Auchentoshan 18 Year-Old Review


Auchentoshan 18 Year-Old Review, 43% abv. Price here is Israel 550 Shekels.


The name Auchentoshan means “Corner of the field”. The distillery is situated North of Glasgow, 7 miles from Glasgow airport. There are only eleven Lowlands distilleries producing single malt and most of them are small boutique establishments.  Only Beam Suntory’s Auchentoshan (2 million litres/annum) and Diageo’s Glenkinchie (2.5 million litres/annum) are Lowland distilleries producing traditional Lowlands single malt on a large scale. No, I have not forgotten the William Grant’s new mega-giant Ailsa Bay site with a capacity of over 12 million litres / annum. Please forgive me but this sounds more like a whisky factory, the stills running 24 hours a day, distilling no less than five distinctly different types of new make spirit, made-to-order.

Having said this, Auchentoshan was actually originally built to produce Irish Style Scotch whisky for Irish immigrants. This is why Auchentoshan has always practiced triple distillation for their whiskies, a tradition, surprise-surprise, more associated with Irish whiskey distillers. However, Irish whiskey is triple pot distilled with a mixture of grain and malt mash, whereas Auchentoshan, in line with all other Scottish distilleries, uses 100% Malt mash.  Triple distillation is supposed to produce a more refined and delicate new make spirit. The Auchentoshan website says “This makes Auchentoshan the smoothest, most delicate tasting single malt scotch whisky”. Actually Bruichladdich also triple distil many of its whiskies. See my review of the Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley here:


where I also talk about triple distillation.

It is difficult to quantify refinement but what can be measured however is the difference in alcohol level. The wash wort or whisky beer which comes from the washback of almost all Scottish distilleries has an alcohol level of between 7% to 8%. It is then put through the first of the pot stills called a wash still. When it condenses back into liquid its alcohol level is around 20% abv. Then it is put through the Spirit still when, upon condensing back into liquid it has reached an alcohol level of around 70% abv. Almost all Scottish distilleries will use this spirit to fill their casks. Auchentoshan however, put this spirit from the spirit still through a third smaller still. When it has gone through this still and condensed back into liquid, it has reached (according to the website), around 81% abv!

Considering that they make such a buzz about the fact that the spirit starts its life at some 11% abv higher than most other Scottish spirit, concentrating all those estery fruity flavours into that higher alcohol level, why do they then go ahead and water it down to a mere a 43% abv before bottling? (I know; I am not supposed to ask uncomfortable questions like that).

 

Packaging





The fact is, I almost completely missed this 18-Year-Old sitting on the shelf as it looks almost identical to the grey colour box and text style of the American Oak and 12-Year-Old expressions costing less than half the price. This is an 18-Year-old premium product. So why make the box shape, size and colour, indistinguishable from the standard bottlings?  In my opinion, simply placing a dark blue coloured band across the front of the box stating “18-Year-Old”, is not really a sufficient eye catcher. As I said, I almost past it over for the 12-Year-Old.

This is lazy marketing. It’s as if they are trying to lose sales because the message is “Nothing special here ladies and gentlemen, move on…”.

How much more would it cost to make the whole box blue or change the design or size of the box slightly? Surely their 18-YO expression deserves a small investment in design?


Israeli Importer’s label.

Dear Israeli importer. Other importers place an unobtrusive clear plastic sticker on the side of the bottle. Why do you have to make your import sticker out of paper and stick it on top of the original back label? The glue you use is so strong that It cannot be peeled off without tearing both labels. It looks ugly and prevents anyone from reading the original text.

At least make sure that the details of the Hebrew sticker are accurate!



Instead of saying that Auchentoshan distillery, in the Lowlands of Scotland produced this Single Malt whisky, the Hebrew label states that this whisky is the product of Morrison Bowmore Distillery, Glasgow Scotland.

First of all, there has never been a distillery called Morrison Bowmore. There is a distillery on Islay called Bowmore which used to be Auchentoshan’s sister distillery, back when both were once owned by a company of distillers who were called Morrison Bowmore! This company was bought up by the Japanese spirits giant, Beam Suntory in 1994 but continued as a subsidiary until it was wholly swallowed up by their spirits department and the name ceased to exist altogether in 2014. Our bottle is from 2017 so why use a company name which has not existed for three years?


The use of the term Limited Edition / Release.


What does this term mean exactly? The short answer is, anything they want it to mean. It can mean that the bottling is a one off, never to be repeated or that they have produce less of this bottling than their standard bottlings. That could mean only 300 bottles, or 3,000 bottles or only 3,000 bottles each year, or 30,000 bottles!

The Shackleton Antarctic Expedition memorial bottling for example, which came in a replica box crate and was described as “Limited Edition”, was in fact, a production of 50,000 bottles. On the other hand, a distillery will occasionally release an expression which has come from one single cask or a marriage of a few casks and stretch to only a few hundred bottles.

Ralfy.com produced a YouTube review video of this Auchentoshan 18-Year-Old back in 2011. Who can fail not to agree with Ralfy when he exclaims that the use of the term “LIMITED RELEASE” here is 100% marketing claptrap! (His words!) It is a shame that there are no SWA regulations which define the use of such terms which allows this deceptive marketing practice to continue.

