When you’ve been exploring whisky for a while you may start to ponder the distilleries themselves. Fortunately there’s ample opportunity to tour them nowadays, in fact, the Visitor Centre attached to many distilleries is almost as important as the production facilities themselves, bringing much needed income while the product matures. There’s tours aplenty, some more in-depth than others with the option to add tastings of multiple drams to the equation. There’s something for everyone, from the casual tourist to the obsessive fanatic. The difficulty in visiting many of these places is in actually getting there: the location of Scotland’s distilleries is not always what you would call accessible. However, this is not so with Auchentoshan.
I’d been meaning to visit Auchentoshan for a while but for one reason or another I’d never got round to it. Finally, I found myself with a free Saturday and arranged a tour. First impressions were good. I’ve driven by on many occasions without being able to see much from the road but from closer up the distillery is an attractive one, neatly trimmed lawns and water features contrasting nicely with the white buildings and stark black lettering.
Inside, the reception and shop are nicely laid out with various expressions of their malts displayed around the walls. They lose some points however, for the crass pop music playing at slightly too high volume in the shop – I’m not saying I demand bagpipes and fiddles but the ambience is somewhat shattered by Top 40 EDM.
Off the main shop there was a small theater where you could watch a short video history of the distillery. It was brief but informative and a good way to set up the tour.
You could be forgiven for thinking that every distillery tour is the same and maybe for the casual tourist it is, but for whisky geeks like me there’s always something new to catch the attention, some quirk of production unique to each site… Like Auchentoshan’s method of triple distilling for example (most scotch is distilled twice, triple distilling is much more common to Irish Whiskey). I find it fascinating to see these small differences in production that shape such radically different flavour profiles from the same basic ingredients.
The tour itself followed the usual format, taking us through each stage of production but with a little sensory boost supplied by samples of malted barley or bottles of low wines and new make spirit to smell. Credit to our tour guide as well who was among the more informed I’ve come across, offering plenty of detail and confidently answering any questions put to him.
Things concluded with a wander through the dunnage warehouse on site. It’s always a pleasure to get in amongst the casks and having been to plenty of distilleries that won’t allow you access, Auchentoshan have my thanks for letting us pass through and out the other end of the warehouse.
We followed the tour up with a tasting in the distilleries spacious and welcoming lounge area. Here we were presented with samples of their 12 year old, Three Wood, Virgin Oak and Distillery Edition malts. Again, to add to the experience, samples of oak and bottles of sherry were passed round to compliment the nosing and tasting of the whisky. It was useful to nose a bottle of Oloroso and then identify the same notes in the whisky for example. My only criticism is that 30 minutes was a bit tight to work your way through 4 drams comfortably. The lounge area seemed a nice place to spend some time but it felt like that wasn’t really an option.
All in all, a couple of nitpicks aside, I was pretty impressed with the whole experience. It was among the better tours I’ve done and the tasting was enjoyable, with a good selection of drams on offer. The whole thing was very reasonably priced and an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Not only would I recommend it but I’d probably be happy to do it again myself… If they could just do something about that EDM.