Auchentoshan, uncommon for being a lowland whisky, is also unique for using triple distillation. (Springbank’s Hazelburn line uses the same technique, but no other Scottish distilleries triple-distill routinely.) Triple distillation used to be more common, since with a mix of grains, you should get a smoother whisky with a third distillation. Over time, the rationale has become moot, as single-malt Scotch has been codified to use only barley malt for the grain, so the expensive extra step for a third distillation isn’t seen as necessary. Auchentoshan continues with the practice to produce a light whisky with fewer heavier oils and proteins from the mash. Since the mash uses only unpeated barley, we’re anticipating a delicate flavor.
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.
Whisky & words, why not mix them up? Some of the greatest writers have drunk whisky. I’m not advocating that for anyone — I never write unless I’m sober, and responsible imbibing is the message here. But I think they can go together. I often have a dram while I’m reading. Both I do at the end of the day to relax. I’ll be writing about whisky to relax, too.
Note: what I won’t be doing is getting overly-wrought in my descriptions. I do not pretend to be a super-taster, capable of discriminating upon which Caribbean island my toffee was browned. And that’s OK as most likely, you aren’t either.
Whisky Review: The Macallan 12
So let’s start with a standard and safe selection, a dram no one will criticize you for buying and everyone will enjoy (no overpowering peat, smoke or oil). The Macallan 12-year-old.
Whenever you see a whisky that’s ‘the’ something, you can bet it has been around a long time. But it does not necessarily mean it is good. ‘The Glenlivet’ 12-year-old, for example, has been around for ages. The Glenlivet is the first single-malt many (such as I ) tried and it has admirers, but to me, the cost/benefit just is not there. The Glenlivet to my palate is uninspiring — just not a lot of ‘there’ there. For a bit more you can get Highland Park 12, which has more character, or Ardbeg, which has character and load more smoke.
But back to the Macallan 12. You have to give those folks at Macallan credit. They use barrels that have been used to age sherry. But not just any barrels — they buy the barrels themselves, from wood they select, then essentially rent them to the sherry producers and get them back after a single run. So Macallan guarantees a steady supply of sherry-aged oak in top condition.