For whatever reason, Auchentoshan as a distillery completely passed me by. Perhaps because it’s got a distinctly “bourbon” look about it – the tall, slender bottles scream Bulleit or Woodford Reserve. Or perhaps because it’s not the easiest to come by in South Africa. Or maybe it’s just that it’s got a funny name that’s a bit silly to pronounce. Aak-en-toe-shan. Silly.
Nevertheless I managed to score a bottle of the 12-year-old expression, sitting just above the entry-level American Oak and just under the highly regarded Three Wood (snigger). Strangely they all hover at around the same price, which is refreshing in an industry dominated by confusing step-up progressions of price and perceived quality.
I know absolutely nothing about Auchentoshan other than their schtick of triple distillation (interesting), and even less about Lowland whiskies in general – this is a first for me! Diving right in:
Wow – a rich, oaky sherry. Surprised that the oloroso casks feature so prominently here given the price. A distinct spicy character, with some light, floral stuff playing backup vocals. Highland Park, is that you!? Slight grapefruit, raisins. Marzipan. Incredible aroma, highly huffable.
Oh boy… Okay. Right. Straight off the bat, we’re on to a winner!
Auchentoshan 12 is the most tightly integrated whisky I’ve tasted so far – this was frustratingly difficult to unpack. The flavours just merge into this one rich, beautiful… ball of deliciousness. After my shock was over, I’d describe the flavour first and foremost as spicy and fruity. Take Glenfiddich 12… add some spice, squeeze in some oranges, season with salt and pepper and serve in an unwashed sherry glass. Bananas. Toffee. Limes. And I must admit… that word “honeysuckle” on the label is bang on. Perfect strength.
Actually fairly short. I’m skeptical about the whole “triple distilled, twice as smooth” thing, but in this case it seems to be working. Short and easy despite the complexity.
A little water goes well, but Auchentoshan 12 can sink if you’re not careful. Just a teaspoon or two makes what was already an all-too-drinkable whisky laughably chuggable – spicy, alcoholic apple juice.
I went into this with absolutely no expectations. At face value, Auchentoshan 12 is just the “standard” bottle from yet another somewhat-well-known Scottish distillery. No mass marketing like Johnnie Walker, no mystique like Octomore, no malt snob credentials like Laphroaig or Talisker. And “only” 12 years old.
But I was blown away. Excellent (read: careful) use of sherry casks, a masterful balance between spice and fruit and the perfect ABV. This is a tremendously versatile whisky (suitable for both times of celebration and times of locking yourself away from the world to write your erotic Star Wars fan fiction) and… impossibly good value. Whiskies of this calibre normally require high age-statements or considerable marketing gimmicks driving up the price… but Auchentoshan makes it look easy. Get one!