Well, here we are with yet another sherry-cask-finished whisky. But this is the last sherried whisky I review for a while, then we get into the smoky Island whiskies. (The Island whiskies are like crusty steamships entering the quiet mouth of the of Spey river with their stacks burning seaweed — threatening the genteel palates of the lowlands). But let’s address the 12-year-old expression of this distillery first.
Auchentoshan was founded in the early 1800s, but has been a holding of Beam Suntory since about 1994. The Suntory folks have let the distiller express their whiskies in their traditional way, and they’ve done well. Auchentoshan is most notable for the fact that alone among Scotch distilleries, they triple-distill the whisky, which is more the Irish approach. Rumor has it, it was Irishmen who founded the distillery, hence the style. Also, they have an informative web site with some nice details about how they make their whisky.
So, what of triple distillation? The result is a higher ‘proof’ – the new-make is around 81% (vs. 70% for double-distilled) — and the Auchentoshan folks claim they have ‘distilled away all the impurities in the liquid.’ Well, one man’s impurities might be another’s flavor (Laphroaig, anyone?) Really, though, with each distillation step the distiller has the opportunity to divert off foreshots, which contain the highly volatile congeners: methanol (yes there is some of this poison in Scotch), fusel alcohols, and esters. Some folks think the congeners are responsible for the awful headache you get from drinking cheap, bottom-shelf whiskies. Perhaps. My wife favors Irish whiskies; I like the more rough-and-ready Scotches. Anyhow, the distiller contends that the purer new-make allows flavor from the casks — bourbon and Oloroso sherry — are revealed by the purer spirit. Naturally, they don’t use barley subjected to peat smoke, nor, I assume, do they use water which has run through a peat bog.
I’d like to make a shout-out here for Oregon, as Auchentoshan uses Oregon pine washbacks for their fermentation. Go Ducks!
Auchentoshan also points out triple distillation is more expensive than double, but distillation is but one fraction of the cost of making a whisky. The 12-year-old certainly isn’t inexpensive. It runs about $54 a bottle here in the Pac Northwest, compared to Macallan 12 at $59. The Glenfarclas 12 in contrast is $45.
Auchentoshan 12-year old Lowland single malt, 40% ABV
Nose: Strong citrus, lime and orange, tempered by dark caramel. Although only at 40% ABV, it stings the nose a bit.
Palate: Floral notes, rose, honeysuckle. Medicinal citrus. No hint of smoke, a touch of tannin dries out the sweetness.
Finish: More orange, sweetness, fairly short in length.
Bottom line: I found the Auchentoshan 12 to be too focused in the citrus range for my taste. It isn’t the orangeade of some lesser whiskies (Speyburn, looking at you), but I would like to see more balance with malt notes and toffee for example. For a few bucks more, you could have The Macallan 12, which does have a better balance of flavor. At $10 less, Glenfarclas 12 delivers the goods with a less showy but more balanced sherry expression — if you are okay with their mineral notes. Even the wife, who likes Irish whiskies, was underwhelmed. So, good, and interesting, but for the price, does not make the cut for our cabinet.