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I grew up five miles from Auchentoshan distillery, on the opposite bank of the River Clyde. For those who lived in Erskine, Clydebank was an occasional shopping destination that became all the more attractive when a multiscreen cinema opened there in 1985. Despite frequent trips across the Erskine Bridge and along the A82 however, I don’t know if I even noticed the distillery before I left for the big city in 2002. Like many whisky drinkers, the spirit was the furthest thing from my mind during my twenties and it was only as I lumbered towards 30 that I began to take an interest.
Through various books I began to educate myself about the world of whisky and it came as something of a surprise to learn that it wasn’t just produced in the heathery, hilly highlands but also occasionally in the lowlands, and there was even one that stood at the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills, where I used to go walking every summer.
The lowlands, and in particular the central belt that takes in Edinburgh and Glasgow, has been the main population centre of Scotland for generations and it was here that the industrialisation of whisky production really took hold in dramatic fashion. Whilst Highland distillers tended to function on an almost part-time basis, dependant on rainfall and a successful harvest, their lowland counterparts were increasing the size of their stills, pumping out gallons and gallons of spirit. By the 1850’s there was a distillery in most towns – the Scotch Whisky Industry Record lists 215 known to exist in the region pre-1945.
Sadly only three malt distilleries would survive into the modern era, Bladnoch in Wigtownshire, Glenkinchie near Edinburgh, and Auchentoshan, the only one still practicing triple distillation, a technique once popular with many, that produces a higher alcoholic strength of around 81% and creates a more delicate, sweeter flavour profile.
In 1800 a man named John Bulloch founded Duntocher Distillery. The business was continued by his son, who registered it in 1823. Bulloch Jr sold to Alexander Filshie and John Hart and they renamed the distillery Auchentoshan, Gaelic, apparently, for “the corner of the field”. Like so many, Auchenstoshan spent the best part of the next century passing from one owner to the next until finally in 1984 it was purchased by Stanley P Morrison of Morrison Bowmore, where it remains today albeit under the care of Japanese distilling giant Beam Suntory.
Still one of a very few Scottish distilleries to triple distill, Auchentoshan has undergone something of a rebranding of late, with a new colour scheme and updated label design and a push towards the cocktail has taken the brand into new markets. Their American Oak single malt was first introduced in 2014 and is matured exclusively in first fill bourbon casks. Bottled at 40% abv it retails for the approachable price of £25.
Smell: A little spirit-y on the nose at first. There’s malt and vanilla and clotted cream. Fresh sawn oak. A little lemon juice. Toffee. Lemongrass and honey.
Taste: Breakfast cereal and honey. Orange zest. Butter. Generous helping of woody spice which remains through the finish, along with some soft toffee.
Thoughts: £25 is about as low as you get where single malt is concerned. There’s little to offend the palate, but neither is there much to fall in love with. Clean, smooth spirit with some gentle bourbon notes.
For a single malt matured in first-fill bourbon casks, the oak influence is fairly subtle. This, with the lack of age statement and low price point suggest a malt that’s on the young side and lacks a little bit of the depth that comes from time spent in good oak. To be fair, it may not make much sense triple distilling to achieve a lighter spirit, only to then smother it in oak, but even still, it feels like this particular expression is missing something. It isn’t in any way unpleasant, it just doesn’t offer up much flavour. Should your preferences veer toward the lighter side of whisky and your budget be limited, this may work out for you, for me personally, it falls a wee bit short, even at its commendable price.
For more on Auchentoshan visit here.