What we do know about the Auchentoshan 18, is that it has been bottled every year since 2008 but I have been unable to establish just how many are produced each year. Whatever it is, it is produced in sufficient numbers that it always seems to be in stock at the major online whisky retailers. It would therefore seem to fall short of what many might suppose the term “Limited Release” implies.

The Review

Thinking that it might benefit from opening it a day before tasting for the first time, I opened this bottle on Thursday evening whilst watching Aqvavitae Live cast.

I poured myself a glass from the neck fill just to get an initial impression. Bringing my nose to the glass, it was like standing in a distillery warehouse and sticking my nose through the bunghole of a fresh barrel of Bourbon in a new American Oak cask, having just arrived from America. There were no musky notes of old barrel, this was, as I say, really fresh Ex-Bourbon barrel smell – and it smelled really good!

Friday night. We had our newly married son and daughter-in law over for their first regular Shabbos with us. After HaMotzei and the Smoked Salmon, I poured us all some Auchentoshan 18.

Nosing.


This whisky really doesn’t need much water added. I added perhaps, half a teaspoon but could well imagine many drinking this straight. There is almost no alcohol heat at all but very powerful fresh sweet wet barrel wood smells. For an 18-Year-Old, this is amazingly user-friendly and can be enjoyed straight from the bottle with no waiting. Everyone said “Hmmm, this sis nice”, and then continued the conversation. After my last 18-Year-Old review, the challenging but very rewarding Glen Moray 18, this is too easy!

Loads of fresh bourbon wood smells, mild spices. a hint of cigar box, maple syrup, a hint of corn syrup, caramelised popcorn and intense honey smells.

I wanted to see if this single malt would expose anymore complexity so I left half of my dram in the glass for about 20 minutes while I gave a Dvar Torah.

Rav Dovid Olorfsky points out something fascinating for Parshas Vayeitze, which on first glance most people would miss. He says that from this pasuk, where we meet Reuven for the first time, we immediately see the impulsiveness of Reuven which led to Yaakov Avinu calling him “as unstable as water” (49:4) as well as all the other impulsive and impatient things Reuven ends up saying or doing throughout his life.

Bereishis 30:14 says “Reuven was going [somewhere] in days of the wheat harvest and came across some Dudaim flowers in the field. He brought them back to his mother….”

Rav Orlofsky explains that the pasuk is telling us that these were the days of the wheat harvest, that is, where everyone must go and work in the field to bring the harvest in before the rainy season. It is a battle against time, all hands of deck! Reuven was in fact, on his way to work to bring the harvest in when he comes across some pretty flowers.

“Oh”, he thinks, “My mother would like these!”

He forgets all about his responsibilities and impulsively turns around and goes back home to present the flowers to his mother, like a good boy! He thinks he is doing a big mitzvah but he hasn’t thought it through and has forgotten all about his main goal which was to bring the harvest in!

Rav Orlofsky says that we see the same mida when shevet Reuven sees the land on the east side of the Yarden. After 40 years in the desert, they are now only a few miles from Eretz Yisrael, their ultimate and long dreamed of goal. However, they notice that this land is quite good so in an impulsive move, ask Moshe Rebeinu if they can settle there! Then they are totally taken aback with surprise when Moshe reacts with anger! That’s Shevet Reuven for you!

Whisky Moral of the Dvar Torah

When it comes to single malt, especially old malts like these, don’t be impulsive, even if the first sip tastes pretty good and simply knock the whole thing back. Be patient and wait because you might be missing out on something better, once the whisky settles down in the glass.


You know, I remember when I made Aliyah back in the 1980s, I used to communicate with my family back in Britain via airmail letters. (International calls were reserved for special occasions). These letters used to take a few days to compose and write. Then you had to walk to the post box and post  them. If you hadn't pre-bought a stamp then there was a trip to the Post Office, waiting in the queue behind all those people paying their electricity, gas, telephone bills... It was a whole procedure.


(Cute story, when my daughter got married she posted all her wedding invitations in special envelopes given to her by the Simcha hall with the name of the hall printed on the back. However, she had never sent a letter by post before and had no idea she had to put a stamp on each of the envelopes. I have to tell you. Kol HaKavod to the Israel Postal Company. Seeing that they were wedding invitations, they delivered every single one of those invitation!)


Anyway, this whole procedure had one advantage. You had time to contemplate over what you had written. If you had written something in anger or something potentially hurtful, something which you would later regret writing, you had time to correct it, to rub it out or even not to send the letter at all.


Nowadays, you are punished for all your impulsive outbursts and things you write without proper thought because sending something to multiple people, words which you might regret in the future, is only a little SEND button away.
 


So, I waited. After 20 minutes, the wood smells start to recede, showing a rich malty cream, apple brandy and Jamaican rum molasses sweetness, along with honey and caramel fudge sweetness. There is more of that lovely back note of leather and cigar leaves in a box, no doubt coming from the casks.

