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I grew up five miles from Auchentoshan Distillery, on the opposite bank of the River Clyde. For the population of Erskine, Clydebank was an occasional shopping destination, one that became all the more appealing when a multiscreen cinema opened in 1985. Despite frequent trips across the Erskine Bridge and along the A82, however, I can’t say I ever paid any notice of the distillery. Like many whisky drinkers, I didn’t come to the spirit until I was lumbering towards my 30s, by which time I had long since moved into Glasgow.
Once I discovered my new hobby, I tried, through various books, to educate myself and it came as something of a surprise to learn that whisky wasn’t just produced amongst the bens and glens of the highlands but also, occasionally, in the lowlands. The name, Auchentoshan, rang some distant bells, subconsciously read whilst passing by, no doubt, but it still seemed strange to think that such a large brand could be produced a short distance from home without my being aware. It’s a sad indication of the niche status single malt enjoys throughout much of its homeland.
The lowlands, and in particular the central belt that takes in Edinburgh and Glasgow, has been the main population centre of Scotland for generations. There, the industrialisation of whisky production took hold in dramatic fashion. Highland distillers tended to function on a part-time basis, dependant on rainfall and a successful harvest but those of the lowlands could easily import ingredients and churned out gallons and gallons of spirit. By the 1850s, 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 would survive into the modern era: Bladnoch in Wigtownshire, Glenkinchie near Edinburgh and Auchentoshan. The latter, is the only one that still practices triple distillation, a technique that produces a higher alcoholic strength of around 81% with a delicate, sweet flavour profile.
Auchentoshan’s story began in 1800 when a man by the name of John Bulloch founded Duntocher Distillery. His son, John Bulloch Jr later sold the business to Alexander Filshie and John Hart, who renamed it “Auchentoshan”, a word adapted for the Gaelic for “corner of the field”.
Auchenstoshan has had many owners over its long years. In 1984, it was purchased by Stanley P Morrison of Morrison Bowmore. That company was in turn acquired by Japanese distilling giant Suntory, who remain its custodians today.
Auchentoshan has undergone something of a rebranding of late, with a new colour scheme and updated label design and a push towards the cocktail market taking the brand into new territory. The American Oak expression was first introduced in 2014. Matured exclusively in first fill bourbon casks, it’s bottled at 40% abv and retails for the accessible 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 a price as you can get where single malt is concerned. That in itself makes this an appealing purchase. Certainly there’s nothing here to offend the palate but neither is there an awful lot to fall in love with. It’s a simple, clean, smooth spirit with some gentle bourbon notes.
For a single malt matured in first-fill bourbon, the cask influence is fairly subtle. That perhaps suggests a relatively short maturation period, which, to be fair, you’d expect from such an affordable release. To be fair, it wouldn’t make much sense to triple distill only to then smother in oak, but even still, it feels like this particular expression is missing something. It seems to lack a little depth. It isn’t unpleasant, it just doesn’t offer up much flavour. Should your own preferences veer toward the lighter side of whisky and your budget be limited, this may work out well for you but for me personally, it falls a wee bit short, even at its commendable price.
For more on Auchentoshan visit here.