It Ain’t Heavy–It’s a Lowland: Auchentoshan 12

The Auchentoshan 12 is one level above their Classic, but it’s still a rather entry-level malt. Add that to the 40% ABV, the caramel e150, and probably chill-filtration, and you’ve got yourself a “branded whisky” as Ralfy would say. Pile it with the 12s of Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Bowmore and the rest, I thought. This is, admittedly, why it has taken me so long to try it. Though I may love Auchentoshan’s Valinch and 18yo, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a bottle of this… until now.

Nose: Light, creamy toffee, chocolate, and cereal notes I’d associate with a mature Auchentoshan. It doesn’t have many of the fruity, citrusy notes that the Valinch has. It’s practically all dessert (mostly confectioneries), and I love it. Slightly grassy in the background (again, one of the reasons I love a good ‘toshan). Slight bit of smoke behind it all.

Palate: Oily as all hell, and I don’t know how they managed to do this. Oilier than Highland park 12, taking the prize for the chewiest low ABV whisky. Honey-heather, cinnamon and toffee. All the confectioneries you’d find in the nose come through the palate, clearly. Love the mouth-feel of this one.

Finish: Medium (maybe a bit on the short side of medium). Some ‘apple juice’ notes on the finish, and icing sugar. The finish is rather short, but this is probably indicative of the strength (40%) of the whisky. At Cask-strength (or even just 46%!) this could easily become one of my favourite whiskies.

Grade: B-

I do sorely want to give this a B. It has everything I really love in a dessert whisky, but it’s missing that extra kick that bottling it at 46% might give. It’s the best of the daily drams, though, that’s for sure. Ditch the e150, the chill-filtration, and kick it up a notch, and I might even put this at a B+. Till then, a daily dram it will stay. For the price though, heck, that’s alright with me.

A Year In Review

Updated January 7th, more in-depth.

It feels about that time of year, where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2012 journeys, and being my first real serious year as a whisky blogger, I’d like to do the same. The whiskies that I’ve tried this year for the first time, and thus, all those eligible for consideration, were:

Bowmore “Tempest” 10yr (Batch 3)
’93 Ben Nevis 17yr (Signatory, UCC)
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength
Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 36)
Springbank 12 Claret Wood
The Glenlivet 16 “Nadurra” (0911P)
Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’
Auchentoshan Valinch
’91 Mortlach 19yr (Signatory, UCC)
92 Clynelish 18yr (Signatory, UCC)
Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor
Highland Park 12
Glenmorangie 12 ‘Lasanta’
Cragganmore 12
Aberlour 10
The Glenlivet 12
Dun Bheagan 8 (Islay)

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2012, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to try a number of great whiskies this year, and when I look back on the one’s I’ve tried, the ones with the highest price-to-quality ratio, in a few different categories, were:

Best Nose
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Palate
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Finish
Runner-Up: Bruichladdich ‘Laddie Ten’
Winner: Springbank 12 Claret Wood

Favourite Peated
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: 
Bowmore Tempest III

Favourite Unpeated
Runner-Up: Springbank 12 Claret Wood
Winner: ‘93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC

Favourite No Age Statement
Runner-Up: Auchentoshan Valinch
Winner: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength

Favourite Overall
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Bowmore really took me by surprise this year. If you would have asked me last January what distillery I would expect to try something truly great from this year, I probably would have said Ardbeg, maybe Auchentoshan or Laphroaig, but never Bowmore. My initial taste of the 12yo had really ruined Bowmore for me, and I’m lucky to have been not-so-stubborn so as to give the tempest a chance. I eagerly await Batch 4.

The Springbank 12yo Claret Wood was also an excellent pick from earlier in 2012, as was the “carnival-in-a-glass” pick from Ben Nevis. My hopes are still to get a hold of the 17yo Cask strength version from ’93 (or ’92) before supply vanishes. Lastly, the Auchentoshan Valinch was a huge surprise in the NAS category, especially for the price it came in at. It was also the best whisky under $65 this year. I would love to say under $70, but then it would have to contend with Laphroiag’s QC, and I don’t think it was that good. Caol Ila’s win in the NAS category wasn’t as much of a surprise, as serving their younger stuff at cask-strength seems like it would be naturally good, given the rave reviews that the 12yo gets. The Auchentoshan, though it wasn’t the best NAS whisky of the year, sure took me by surprise. The Auchentoshan Classic/Select gets mediocre reviews—average at best—for an entry-level NAS malt at standard ABV. I was initially skeptical as to the merits of amping up something so banal to cask-strength, but was easily swayed when I opened the bottle. You go, Auchentoshan.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #50, (at least!) a special Signatory bottle from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up for Christmas. Expect that review around Valentine’s Day.

Auchentoshan 18: New data alert

I just read that Adam @ LAWS had recently retasted the Auchentoshan 18 (June 2012) and revised his rating from an A- (2008/09) to a B- —a very significant downgrade from a connisseur whose original rating led me to purchase a bottle in September of 2012. This begs the questions: do I own one of the good bottles? Did he taste from a bad batch?

As this whisky runs about $110 wherever you go, I’d lend the following caution to anyone considering adding the Auchie 18 to their collection: taste it at a bar first. We may be seeing a dip in quality of the 18yr offering. This new data point sure has me considering whether the 18yr still deserves a permanent spot in my cabinet.

