Glasgow

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 Pot Still Exclusive Invergordon 26 Year Old Single Grain Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

invergordon-26

It’s very rare that I come across a whisky distilled in the year of my birth; usually they seem to fall either side of it. While that’s probably just me not looking in the right places, it’s definitely rare that the dram in question is a single grain scotch whisky.

Lesson time: Single malt scotch whisky can be made using only malted barley, whereas grain whiskies (like it says on the tin) can be made using other grains, such as wheat, and can be malted or unmalted. You don’t generally tend to see single grain whiskies on their own in the wild because their normal purpose in life is to form the base of blended scotch whisky.

Alongside the prestigious single malt producers are a multitude of unsung distilleries pumping out grain whisky for use in your Johnnie Walkers and Dewars’ and the like. Case in point: Who’s heard of Invergordon? Nope, me neither, but turns out they’re a thing.

I actually came across this bottle while I was in an excellent Glaswegian bar called ‘The Pot Still’ (up the end of the mall if you want to find it). While chatting to the barman I challenged him to pour me something unusual, and so he did.

Produced at Invergordon as an exclusive bottling for the Pot Still (in celebration of something or other I think. I forget what) this particular bottle was distilled on the 3rd of March 1988 and aged for a rather astonishing 26 years in cask# 24975 (no idea what, but from the colour I’m guessing an ex-bourbon).

Bottled at a hearty 53.7%, the nose of the Invergordon is vibrant and zesty, zinging with lemon, pineapple, pine resin and wood polish. Underneath the initial sharpness sits a smoother, rounded layer of pear, plum, apricot, dates and nuttiness. Finally, gliding out underneath is a waft of vanilla.

The first mouthful hits hot and sharp, with more lemon and pineapple, and then slides down your throat with a burning coolness like you’ve just had a strong mint. A second attempt, giving more time to develop in the mouth, finds toffee, green wood and a bitter, grassy, herbal finish.

I am sorry (not sorry) to say that you are probably highly unlikely to find a bottle of this anywhere. I only happened to stumble across mine because I was in the right place at the right time and the barman still had a small stash behind the bar that he was willing to part with.

If you do have a bottle, or are in the Pot Still and they’ve got some left, well done you, you’re part of an exclusive club. As for the rest of you great and unwashed masses, I think that this serves as a reminder not to discount the humble grain whisky. While they don’t get the same love as their single malt cousins, with a bit of age they can hold their own any day.

★★★

Four must-visit Scottish whisky distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Nick in Scotland

So you’ve travelled to Scotland. You’ve climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, eaten a plate of Haggis and failed to find the Loch Ness Monster. Your Scottish experience is complete but for one final destination. The country is synonymous with several things – including men in skirts and losing at football – but most famously of all, it is known for its whisky. Therefore on your travels it is compulsory to stop in at one or two distilleries and see exactly how the stuff is made. Of course, that means narrowing it down to one or two from the hundreds of options – not an easy task.

It was not long ago that I made a trip to whisky’s spiritual home (pun entirely intended) and thought I would share a few of my recommendations to check out after a hard day’s not-spotting Nessie.

Auchentoshan:

Auchen

This distillery is as accessible to visit as the whisky is to drink. Located just outside of Glasgow, Auchentoshan is right on the way for tourists looking to explore Loch Lomond or venture into the highlands. The distillery itself is extremely pretty and the friendly staff run a slick tour. The tasting session at the end covers the core range, though if you’re lucky they may find you something special to try behind the bar. The drams themselves are easy drinking and perfect for those who are slightly hesitant about whisky!

Ardbeg:

PE Ardb

The ultimate fanboy distillery. If you’re keen on your peated whisky then a trip to Ardbeg should be the number one priority. Granted, it is on a little island off Scotland’s west coast, but is the most magical place when you get there. Every corner of the distillery emanates old world charm, and if you select a premium tasting session, some of the drams they bring you in their little back room are mind-blowing. Ardbeg are famous for producing rare one-off bottlings which, unless you happen to be mates with the distiller, you are unlikely to get to try too many of. Do the tour, however, and who knows what you may find – Ardbog, Alligator, Supernova, Dark Cove… one dram of any of these makes the price of admission worthwhile.

Supernovas

Glenfiddich:

To get an idea about the scale of the Scottish whisky industry, do the tour at Glenfiddich. They are the largest producer of single malt in the country and their distillery, therefore, is huge! Twenty-eight stills are in operation, each big enough to make Lark’s copper pot look like a key ring. There really is a sense of awe as you walk among the machinery and through the bondstores. It’s certainly a popular one, with thousands of tourists going through the establishment each day, however if you spend a couple of extra pounds they’ll put you in a smaller, more intimate group and give you the added bonus of checking out warehouse 8 – the Solera facility – where you can see them vatting vast amounts of whisky to create, among other bottles, their 15 year old. The tasting that follows walks you through the 12, 15, 18 and 21 Year Old expressions – yes, that’s right, 21 year old! Not all distilleries churn out a 21 year old regularly on a tour.

