Auchentoshan (pronounced ock-en-tosh-an) is one of the last remaining Lowland whisky distilleries and is unique as it is the only distillery in Scotland to continually practice triple distillation of their spirit. Other Scottish distilleries occasionally do this (for example, Springbank release Hazelburn which is triple distilled but they only produce it for a small part of the year). Triple distillation produces a smoother, lighter spirit that many people find easier to drink and the process is more commonly associated with Irish whiskey. In fact, only five whisky/whiskey distilleries in the world practice triple distillation as a matter of course - Auchentoshan in Scotland, Bushmills, Cooley and Midleton in Ireland and Woodford Reserve in America.
So, why are Auchentoshan the only place to consistently triple distill in Scotland? The theory is that during the Irish potato famine in the early 1800s, immigrants came over to the Glasgow area, where the distillery was founded in 1823 and is still located, to escape the poverty and brought the process with them, maybe introducing the idea to the new distillery's owners. Auchentoshan's current owners are Morrison Bowmore, a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory, and have carried on this tradition. The annual production capacity of Auchentoshan is 1.75 million litres and the name translates as 'corner of the field' from Gaelic. Also, the visitor centre at the distillery has been voted one of the best in Scotland and is one of the most visited, helped by its close proximity to Glasgow.
Details of the whisky
This whisky is a new limited edition of Auchentoshan which has been released, along with a 1998 Fino sherry cask bottling which we recently reviewed, to compliment to core range. This core range consists of 12, 18 and 21 year old whiskies plus the Three Wood, which has undergone maturation in three different casks (hence the name!). This 1977 whisky has been bottled at 32 years of age and at an alcoholic strength of 49% ABV. It has been matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks and released as a very small and exclusive batch containing just 240 bottles. To aid the feeling of exclusivity, the whisky has been packaged in a suede lined box that is adorned with a brushed pewter label. It is available now from specialist whisky retailers for £370 a bottle.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a pale amber and the nose is rich, fragrant and one to spend plenty of time over. It has a wonderful intensity, with plenty of complex scents and aromas giving away its increased age. There is initial wood spice (think of cedar wood and cinnamon) that is joined by further savoury notes including old furniture, waxy furniture polish, gristy malted barley and the inside of a cigar box. The aroma of barley increases with time and some subtle, almost understated fruitiness also develops (imagine stewed pears and apples especially). The nose is much less fruity than expected from an ex-sherry cask whisky at 30+ years of age and is very promising. On the palate, it does not disappoint and feels syrupy in the mouth. The whisky is again quite woody and spicy to begin with (notes of oak, nutmeg and allspice) before revealing much more fruit notes than the nose did. This is an intense, complex combination of stewed/baked apples and pears plus dried fruits, especially raisins, sultanas and prunes. Other notes detected add to the classy feel of this whisky - some spiced orange, sweet honeycomb, coffee, dark brown sugar and milk chocolate. The finish is long with sweetness (the honeycomb and dried fruits), before becoming drier and almost bittersweet with the cereals and wood spices particularly prominent.
What's the verdict?
Wow - what a fine whisky! This Auchentoshan 1977 Sherry Cask Matured could well be an early contender for our Top 10 Whiskies of 2011, as it is of outstanding quality. Yes, it is rare and it is expensive but this whisky is a league above any other Auchentoshan's that we have tried to date, or indeed a number of other older ex-sherry matured whiskies from other distilleries. It is well crafted and more importantly, well selected - it has been released because it has been deemed ready rather than waiting for a set age, such as 30 or 35 years. The sympathetic use of the casks means that the sherry influence does not overpower the spirit, which can happen in older whiskies, but compliments it beautifully. We feel privileged to try such a rare whisky and thank DK Cheung from Auchentoshan's marketing department for allowing us to sample it.