I’m home in New York for the holidays, and with very little else to do around the house I found myself working my way through my father’s liquor cabinet. Some of these were very familiar, but there were a couple that I’d never tried. One of the more intriguing of that list is this Auchentoshan Select Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Auchentoshan means “the corner of the field” in the local dialect (Gaelic). Which is appropriate, since it was first established in 1823 by John Bullock, a local corn merchant. It went bankrupt in 1828, which is when his son took over and tried to make a run at the distilling business. He didn’t do much better 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 that are still operating.
The whiskey starts off as a batch of malted barley that’s 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 oak casks in their Springburn, Glasgow facility for a period not less than two years before bottling. As the spirit is proofed for bottling, a bit of coloring is added to ensure the right appearance.
The Select version of this spirit is part of the Travel Retail collection, typically available in locations such as airport duty free shops.
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 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. However, knowing that there’s some food coloring making that possible takes a little of the magic from that experience.
Normally with a scotch whisky, there’s a smoky peat infused aroma that dominates the palate, but in this case there’s much more fruit and sweetness on display. It reminds me of baked apples — sweet and crisp apple, with some sugar and cinnamon in the background.
When sipping the spirit, as with most scotch whiskies, it’s light in both flavor and weight. That’s pretty consistent with the 40% alcohol content — most of the heavier bourbon starts around 45%. The flavor remains light and crisp, generally malty with some almond brightness thrown in for good measure.
With most spirits, the addition of some ice or water dilutes the flavors and makes them harder to detect. In this, there’s not much change in the flavor profile or the aroma — in fact, the addition of some water might actually bring out some of those flavors more strongly. It seems to prove the concept among Scottish distillers that adding a drop of water will “release the dragon” of the spirit and enhance the flavor.
That said, there’s still not much more going on. The flavors may be bolder but there’s no change to the flavor profile or the aroma, and no real difference in what you’re tasting compared to neat.
In general, it’s a light and inoffensive expression. There’s not a whole lot of flavor here, but what is available is tasty. It would make for a good entry level scotch whisky for new drinkers, or as a good option for those who prefer a spirit without the usual peat smoke flavoring. Like a Glenmorangie, but not quite as elaborate.
I just wish this was a little more flavorful and a little more authentic. It’s a good solid average scotch whisky, but given the option there are others that I’d select first.
Auchentoshan Select Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Owner: Beam Suntory, Japan
Production: Dalmuir, Scotland
Classification: Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whsiky
Grain bill: 100% Malted Barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $30/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
Ditch the food coloring, add some age to it, and let’s talk again.