I’m a sucker for a good scotch. Whenever we have a milestone here at Thirty-One Whiskey (and I have an excuse to splurge on an expensive bottle to review) that’s the liquor store aisle I gravitate towards — and rarely am I disappointed. Almost four years ago we reviewed a bottle of Auchentoshan, so with the holidays coming up I thought it was time to revisit the brand and give their higher tier offerings a try.
Auchentoshan means “the corner of the field” in the local dialect (Gaelic). This is appropriate, since it was first established in 1823 by John Bullock, a local corn merchant. It went bankrupt in 1828, after which Bullock’s son took over and tried to make a run at the distilling business. He didn’t do much better, though, and went bankrupt the following year. Given the terrible success they’d been having, the Bullocks sold the distillery to John Hart and Alexander Filshie in 1834 on the condition that John Bullock be allowed to live the rest of his life on the farm rent free.
Hart and Filshie spent the next few decades improving the distillery and trying to make it successful, even investing in a completely new distillery facility in 1875. Just two years later, a disastrous harvest would force the pair to sell their distillery to C. H. Curtis, a firm of whisky merchants. The distillery was then further sold to John & George MacLachlan (more merchants) in 1903. Throughout this period, the spirit was generally blended with others to produce blended scotch whisky, and usually distributed under the brand of the merchant instead of the distillery.
During World War II the distillery was shuttered like most other distilleries in Great Britain, and German bombers destroyed some of the warehouses along with an estimated one million liters of whisky. Rumor has it that one of the bomb craters from that bombing run formed the pond from which Auchentoshan now draws its water… but this seems to be an unfounded bit of local lore.
Production resumed in 1948, and by 1969 the distillery had been sold to Eadie Carins Limited, a local hospitality firm. Under their ownership, the spirit was made widely available for distribution as an Auchentoshan single malt expression for the first time, primarily through its own facilities.
Eventually, the distillery was purchased in 1994 by the Japanese Suntory whiskey company, who owns it to this day under the Beam Suntory company. Auchentoshan is one of three remaining lowland Scottish distillers still operating.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
The whiskey starts off as a batch of malted barley that is ground through a traditional four roller mill to break it up for cooking. That barley is cooked and fermented for about 60 hours, giving the yeast enough time to turn the sugar in the mash to alcohol.
From there, the mixture is distilled on-site three times through their tall copper stills. Most scotch is only distilled twice, but here they do it three times in three different stills to further reduce the sulfur content and produce a smoother spirit. Whiskey is best when it’s taken from the “hearts” (or the middle of the distillation process), and here they first remove the “tails” in the first run and then the “heads” from the second distillation. The third distillation further refines this spirit, zeroing in on the good stuff in the middle.
Once distilled, the whiskey is stored in a combination of previously used bourbon and sherry oak casks in their Springburn, Glasgow facility for a period of no less than twelve years before bottling.
Overall, it’s a fairly straightforward bottle with very few bells and whistles. The body is straight walled with an oval shaped cross section, and the distillery’s logo (their three tall copper pot stills) is embossed in the glass itself. The body has a somewhat quick shoulder that rounds into a medium length neck, and is topped with a plastic and cork stopper.
I appreciate that the label on the front of the bottle is relatively small compared to some of the other whisky selections, allowing the beautiful amber color to come through. Generally speaking, though the shape and appearance is rather plain and unassuming, it does have a modern style to it. The label is a contemporary style black background sticker with white lettering, and a red box that bears the specific details of the product.
I also always appreciate when each line of whiskey within a brand has a different color labeling to help differentiate the bottles, as Auchentostan has done, even though it seems like a fairly low effort design.
There’s a remarkably good color to this whisky. Given that it spent over a decade in a barrel, it is entirely possible that it came honestly to that color, but rumors that some of their other bottlings are artificially colored make me question that a bit.
The aromas coming off the glass are fruitier and richer than I expected. I’m getting some notes of blackberry jam, dried figs, dried apricots, raisins, and just a hint of sourdough bread along with a tiny wisp of campfire smoke. It really does smell like a good mix between a fruity sherry and a delicate Scottish whisky.
While the smoke wasn’t a major player in the aroma, the flavor is a completely different matter. That peat or campfire smoke is one of the central components here, appearing as soon as you take a sip and lingering long into the aftertaste. It isn’t as oily and thick as you might expect with an Islay spirit, but it is much more pronounced compared to a typical Highlands variety.
Mixed in with that smoke is some dried apricot, melon, sourdough bread, honey, and floral blossoms. The flavors seem to appear in sequence and right away without much development. On the finish I do get some light baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, probably from the bourbon barrels, before the smoke is left as the sole remaining flavor.
With a little bit of added ice, the jammy fruity aroma seems to get even stronger than before. It really does smell like opening a nice mason jar of delicious fruity goodness, specifically some figs and apricots and blackberries that have all been jumbled together with a heavy helping of sugar. I’m not complaining at all, this smells absolutely amazing.
In terms of the flavor, the biggest change is that the smoke has been reduced significantly. It still exists, but the more predominant flavors are the dried fruits: dried figs, apricots, and raisins. The smoke starts to make an appearance halfway through the experience, where it seems to be joined by a bit of brown sugar and vanilla and then finishes with a flavor that is closer to caramel.
I’m not sure why I put off exploring the rest of this brand’s product lines for so long, but I’ll be sure to not make that same mistake again. This was a delicious whisky that is absolutely worth the price of admission, and combined a lot of my favorite flavors into one bottle for a rich, fruity, yet slightly smoky bottle of spirits.
If I’m honest, I might even say that this tastes better on the rocks than it does neat. (Sacrilege, I know… but that’s my honest truth.)
One small area for improvement here would be to bring out those fruity notes a little louder when taken neat. The smoke is nice, but it seems to cover things up a bit more than I would like. That one tweak might make this a five star bottle.
|Auchentoshan 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky|
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 12 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $51.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
The best of both worlds — fruity, jammy, and delicious, with just a small hint of smoke and floral blossoms.