I was pushed to complete this review of Auchentoshan on the back of ‘Ralfy’s rant’ #702, he posted a few days ago. I remember experiencing similar frustrations over Auchentoshan’s presentation of its single malt during a tour of the distillery in July 2017. The tour was ultimately let down by the offering at the end of the show which totally failed to showcase Auchentoshan whisky. In fact, it didn’t say much for the distillery at all, which is truly a wasted opportunity and potentially harmful to its reputation in the long term. More on that later. The distillery itself thankfully was far more interesting than the whisky.
Auchentoshan love to remind their visitors that no other distillery in Scotland truly triple distills. Springbank’s Hazelburn malt is triple distilled using only two stills. Mortlach and Benrinnes have unorthodox 2.something distillation systems. Further reading: whiskyscience
Our tour guide credited John Jameson as the first man to triple distill – really? Whiskyreviewer.com says: ‘John Jameson didn’t invent triple distillation’. However, given his power and influence at the time, it is likely that he would have brought the practice down to southern Scotland. Jameson by the way was a Scot! He was born in Alloa. [Further reading: scotchwhisky.com].
- Triple distillation is employed to build strength and lighten character.
- Auchentoshan’s spirit cut is between 80-82% – ‘on spirit’ for about 15 mins only.
- Having a light character means not being too heavy handed with the oak.
From scotchwhisky.com: ‘The wash still operates as per normal, while the spirit coming from the intermediate still is split into two, with only the high-strength ‘heads’ being carried forward for the final distillation. The low-strength ‘tails’ are mixed with the next distillation from the wash still. The ‘heads’ are then mixed with the ‘feints’ from the previous spirit still distillation and a cut with an average strength of 81% is taken’.
From maltmadness.com: ‘Triple distillation removes more ‘impurities’ from a spirit than double distillation, but it’s those impurities that give the whisky its character’.
THE TOUR ITSELF
Auchentoshan is one of the big ‘branded’, bells ‘n’ whistles distilleries. It is refreshing to see the distillery taking a more modern approach, as seen with their whisky bar-style visitor facilities. Whilst there’s less romantic BS compared to some other more traditional tours [not a kilt in sight], there is plenty of hype/branding/marketing flannel going on in its place. There’s certainly a Manchester United feel to the branding. Their [currently slow-loading, flash-heavy] website says it all – volume set to low.
As i had read previously on maltmadness.com, Auchentoshan does indeed translate from Gaelic as corner of the field.
Given how distilleries love to jump on the earliest date as possible, interestingly, Auchentoshan have plumbed for 1823 as their founding year – an important year in which the Excise act was passed, sanctioning the legal distillation of whisky in turn for a licence fee. Maltmadness.com settle for 1825, whilst wiki currently claims [Dec ‘17], that Auchentoshan was built was 1800. The credible peeps at scotchwhisky.com explain that Auchentoshan’s founding year was:
- 1817 when John Bulloch built the Duntocher distillery.
- 1834 John Hart & Alexander Filshie buy Duntocher and change its name to Auchintoshan [with an ‘i’] in the process.
- 1941 One of the warehouses is bombed during the Blitz. It is said the river ran golden with blazing fire water. They’ve since turned the bomb crater into a stunning pond that visitors will see on their left as they drive in [See pic].
- [1942-1983] Like most distilleries, it changed hands many times during these intervening years.
- 1984 The distillery is sold to Stanley P Morrison which is now part of Beam Suntory.
- 2004 A visitors centre is built.
Glasgow’s main water source, Loch Katrine.
Auchentoshan require 6.85 tonnes of grain per week. Simpsons grain is sourced from southern Scotland and northern England.
- 1x 55000 litre mash tun. Fermentation takes 60 hours.
- 8x 38000 litre washbacks. 4 are stainless steel while the other four are made from Oregon pine. Electrical blades & air pipes from the bottom of the washbacks temper rising foam levels.
NOSING VARIOUS SPIRITS IN THE STILL HOUSE [Highlight of the tour]
- Nose: soft pear acetone nose, tea-light candles.
The intermediate still raises the spirit’s abv to 54%.
- Nose: Very similar to the low wines, albeit a tad ‘dirtier’.
Of the 35000 litres of wash that enters the stills, only 10%/3500 litres comes out as new make spirit. Farmers on the other hand receive 11000 litres of pot ale per batch.
- Nose: Much cleaner/finer now, though it carries the family resemblance well. There’s a grimy waxy note for sure. The new make comes out at 81% abv before being watered down to 63.5% for maturation.