Auchentoshan 18

I was lucky enough to score one of the last bottles of this gem at a clearance price when they discontinued it in Ontario. In the case of the Auchentoshan 18, the drop in price was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I would probably have never forked over the extra $20 they originally wanted for it, and it was so very worth what I did pay. However, it was a curse in the sense that this bottle must last me until I can find another affordable source for this precious whisky.

Nose: Barley, spices, tobacco, citrus. Upon first tasting, I was instantly struck by a vivid visual of the wheat fields of Saskatchewan. It has been years since I’ve seen them, so this whisky is a definite memory-jogger. After sitting for 10 minutes, with a few drops of water, the palate morphs into vanilla, toffee, and other sweetie shop scents.

Palate: Confirms the nose. Thick, syrupy, grassy, with hints of tobacco and fresh citrus. After 10 minutes and water, the candy shop opens up. The sweetness and barley marry into what I can only describe as a chocolate-covered granola bar.

Finish: Long, smooth, dry Tobacco and cereals. Vanilla and hints of bitter dark chocolate on the tail end of the finish.

Grade: B+

As I had mentioned in the review of the PC An Turas Mor, my A- grade often requires some sort of metamorphosis, or some increasing depth with the addition of sitting time, and/or water. It should provide me 2 experiences in a glass. The Auchentoshan 18 does that, and fabulously, even though I was skeptical at first with it being such a low ABV. It is, too, a chill-filtered whisky, and I’m not certain, but I’d guess that it also has caramel added to give it that beautiful, almost orange colour. Unlike other malt-maniacs, I won’t dock this whisky grades for its chill-filtration or caramel, because it is so spectacular in its own right. I can only wistfully imagine what a cask-strength-non-chillfiltered-no-e150 Auchentoshan 18 might taste like.

All in all, this is one bottle I will be playing close to the chest around company. Consider it a badge of honour if I share.

Retaste: Just over 8 months later, (and 8 months wiser) a retaste of this whisky has led me to downgrade it to a B+. While the notes are much of the same, it’s just not as smooth, and doesn’t hold up to some of the better whiskies I’ve had over the last few quarters. That said, it’s still, perhaps, the most unique whisky I’ve tried to date, with the most savoury profile I’ve come across. The Mortlach 20yo CS may take that to task, though, from what I’ve been told.

Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 Limited Release

Wading into the waters of Auchentoshan is exciting. For me, the two expressions I have tried have this very fresh, grassy, barley, flavour—maybe vegetal is the word? I’m not sure. Ever since tasting the Auchentoshan 18, my brain says “Oh! This tastes like an Auchentoshan.” every time that vegetal note pops up. I always say it with delight, too, because I love that note.

Reviewing Auchentoshan is a daunting task, though, because no matter what I say, I know I’m no expert like Mark Dermul (the Toshan Man). That man has tried them all. However, I’ll give my two cents about the Auchentoshan Valinch here, if only to entice people on the fence to give it a try—I mean, a cask-strength Limited Auchie for $65 CAD? A steal, if you ask me. I warn you, though, this one’s going to be a rambler.

Nose: A mostly pleasant nose. It explodes with that freshness that a much older Auchie would give you, but none of the alcohol burn you’d expect from a cask-strength whisky at 57.5% ABV. Fresh-cut barley, rather than grass, but that fits the rest of the nose.  I understand the “peaches” comment by one connsr.com reviewer. There is a lot of that here. Maybe peach cobbler. There is definitely some baked goods here. (Crème brulee?)  Vanilla and citrus notes as well. The downside is that there is this farmy note that lays in the background of this nose. Unfortunate.

Palate: This is where it confused me at first, and I think if you try it without water, you may be disappointed. Without water, it gives you that alcohol burn, and while wonderfully anesthetic, it makes the whole palate dry, and difficult to discern. The first glass was a bit of a disappointment, especially because I had been waiting 6 months for it to hit our shores after word that it was on its way.

The glass needs a good 10-15 minutes to open up, so pour it and let it sit.  Then add as much water as you care to. Different amounts of water bring out different tastes. I can see the differences in the reviews on connsr.com too, because depending on how much water you add, the palate can go from a rather unsweetened baked good like Yorkshire pudding, to something more desserty, like crème brulee. Add a small amount for cinnamon hearts, a medium amount for crème brulee, and some more for Yorkshire batter. Ralfy @ralfy.com adds a whole lot of water (whisky review #279). There seems to be some hints of a really dry chocolate–like 85% cocoa chocolate (or something in that high range). There are other notes I’m just getting acquainted with.

Finish: Long, wonderfully classic Auchentoshan. A revisit of the palate, again and again and…

Grade: B

All in all, this dram gives me that glimpse into what a cask-strength Auchentoshan 18 might be like. Oh what a perfect glass that would be! I’ll give my thoughts on the Auchentoshan 18 in a later post. It’s a good dram for being so young, but that background farmy note kind of dampens my enthusiasm a little bit.

To end this, the Auchentoshan Valinch is an excellent value for the money. Moreover, it’s a very refreshing dram, so it’s come to Toronto just in time.

Tasting update: The Auchentoshan Valinch is now more of a B. It is still reasonably complex, and a wonderfully desserty lowlander that can take a lot of water and still hold up, if not becoming all the better for it. The farmy note on the nose is it’s only dart.