I am a very lucky whisky blogger. Yesterday was my birthday and my wife surprised me in the morning with news that we’d be taking the drive to Scotland to visit Auchentoshan distillery. Here is my record of our visit.
We arrived 10 minutes before the 12 O’clock tour. There were two tours advertised: The standard tour (classic I think it was called) at £6, and the “wee tasting tour” at £10. The difference was 1 dram of the 12you on the standard and 3 drams (12yo, classic and three wood) on the wee tasting. Naturally I went for the 3, but I was told that they only do that at specific times (12pm not one of them) and that you don’t get 3 full drams. I was told it was better value to go on the classic, then, if I wanted spend the extra £4 in the bar trying the other members of the range. I heard “there is a bar where you can buy whisky at the end” and we were off on the classic tour!
The tour began with some background about the whisky regions and the standard and annoying “only three ingredients” spiel. Spirit caramel (E150a) is an ingredient people!
Then the tour really improved. Our guide had a qualification in distilling and explained the process in the greatest detail I’ve yet heard. The correct enzymes were named, chemical reactions explained, it was quite illuminating. A knowledgeable guide really can make all of the difference!
We were shown how the new computer allows the mash temperature to be controlled and allows the mashman to tract the progress of the wort.
This was then contrasted with the old way of doing things.
I loved the contrast! Like old telephones and touchscreen mobiles or K-9 and R2-D2. In one sense it was a shame though that only 2 men were required to run the whole mashing/distilling process for such a high production distillery.
Moving on to the wash backs we were lucky enough to be allowed to taste the wash. (It’s great when a tour allows this, it feels like such a special extra and yet it must be so easy to facilitate, why don’t more distilleries do this?) The wash was unusual. Much more like cider than beer than other washes I’ve tasted. I asked about this and we were told that the difference was due to the type of yeast and the fact that it was added dried.
The stills don’t run most weekends and so we were allowed to peak inside them (my first time). We were then allowed to nose and taste the 81% new make (so strong because of the unique (to scotland) triple distillation done at Auchentoshan. The new make was very sweet and clean with lots of green apple (which followed from my experience of the wash) and grassy notes.
We were also able to nose the foreshots (my first time for this). The green coloured liquid in the picture of the still is the foreshots and is green because it contains a lot of copper oxide due to volatile alcohol reacting with the copper inside the stills. We nosed it (very metallic and unpleasant). We weren’t allowed to taste it (it can make you go blind!)
Next stop one of the three dunnage warehouses (they also have two rack warehouses), where there was no photography. Following a look at the slumbering whisky we headed to the warm bar for our dram(s). The 12yo was a decent dram with toffee, apples, feint sherry, vanilla and liquorice allsorts (the one with the pink balls round the outside). I’m not doing a review of the 12yo here.
Then came the highlight of the tour. Our guide said “as it’s your birthday, here is something special to try”. Handing me a plastic shot glass full of whisky. He explained it was 19yo whisky poured straight from a bourbon cask into bottles (there were still bits in it!). I asked for a glass and he gave me a glencairn nosing glass. I forgot to ask for the ABV, but here are the dramstats:
- Price £146
- Age 19yo
- Cask (Ex bourbon)
Nose: Paint! Strong first impression of wall paint. 2 minutes in the glass brings coconut, banana chips, vanilla, fresh cut grass, apple (how are new make notes still here after 19 years in the barrel). Water brings fresh baked bread.
Taste: banana chips, vanilla, green apple and toffee.
Finish: Toffee apples and caramel.
Verdict: Excellent dram, with the whisky really opening up in the glass. I was very pleased to have tasted it and I’ll certainly be paying attention to single cask/cask strength Auchentoshans. However, £146 is a bit steep for me. Perhaps I’ll look for an indie bottling in the late teens.
As I couldn’t afford the 19yo, I wanted to taste the valinch, a single cask offering that has proved very popular with whisky writers. Unfortunately, they only had a distillery only cask with 200 bottles signed by the master blender, and none open for tasting at the bar. Even our experienced guide and barman had not been allowed a taste.
As it was a different cask and was priced at £50 as opposed to the £35 for the acclaimed version on the internet, I didn’t buy a bottle.
Tour and distillery verdict: An excellent tour made so by a knowledgable tour guide and better than average access to the different elements of the whisky making process. I find it a shame that a distillery dedicated to single malt production (their malt is not for blends) bottles at 40%, and doesn’t have more of a craft presentation. But their single cask stuff is well worth looking out for. Overall a total bargain for the standard tour and an unusual distillery to visit for the triple distillation.