very relative term. It's just a general Oak piece going over the top. So it's very loosely closed, I guess you would say. So they are closed in general, but we do have wooden and stainless steel washbacks at the distillery.

Now looking at the program, the Gardening Give-Back Project that the brand has recently started. Since there isn't honey actually within the liquid, a lot of people will be wondering what the distilleries' connection to beekeeping and honey actually is.

Sure, and that's a very valid question. I guess we'll start the Gardening Giveback Program is an adjacent program to our continuous program called Aberfeldy Barrels and Bees, which is all across the world. I'm based here in New York, so here in the US we've been running it for about two years, same with other countries across the globe. What happened about two years ago when we really started talking about, okay Aberfeldy 12 is great as a neat whiskey on the rocks, but we saw a lot of people making cocktails with it, and this was across the globe. And so when we saw that a lot of them were trying to amplify some of those honeyed notes. So we were seeing honey go into Aberfeldy cocktails, which was great. We thought that that was a great fit, and we started asking questions about the honey.
Some of the top bar programs in the world, you start asking, "Okay, what are the ingredients?" Right? And a lot of people didn't know where their honey was coming from, and we at Aberfeldy weren't really sure about a lot of things honey at that point either. And so when we started to look a little bit closer at, "Okay if people want to utilise honey, with Aberfeldy, what are the different styles of honey?" And that's where we started to learn about some of the issues and the scary facts that we face about honeybees and actually finding and sourcing and knowing that your honey is local and true, especially in the United States. Here in the US, the FDA doesn't have a legal definition for honey. So you can write lots of marketing terms on that cute little honey bear, and a decent amount of it can be filled with corn syrup or some sort of filler.
Yeah. So in every country, of course, will have their different Food and Drug Administration rules. But even just specifically here in the US and it's something to look at no matter where you are in the world, is how do we support local beekeepers and actually find true local honey that is not just corn syrup or some sort of filler? So we really dove in deep with this program, and we've been helping to work with different local Apiaries and bartenders across the ever since to provide that education. And the Gardening Giveback Program is the next step, so it's great to source local honey and to talk about how to help the bees and how we need to have more education around helping pollinators. But we can have hives anywhere in the world, but if we don't have things for the bees to eat, so that would be flowers and different gardening initiatives and trees, then the bees won't survive. So you could put hives anywhere you want, but if it's all concrete and there's nothing for them to eat, they're not going to survive. And so it's the next step of understanding bees and honey, and also now helping to feed them. And that's the Gardening Giveback Program that we've started this year.

So really it's a little bit of an urban beekeeping initiative then?

For sure, but it can be done anywhere. We need to do a lot more for the bees than I think people realise, and we tend to leave out that gardening piece. Being based here in New York, there's no limit to how many urban hives can be registered. But this is a concrete jungle, so it's great that we have these, but that bees actually aren't that healthy and aren't producing that much honey. And so specifically in major cities, we're really trying to find, and every market would be a little bit different, but how can we start to have planter boxes on our patios or on our fire escapes, or going out to the local parks and planting different wild flowers and different things for these bees to eat? Because a bee has on average about a three to five mile radius around it's hive, so you can be in Brooklyn planting flowers on your fire escape, and that hive in Queens, those bees can eat and feed off of that. So it seems like you're not doing much, but actually you're helping a lot of different hives by just having a small little planter box on your fire escape or outside of your window.

Now you mentioned the issues that bees are facing. Is urbanisation the main one that you came across, or are there other sort of environmental issues that you've come across that the bees are facing?

The last statistic that we had from our partner Bee Informed, one in three colonies over the past 10 years. So one in three colonies of hives have been lost to multiple different factors. So that's not really a great number to get started. Especially when bees aren't the only pollinators. We need butterflies and lots of other insects, but they're a major one pollinating a lot of the foods that we eat across the country and across the world. So, a lot of that is habitat loss, of course. Just the urbanisation of everywhere in the world, pesticides. I don't think a lot of people realise not only the pesticides that people put on their lawns and plants and weed killers, but also on a larger scale for our farms. A lot of plants and seeds now have pesticides injected into them before they even grow into a plant. So you have to even ask these questions when you go to the gardening centres in your local neighbourhood of, "Are there pesticides in the seeds that grew these plants?" So there's lots of underlying issues that these bees face, but a lot of it is habitat loss when we're talking about urban settings.

