Lowlands

Auchentoshan Heartwood

Reviewed by: Ted

Auchentoshan Heartwood

If you’ve ever flown overseas, then chances are you will have wandered through the duty free section and marvelled at the huge selection of booze available. For some reason the brand marketers have decided that what the Jetset crowd really crave are exclusive releases that are not worthy of the wingless plebs on the street. Indeed, a whisky fan can spend hours gazing at all the fancy labels, musing about the unusual caskings and trying to decide whether to get that 1L bottle of NAS Scotch, or lash out and buy that rare Japanese number in the gorgeous bottle.

The thing is, are these exclusive bottlings actually any good compared to their standard counterparts?

Let’s take the Auchentoshan Heartwood as an example (not to be confused with the Tasmanian Heartwood brand). Hailing from the Lowlands of Scotland, the Non Age Statement Heartwood edition is produced ‘exclusively for the global traveller’ (that’s you). Auchentoshan itself is notable for being one of the only distilleries in Scotland to triple distil its whisky.

The packaging for the Heartwood is pretty much the same as the standard range, just bigger thanks to the 1L bottle size (aww yeah!). ‘Heartwood’ refers to the dense wood at the centre of a tree, which Auchentoshan rather tenuously links to bourbon and sherry casking being at the heart of their whisky (yeah, they had to torture that one a bit).

Marketing guff it may be, but the bit about using bourbon and Oloroso casks is true. The colour certainly suggests that sherry barrels have been in the vicinity; Auchentoshan claims that the particular hue of the spirit is ‘dark honeycomb’. I on the other hand think that it looks, well, orange, rather like that other most Scottish of drinks: Irn-Bru. A tad heavy on the E150 perhaps? (I’ve since found this great article by LittleTipple noting that the colour of Auchentoshan looks rather similar to bodybuilders who have got a bit excited with the fake tan. Good times).

The nose is dull and heavy, oozing over the rim of the glass like an exhausted slug. After a while the dark brew starts to present toffee and almonds (praline perhaps?) and Terry’s chocolate orange.

The mouth is thick and sweet, with a dense oakiness that lives up to its namesake. The finish offers a lingering hit of burnt orange that is oddly unsatisfying.

In conclusion, buyer beware. The exotic looking jewels of the duty free section may appear tempting, but on closer examination you might just discover that all you really have is a poor imitation of the original. Still, you can’t deny they’re fun to look at. Happy flying, and good luck!

★★

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Auchentoshan Classic

Reviewed by: Nick

Auchentoshan Classic

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Glasgow (like me) and are somewhat interested in the odd dram (like me) then you simply must pay a visit to Auchentoshan Distillery (like me). The triple distilling Lowlands champions have been producing some lovely drops for a while now and a tour of the establishment that creates them is well worth it. The tour concludes, as all the best do, with a tasting – sampling Auchentoshan’s core range. The 12 Year Old is among those offered, as is the fantastic Three Wood. Up first, however, is the Auchentoshan Classic – a Non Age Statement whisky.

Upon my visit I got the impression that the staff were keen to skip past this one and get stuck into the 12 Year Old – as if they were saying, “but enough of this folly, time for some real whisky”. I mean, admittedly our trusty guide was right – the 12 blows the Classic out of the water. But there’s still something to say for the lowly old (young?) NAS bottle.

The Auchentoshan Classic is lighter in colour than other releases from the distillery and demonstrates very clearly its bourbon maturation. On the nose it is sweet, grassy and with a touch of honey. It is pleasant and summery. The palate is similarly sweet with notes of fruit-based confectionery. I also got the faintest hints of peanut butter, cloves and marmalade. The finish is short but strangely rather fitting for this gentle dram.

This is a feather-light whisky.  A Pinot Noir rather than a Shiraz. But every now and again, that’s alright. Especially if you’re on the distillery tour and the 12 Year Old is up next!

★★

Classic Nick

How it compares:

The 12 Year old is so much more vibrant than the Classic. They are both light and sweet, but the 12 Year old has depths to explore – whereas with the Classic what you see is what you get. The finish is similarly short with both drams – and while this is a disappointment in the 12, the abrupt finish seems to suit the Classic. Still, though, I think I’d rather have the Three Wood.

Auchentoshan 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Auchentoshshan 12 Year Old

The Highlands. It sounds so impressive. Wild, rugged, windswept, untamed and undeniably Scottish. The Lowlands, on the other hand, does not sound nearly as awe-inspiring. Likewise, single malts from this region do not receive the same levels of celebration and esteem their more northerly counterparts enjoy. They lack a leader, a distillery to stand up and act as a champion for the area. Auchentoshan, just outside of Glasgow, could well be that champion.

Auchentoshan, Gaelic for ‘the corner of the field’, are unique among (nearly) all Scottish distilleries in the sense that they distil their spirit three times. Most Scottish distilleries perform this process only twice; triple distillation is actually the norm in Ireland. This method leads to, at least according to the Auchentoshan marketing team, a purer, smoother spirit.

The unique creation of this whisky certainly leads to a distinct flavour and this is immediately noticeable on the nose. It is pleasantly sweet with hints of vanilla and caramel combining to form the aromas of crème brûlée. There is also a zesty lemon scent, followed closely by pecans and walnuts. Once encountered it is never forgotten: it is simply the Auchentoshan nose.

The interesting flavours continue on the palate, which is medium bodied and spicy. There is a pleasant candied orange taste and the overall effect is very smooth and elegant, perhaps a legacy of the triple distillation process.

The finish is undoubtedly the most disappointing element of the dram. After the flavours initially combine so effectively they rapidly fade away to almost nothing. It is reminiscent of a movie with a disappointingly easy resolution (spoiler alert: I’m looking at you Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). It’s smooth and enjoyable, just not long lasting and memorable. Perhaps another trait of the triple distillation? Or a quality you will have to buy the older expressions to discover?

Regardless, Auchentoshan is a must try for any whisky drinker – if only so they can say they have tasted something from the not so impressive-sounding Lowlands.

★★★

Auchentoshan Three Wood

Reviewed by Nick

Auchentoshan Three Wood whisky waffle

Despite it not being advertised as a 12 year old whisky, the Auchentoshan Three Wood has been aged in barrels for twelve years. Ten in American oak, one in ex-Oloroso sherry barrels and finally, another one in ex-Pedro Ximenez casks. The result is as surprising as it is magnificent. I can only describe it in one way – Christmas in whisky form.

The final two years of this whisky’s maturation has changed the spirit’s appearance from the sparkling gold typical of classic Auchentoshan to a deeper shade of crimson. It has also added depth to the already present sweet, butterscotch, dried fruit flavours. Suddenly, it’s spicy on the nose, broad across the palate and lengthy in the finish. In short: sticky date pudding – nay – fruit cake – nay – Christmas cake. It is simply one of – if not the – greatest 12 year old Scottish whisky on the market.

This is a dram perfect for warming your heart on a cold snowy day, and although it originates in one of Scotland’s most southerly distilleries, Glasgow is certainly not short of days such as this. This whisky, however, is a little more special than that. Out of all the snowy wintery days in Scotland, this dram would be especially suited to a particularly festive one.

★★★★