Despite the triple distillation, if you give this whisky time, with patience it does start to show more complexity and reveals its malty barley and fruity side with Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and soft white pepper spices much more focused.

Tasting.

Really yummy. Rich Apple brandy and Jamaican rum flavours along with creamy malt. Lots of sweet Bourbon oak coming through but balanced well by white fruits. Fresh black tea. (The notes on the box say green tea but I don’t any of this). Vanilla and honey on the mid palette are very dominant.

The flavour complexity tails off towards the end.  I’m not sure if this is caused by the Lowland triple distillation or because of chill-filtration which has dumbed the finish down. I suspect it’s the chill-filtration. On the finish, loads of Cinnamon, with nutmeg, ginger, soft white pepper but it seems to fade too quickly. This is unusual for an 18-Year-Old. I expected more.

Out of curiosity, I compared this to the Deanston 12 which is also a whisky matured in active Ex-Bourbon casks. Both showed similar flavour notes coming from the American Oak but the Auchentoshan 18 seemed more firmly imbedded in the whisky. There was no sign of alcohol burn whatsoever, the spirit having lost its youthful bite long ago. The Deanston 12 still had a bit of a kick to it. It’s a pity I don’t have any Deanston 18 left to compare that to this Auchentoshan. That would have been fascinating.

I spoke about the overuse of the word “smooth” in my last review. I can well imagine that a lot of casual whisky drinkers will describe this Auchentoshan as “smooth” and if by this, they mean that it has no alcohol burn, doesn’t need messing about with water and gives you a full flavoured, soft sweet sensation as it goes down, from the very first glass pour, then that’s a pretty good description of this expression.

Not only is it printed on the box but the Chief Blender mentions on the video a strong green tea flavour note. I didn’t get this at all. To me, green tea is dry flowers, herbal, vegetable, slightly swampy, pond vegetation, boiled grass, bittersweet. I could detect none of these things. Bittersweet? There was nothing even remotely bitter about this. The finish might be described as slightly wood spicy and savoury like varnished wood shavings but bitter in any form, as in bitter wood, or bitter beer, or like grapefruit pith, it certainly isn’t. Not to me anyway. Ardmore 1996 20 Year-Old, now that’s bitter! (See my review a few reviews back).


Marketing Shpiel

On YouTube, there is a distillery review of this whisky by Andrew Rankin, Auchentoshan Operations Director & Chief Blender.


I was perfectly prepared for the praises he showered upon this whisky but I object to a number of things he said which I found deceptive.

First off, why stand there and ask us to admire what is, after all, a fake colour?

He comments that a lot of people say that this smells smoky. OK, he is right to tell us that it doesn’t come from peat. That’s fine, but to say it comes from the distillation is strange. Since when has smokiness come from distillation? The smokiness or leathery notes, will almost certainly have come from the charred barrels.

Next he admires the alcohol Legs on the inside of glass. The viscosity of these legs of tears, are determined by alcohol strength and whether the whisky has been Chill-Filtered, which removes much of the spirit’s natural oils. Seeing that this whisky has been bottled at a low 43% abv and, as far as I am aware, has been chill-filtered, the alcohol legs on this Auchentoshan are going to be relatively light and certainly not something to boast about. Instead he wants us to look at the legs and then “informs” us that this somehow is connected to its age. As far as I am aware, the thickness of the tears has absolutely nothing to do with age! So why does he seem to associate the age of the whisky with the legs? It’s very is puzzling.

Not for Ex-Sherry Cask Lovers!

Interestingly, he talks about it being “sweet” but only mentions by-the-way, right at the end that the sweetness he is talking about is not sherry / red wine sweetness, but honey/fudge sweetness.

I have noticed that there are a few reviews of this whisky on whioskybase.com that write about sherry notes. I think those who tend to be more impulsive will taste sweetness and say the first thing that comes into their heads, that is, sweet must mean sherry!

However, today, I have found that an increasing amount of even casual whisky drinkers can tell the difference between sherry fortified sweetness and Ex-Bourbon honey/caramel sweetness.

(Oh, and please don’t write to me and tell me that the dried fruit flavours are coming from the European oak they make Spanish Sherry casks from because, the fact is that the vast majority of Spanish Sherry casks used in the Scottish Whisky Industry today, are made out of American White Oak!


Those looking for those sweet heavy syrupy sherry Plum cake, figs/dates flavours, that say, the “Auchentoshan Triple Wood” sherry finished, is known for, are not going to find it here. Consequently, you may even hear some whisky drinkers describing this Auchentoshan 18 as “dry”! It just means that they can’t taste the sherry!

Looking around, this Auchentoshan does seem to have received quite a few poor reviews from regular whisky reviewers. I put this down to not spending enough time with this or perhaps reviewing from a 5cl sample bottle. In my opinion, this is never a good idea! Is it a great whisky? No! But it will appeal to those who don’t just look for sherry bombs and want an instantly approachable single malt experience. For those less impulsive, there are more treasures to found. Had they not watered it down so much and chill-filtered it, there would be even more to discover, but then, it would not be so appealing to those who simply cannot wait…


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