Whisky and Words Number 15: Auchentoshan 12

Auchentoshan 12 – triple distilled, sherry finish. Nice color.

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.

Tasting Notes

Auchentoshan 12-year old Lowland single malt, 40% ABV

Auchentoshan 12 label detail

Auchentoshan 12 label detail

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.

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About H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.
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4 Responses to Whisky and Words Number 15: Auchentoshan 12

  1. I don’t mind me a bit of Auchentoshan – the three wood is one of my favourite drams. Yeah, this one’s rather citrusy. Here’s what I thought: http://whiskywaffle.com/2014/12/16/auchentoshan-12-year-old/
    One question – you regularly compare whiskies to Macallan as a bit of a benchmark? But which Macallan? The only Macallan bottles I can find here in Aus are those annoying colour series: Ruby, Sienna etc.
    Keep on waffling,
    Nick

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    • Hi Nick, I’m looking forward to trying the three wood. But I have about 3 more bottles to taste and another 5 with notes that need writing up! Anyway, your impressions were remarkably similar to mine with the Auchen 12. I’ve also seen it described as a creamsicle. LOL. Anyway, the Macallan 12 is still available in the US. It is not the most interesting single malt but I find it remarkably well finished. That is, no weird aromas, no off-notes, you can tell the wood was top quality. And the palate is very balanced. I’ve got a write-up on the blog (#1 IIRC).

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      • That’s right, I think it was the first Whisky and Words article I read. I recall being rather jealous that you had access to this still. However, I doubt stocks will last forever. I’d be really interested to hear your opinion of the Macallan ‘Gold’ and to see whether it is a patch on the 12.

        And, as a bit of a P.S. – don’t stress too much about the writing up of tasting notes – I’m sure you’ll get there eventually, but in the mean time just enjoy tasting the stuff! If you let the writing overtake the drinking then you won’t enjoy it nearly as much! And that would be a real shame!
        Keep on waffling (but mostly enjoying tasting the stuff!)
        Nick

        Liked by 1 person

      • No worries, Nick, I consider myself busy if I get a review done per week. Perhaps we can set up a swap – a Mac 12 for something from down your way? I’ll have to investigate shipping. Meanwhile no ‘Macallan gold’ here, they have ‘Fine Oak 10’ and other vintages of that line. But we’ve limited selection, state of Oregon decides what we can buy. Relic of the 1930’s! Rgds – HW

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