And how are the bars getting involved in all of this?

So it's been great. I've become a little bit I guess... I like whiskey, of course. I work on Aberfeldy. I talk about honey and bees quite often, and I learn something new every day. And when you go to some of these different bar programs and restaurants, and they put so much attention into their food programs and their ingredients and their tinctures and making a lot of their own syrups, and then that honey piece gets left out and when you start explaining that a lot of the honey that we're eating and utilising is just some sort of other sugar, they really want to get involved. And they want to know how to not only source that local honey, but how they can help.
And so it's really been eyeopening for a lot of these bartenders that we're working with, and even consumers as well. They love seeing on that menu that it's a local New York State honey, it's a local Oakland honey. There's ways to also help promote these small businesses that are trying to save the bees and actually get local honey out to consumers. So it's a win-win for both the consumers drinking the cocktails, and also the bartenders who can get excited to talk about it.

Now, I believe that you've got another way for consumers to get involved, and that would be through cocktail crates?

Yes, so there's a few different ways. One is just in general, keep talking to your local beekeepers at your local farmer's markets. You can find them there, so that's a great way for people, step one, to get involved and learn more. They're more than happy to chat with everyone. And then from an Aberfeldy perspective, across the US we have a handful of different cities that you can go to different participating bars and buy local honey and Aberfeldy cocktails. So that's a step one. And then also the crate that you're talking about is on ReserveBar, reservebar.com. We've partnered with them to offer up Aberfeldy and local honey cocktail kits that you can buy right on ReserveBar as well. So there's lots of different ways to get involved either in person with a to-go cocktail, or outside or wherever you are, or online as well delivered to your door.

Now I believe those crates have three different types of honey in them?

Yes. So again, different hives and different Apiaries will have a three to five mile radius for those bees to pollinate. So whatever the majority plant or whatever trees or flowers are the dominating growth in that area, will change the consistency and flavour of that honey. So it's a really, really cool, it's a very regional honey. So you're going to get very different honey from Florida to New York, to Sydney, to wherever you are on the world. And so there are three different varietals of honey, all being harvested from different hives. So you can get different flavour profiles and that will, of course, change your cocktail flavour as well.

Of course, yes. Now speaking of cocktail flavours, I believe that the participating bars created signature cocktails for this. Can you share with us what some of those consisted of?

The one for the Gardening Giveback Program is called the Aberfeldy Honey Smash. We still want in every cocktail... We're a lovely Aberfeldy single-malt Scotch 12 year old. We want the Aberfeldy to still shine through, so we tend to keep the ingredients quite simple in a lot of our cocktails, and it's no different with the Honey Smash. So this consists of the Aberfeldy 12 year old, some lemon juice, some local honey of your choice. And when utilising the honey, we will want to make it into a honey syrup and it's quite easy to do, you just have your local honey, I tend to do a one-to-one ratio. So for instance if you have an ounce of honey, add an ounce of hot water, stir it up, and there's your honey syrup.
So a little bit of your local honey, throw in some different herbs. This is really tied to that gardening program. So maybe you want to do thyme or mint or basil, you can jazz that up however you'd like. Put that all into a shaker. Shake it up and strain it, and you can garnish it with whatever herbs you'd like as well, great for the summer. And obviously a lot of the ingredients that you can get just from your local garden if you want to grow one, and still have that honey component with the Aberfeldy.

Now if someone hasn't tasted, let's take the 12 year old as an example, can you describe what they should expect?

Sure, so if you're just drinking it neat, you just pour it on a nice Rocks glass or Glencairn glass, definitely dive into that nose for sure. Because for me personally, that honey jumps out on the nose, and obviously our nose and palate's are all intertwined and all connected. But I get a lot of that rich honey quality, very welcoming. It can be a slightly dangerous whisky. So very welcoming with those fruity honey qualities.
And then on the palate, you still get that sweetness that's coming through. But a lot of those Oloroso Sherry cask start to step forward for me on the palate as well. So you get more of that cinnamon, clove, baking spice, some of that grittier quality on the finish. So it's quite a mix of flavours coming through, through the nose and the palate when drinking it.