Glen Stills

Bruichladdich:

A trip to Bruichladdich is the perfect whisky experience. Firstly, the staff are some of the coolest and most entertaining people in the business. Secondly, their equipment, in particular their mash tun, is all beautifully ancient. It’s like an antique shop where the gear comes alive at night when the owners leave! Finally, and most importantly, there’s the tastings. Oh man. Bruichladdich are famous for innovation and experimentation, the result of which is a large number of fascinating whiskies to try. A rum matured whisky – can I try that? Sure! A new Octomore – do you mind if I… Go for it! How about that double matured… Get it down you! In short, a trip to Bruichladdich is compulsory if you ever find yourself in the area – and by the area, I mean in the Northern Hemisphere!

Bruich

These are, of course, just four of my picks based on one visit and I realise that as far as excellent distilleries go I am barely scratching the surface. So what places have you been to that you would recommend people make it along to? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can hit them up on my next trip to the whisky motherland!

Warehouse 8

 

Glen Moray 10 Year Old Chardonnay Cask

Posted by: Nick

Glen Moray 10 Year Old Chardonnay Cask

Finished in ex-Château Rayas casks: sounds impressive. Six years in French Oak Bordeaux wine barrels: sounds fancy. Maturation spent in Margaret River Shiraz casks: ooh I’d like to try me some of that! Ten years in Chardonnay barrels: wow, that sounds… wait did he just say Chardonnay?

When you consider all the premium ex-wine casks left behind by wineries across the world, maturing whisky in humble Chardonnay barrels seems like an incongruous thought. But that’s exactly what Glen Moray have done, producing a dram with flavours which live up to the curious nature of its creation.

The Glen Moray 10 Year Old Chardonnay Cask (or as we Australians at Whisky Waffle chose to label it: ‘Cardy Cask’) spends its entire 10 years of maturation in white wine barrels. And the flavours imparted certainly sets it aside from other Glen Moray expressions.

The first and perhaps biggest clue is on the nose. It is creamy and sweet – more fudge than caramel – and contains a hint of vanilla, giving it the impression of creaming soda. There is also a strong hit of acidity, reminiscent of not so much pineapple, but pineapple cream desserts.

With many drams, it is easy to predict the whisky’s taste after smelling it, but this is not the case with the Chardonnay Cask. The palate is vastly different to the nose; it is darker, with nutty elements immediately present: hazelnuts, pecans, even marzipan. More can be detected when the spirit is swirled in the mouth including notes of honey and a certain degree of woodiness.

The finish packs a surprising punch: sour citrus notes linger well after the liquid is gone, leaving a tangy, spiciness to contemplate.

Glen Moray has long held a reputation for providing reasonable whisky at a more than reasonable price. The Chardonnay Cask is no exception, and while it is easy to drink, it comes with the added bonus of containing many intriguing flavours to muse over. And all of this from a humble ‘Cardy Cask’!

★★★

Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition

Reviewed by: Nick

Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition

Every now and then what you really look for in a whisky is one that you can drink. I realise that this may sound a ludicrous statement for something which is, undoubtedly, a liquid, but bear with me and I shall explain.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting and unusual new drops to challenge me and set me off waffling about the subtle complexities that can be discovered from dram to dram. However, if every dram I consumed affected me in such a way then, apart from having no friends, I would risk straying too far from the very essence of whisky; that is: it is made to be drunk (with the possible exception of the Macallan Cire Perdue).

With this in mind I believe there is no better candidate for the position of ‘drinkable whisky’ than the Royal Lochangar Distillers Edition. A rather underrated distillery, Lochnagar got it’s ‘Royal’ tag by impressing Queen Victoria on a visit, although the scale of this achievement is questionable as it was reportedly very easy to please Queen Victoria with whisky. Nevertheless the title stuck and it is now the smallest of Diageo’s 28 distilleries.

The Distillers Edition is aged for a period in ex-Muscat casks, adding a layer of silk and sweetness without making it overly-sugary or syrupy. The extra maturation seems to round off some of the sharper edges, making the whisky smoother and easier to drink, though this does not take away from the overall flavour; there are still many appealing elements to discover.

This is immediately apparent on the nose, which is heavy with alluring caramel. Citrus notes follow as well as a dash of rose essence. It has a smooth and creamy mouth feel, retaining the caramel elements and adding flavours of almonds coated in layers of honey and chocolate. There are also the faintest hints of berries to be discovered, lingering in the background. The finish is light and short but the butterscotch theme continues until the end. The overall effect is that of the sauce to sticky date pudding. And those who know me understand what a large compliment I am paying it.

The Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition is certainly not the most complex or intriguing whisky going around. Nor is it in any way dull. It is a very easy drinking whisky, and this is in no way bad thing. In fact, I believe that it is this dram’s biggest strength.

★★★

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.

★★★