Unusually for a distillery, every drop of Auchentoshan’s production goes towards its single malts. Apparently, Auchentoshan were producing up to 2.2mlpa until fairly recently. Our tour guide tells us that they are in the process of reducing production down to 1.5mlpa due to storage limitations & cask availability (Suntory, really?). Scotchwhisky.com states Auchentoshan’s current output at 1.75 mlpa. Maltmadness.com writes ‘Auchentoshan distillery matures its spirit ‘on site’ in three dunnage warehouses and two racked warehouses’. The warehouse we were show around held around 17000 casks. Our guide told us that in total, Auchentoshan store 80000 casks in five warehouses on five different sites.
Barcodes have replaced systems back in the day where each cask-end was hand painted to designate its type and usage. Now only the rack-ends are painted. Yellow designates first-fill for example [See pic].
Whilst we are often reminded of the significant price difference between sherry butts compared with standard bourbon barrels, the Bordeaux wine casks Auchentoshan use come in at a whopping £1100-1200 each – around twice the price of a sherry butt. These Bordeaux casks make up 10% of the proportional cask use in the Auchentoshan portfolio.
Their oldest vintage cask currently sitting in the warehouse is a 1967 50yo. Their oldest vintage in the shop was a 1957 50yo.
So, to the whisky & the rant. Ralfy’s rant regarding Auchentoshan’s presentation [of the 12yo]. essentially came down to this:
- “So yesterday,…. tired,…. generic presentation style that is fit for standard blends”
- “Quite good” spirit in “so-so casks”.
- Bottled at the 40% minimum [“wings have been clipped”]
- Caramel colourant added [“has that wee orange glow”, “invasive on the whisky”]
- Chill-filtered [“removing the quality of the mouthfeel”].
So imagine my disappointment when I discover what Auchentoshan are offering their visitors who’ve gone out of their way to visit the distillery. A much younger whisky with the same presentation as Ralfy described, without an age-statement. Then they expect us to be impressed enough to buy the stuff! Let’s see.
Auchentoshan NAS ‘American oak’  Ob. 40% WB76.63
Auchentoshan’s NAS expressions are approx 6 years old. They use four different types of 1st & 3rd fill casks, but interestingly no second fill.
- N: How valuable to have at least nosed the new make first. It gives a firm base & context for appreciating and attempting to decipher this young 6yo. There’s a soapy note and that grimy waxy note that showed up in the new make. It’s a little better with water, though now with more vanilla and burnt soapy popcorn. Seems very much shackled by the spirit’s light yet firm & raw nature, and six years in oak doesn’t seem enough time to temper that once 81% abv spirit. A pokey spirity start.
- T: Pretty rough with some burnt notes and quite some prickles. It’s more cereal-y with water. Again it never gets away from the distillate’s rawness despite being reduced all the way down to 40%. That spirit may be light, but that doesn’t mean it can’t slap you round the chops.
- F: Short, dry vanilla.
- C: I remind myself that the wood has to tread carefully around the spirit, given the third distillate leads to a gentler character – and
yet i’m not that convinced by the spirit, nor the cask activity. Is this the right whisky to showcase the distillery? Of course not.
Scores 77 points
I ended up trying this again at Dramboree two days later.
- N: Creamy barley spirit.
- T: Creamy sour & spirity.
- F: Soft varnish towards the finish, grain-like.
- C: Young, basic, modern bourbon cask style. Most uninspiring. Same score.
I thought we’d be given another, more mature dram but instead we were groomed for the gift shop with a whisky cocktail that we could replicate at home – as long as we procured the NAS ‘Auchie’ you understand.
Recipe: 55ml IPA beer, 15ml lemon juice, 2 tsp honey liqueur and 35ml of the US NAS Auchentoshan.
- C: This works rather brilliantly, though i’d up the whisky ration to a 50ml measure.
Personally I’d have preferred an aged malt to follow the NAS, but admittedly the cocktail was reaching the wider audience – and fans are fans. they’ll buy anything with their team’s badge on it. However, I noticed of a full coach load of enthusiastic international [possibly Japanese & certain Indian] tourists that had arrived before me for the early tour, were buying more key rings & gift cards than malt.
Surely you want to be offering your customers, fans and potential new supporters that have made the effort to visit the place with your best house style? A whisky to represent the distillery, and not your youngest malt, bottled at the minimum strength, heavily coloured, chill-filtered and priced the same as the 12yo. Let’s see how the ever-growing & discerning international consumers vote in the long term. Rant over.