duty free

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!

★★

The Greatest Whisky In The World (Conditions Apply)

Posted by: Ted

Whisky is one of those drinks that can instantly transport you back to a time and place (this is not the same as having the conviction that you are Doctor Who after downing one too many nips). The variety of flavours and feelings and imagery that come from different drams lend themselves well to creating waypoints in your mind. If you’re lucky, hopefully most of those memories are good and don’t induce too much of a mental cringe.

One of my all-time favourite whisky drinking memories is the time that we discovered ‘The Greatest Whisky In The World’. Bold call I know. But in that time and place it really was; a legend in the patchwork of our lives. Now, I’m sure everyone is biting the edge of their keyboards in anticipation of discovering the identity of this fabled drink. “What golden nectar, what ambrosia of the Gods, what mystic secret of the ancients are you going to reveal to us Ted?” I hear you cry. Well my friends, agonise no longer, for here it is (drum roll please):

The Greatest Whisky In The World:

The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky (Conditions apply)

(Much, much later…)

Ok, now that most people have stopped shouting and/or crying, and those of you who stormed out of the room have slunk back in, let me provide you with some context, for context is king in situations like this. Hold a moment while I switch on the Flux Capacitor and power this story up to 88mph.

Flashback

Date: 5/10/2013                Location: Cambodia

Proof that Ted was definitely in Cambodia

Proof that Ted was definitely in Cambodia

Nick, our mate Stretch, and I (Ted) were skulking about in the duty free section of Siem Reap airport, having just spent a fantastic week exploring Cambodia. I will admit that I was in a small amount of disgrace; after we stumbled back to the hotel in the wee hours on our big last night out in Siem Reap, I had checked the tickets and declared that our flight left at 3:10pm. Pity that it was actually 5:10pm (I am super glad that it wasn’t the other way around. Nick and Stretch probably would have tied me up and left me there).

Hence the reason why we were prowling the duty free section; plenty of spare time. Asia is a great place to pick up some quality whiskies at wallet-pleasingly low prices. I will probably be forever haunted by the fact that I decided not to get the Lagavulin Distillers Editions that day (fool). As we made our way around for what was probably the 5th circuit of the shelves, our eyes suddenly lit upon a truly majestic sight. It was as if a ray of golden light had lanced down from the heavens.

Enter The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky. Contained within a duty free sized 1 litre bottle. And all for a mind-blowingly, jaw-droppingly low price of US$8!!! The thing that we found truly unbelievable was that this wasn’t just some methanol-laced bottle of local stingos. The Claymore is a real honest-to-God kilt wearing Scotch whisky (I had further confirmation that Claymore is legit a few months later when I noticed the great DI Gene Hunt watering his liver with some on the TV show ‘Ashes to Ashes’, the sequel to ‘Life on Mars’).

Hardly daring to believe our good luck, we swiftly purchased a bottle. To express our emotions as an Aussie: Bonza! The next leg of our trip was a week-and-a-bit stay in Vietnam, meaning that we wouldn’t be able to take the Claymore back to Australia with us. No worries! We figured that even if we didn’t finish the bottle, for 8 bucks we were still well and truly up on the deal.

For the next week the Claymore was like another member of the crew. It was certainly a good companion during our many games of cards and Yahtzee. The morning after one particularly big night, when we were all feeling a bit ratty, someone coined the immortal phrase: “Claymore. Like a sword to the face.” Good stuff.

Ted, with a half-finished pint of Claymore. Ok, it's beer, we just didn't take any photos of us drinking whisky. Error, I know.

Ted, with a half-finished pint of Claymore. Ok, it’s beer, we just didn’t take any photos of us drinking whisky. Error, I know.

Then there was the time we smuggled it aboard on a back-packers cruise through Ha Long Bay. Sneaking back to the cabin to liven up a glass of coke added a certain daring element to the trip, and it sure beat the crappy stuff they had on board. The second night of the cruise was spent on a tropical castaway island; sitting under a palm canopy listening to the waves roll onto the white sand, with a good crew and a cheeky dram, we knew life was good.

To be honest, the Claymore wasn’t that great a whisky. Just a pretty bog-standard cheap blend, fairly sharp and raw on the palate. But for me it brings back memories of warm nights spent wearing baggy happy pants on hotel balconies, cracking jokes with my best mates, and playing cards while listening to the busy Asian night life. And therein lies the heart of my reasoning: for the size, and the price, and the good memories left afterwards, at that time The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky was truly ‘The Greatest Whisky In The World’.

The Whisky Waffle boys, observing a minutes silence in Hanoi to mourn the finishing of the bottle.

The Whisky Waffle boys, observing a minutes silence in Hanoi to mourn the finishing of the bottle.