Now, a lot of people would be listening to this and going, "You can't make cocktails with a single malt." So if someone were to approach the spirit for the first time, should they be drinking it straight, or should they be putting in a cocktail for their first experience?

Oh, that's such a tricky question. And I know that Scotch whisky for a very, very long time has said, "Drink it neat, or get out" which is not very friendly or inviting, and not really the case anymore. I think the beauty and one of the reasons why a Single Malt Scotch has become so popular is not only because of its rules and understanding where it comes from, but there's so much flavour to be offered and sure, drink it neat or on the rocks, but if you want to make a cocktail, you can amplify some of your favourite flavours coming out in that whiskey.
The beauty of it is you're not trying to hide it or cover it, you're trying to amplify different pieces and components of it. So it depends on what setting you're in. Are you on a boat and you want something a little bit brighter and maybe refreshing? Maybe go with that Honey Smash. And if it's after a long day of work and in the evening and you want to put it on the rocks and drink it neat and just enjoy the natural flavours that it has to offer? I think that's great too. So I say maybe have a glass neat and make a cocktail and drink them side by side, just to be safe.

Now with such a distinct honey flavour to the liquid, what other flavours play well with it? What should people be experimenting with?

Sure. So, of course, there's lots of different honey style cocktails because the honey is a sweetener, so there's always a sweet component to a cocktail or typically. So just with the honey, I mean, I love our honeyed old fashioned. So instead of the sugar cube, you can use the honey, or a Honey Highball. But I also love playing off of some of the Sherry notes, right? You can use maybe Madeira or use some different Oloroso or Pedro Ximénez Sherry within your cocktails too. So those tend to do very well in maybe a colder season or when you want something a little bit even boozier or bolder, is playing some of those Sherry notes as well. We've also utilised Cort, so if you want to really play off of some of those fortified wine characteristics, there's some great opportunities there as well.

Right, okay, cool. Now, you've mentioned the Honey Smash. If people are experimenting with it at home, can you suggest some other cocktails that would be easy for them to make?

Sure. And I always feel... I tend to drink a lot of whiskey neat too. So when I do make my cocktails, I like it nice and simple and typically stirred, right? Especially if you don't have the whole kit-and-kaboodle to make every type of cocktail, so stirred is always a safe way to go if you can make it in the glass that you're going to drink it out of. Again, that classic one is... We call it The Golden Dram or the Aberfeldy Honeyed Old Fashioned. And that's really just swapping out that sugar cube with the local honey syrup of your choice, and some of the whatever bitters you like as well. I tend to like actually the Chamomile Ginger Bitters that are out there, but you can go with classic Angostura or Orange. And it's simple. You basically have your cocktail right there, garnished with an orange stiller, any citrus of your choice. And then my go-to so far, at least for my summer in New York, has been the Honey Highball. And it's a little bit of a riff of that honeyed smash. You can use different types of herbs. And I tend to use mint, some local honey, the Aberfeldy 12, top it off with some soda water or even an Arnold Palmer if you'd like, maybe some chilled ice tea, and you can make your own different versions of a Honey Highball as well.

Now obviously being the brand ambassador for the States, I imagine that Aberfeldy is available across the US?

Yes. So, of course, ask your local retailers. It should be available at most retailers as well, and Drizly, ReserveBar, all of those online platforms that you can utilise these days, and then overseas as well. We're over in Australia, we're in the United Kingdom and over in Europe. So your local retailer should have plenty of access to the whole Aberfeldy range.

Excellent. Now, if people want more information, they can, of course, go to your website, which is Aberfeldy spelled A-B-E-R-F-E-L-D-Y.com. Thank you for joining us, Holly.

Great. Thanks for having us Tiff, and go out and find your local beekeepers, grab a bottle of Aberfeldy and enjoy making some honeyed cocktails.

Excellent, excellent. Thank you so much then.

Click here for the recipe for Aberfeldy’s herbed Honey Smash
For more information on Aberfeldy, go to aberfeldy.com

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