31 August 2016

28/08/2016 Auchentoshan distillery visit

JS and I have an apointment with DH, whom we met at Annandale. He kindly offered to drive us around. Of course, that translates into a distillery visit.
Auchentoshan offers six different tours, and any of those can be done at night. I booked the Auchentoshan Experience, a 90-minute tour with four drams. After a very good lunch, we barley (pun intended) make it on time to the place -- down to the minute.

The group is fifteen strong, which is a lot more than I anticipated. Oh, well.

We are told a summary synthesis of the history of whisky in front of a map of Scotland, including several mistakes ("There are only two distilleries in Campbeltown," " Auchentoshan is one of only two distilleries left in the Lowlands") and interesting trivia (e.g. Auchentoshan means corner of the field and the distillery was built on the site of an abbey, centuries ago).
DH and I shiver when the guide tells us Auchentoshan is the only distillery in Scotland to triple-distill its whisky (Hazelburn does the same), though we make no fuss about it.

Too clean for spleen

I am struck by the cleanliness of the place: it looks like a visitor centre that happens to host distilling equipment. The guide reminds me that it is Sunday and there is no production, today. Still, the effort spent cleaning the equipment each week is enormous, in that case.

Guide: "If you want to wax lyrical about lime and shaved coconut, you're in the wrong place. I like my whisky to taste of whisky."

Auchentoshan American Oak (40%, OB, Bourbon Barrels, L3978): nose apricot compote and milky porridge. Mouth: touches of young wood, apricot jam and lemon marmalade. Finish: gently spicy, with more lemon marmalade. this is decent, not particularly noteworthy. 7/10

Before we proceed to the mash room, with its four Oregon pine mash tuns (the other four are hidden behind a wall), a visitor asks if the drying barley is still turned with a wooden shovel. The guide answers that it is, that nothing is mechanised. He does not seem to think it fit to mention there is no malting floor left at Auchentoshan and that the malt they buy is, of course, mechanically turned.

Auchentoshan Three Woods (43%, OB, 10y in American Bourbon Barrel, 1y in Oloroso Sherry Casks, 1y in PX Casks, L4451): this used to be a sure shot ten or fifteen years ago; something easy and affordable, yet slightly more demanding than e.g., a Glenfiddich 12yo. Nose: Quality Street Strawberry Delight (the one with the pink wrapper). Mouth: good balance, with mild chocolate, strawberry touches and a drop of Chinoto. Finish: Americano coffee, Chinoto, gingerbread, ginger beer. Yep, still decent. 7/10

In the still room, we get to smell fore shots (full of fusel oil) and are told that the triple-distilled spirit comes out at 81%. "Like a good vodka," our guide underlines. "A summer vodka," reply the two Russians in the group.
We get to try it.

Auchentoshan New Make Spirit (81%): nose: plum eau-de-vie. Mouth: feinty and plummy. Finish: long, plummy and chock-full of macerating plum skins.

Next stop is the warehouse, where pictures are not allowed and where we discover Auchentoshan use their casks three times. I learn that, in Scotland, whisky must not be matured in a vessel larger than 700 litres.

"A 3yo whisky is really not good enough to drink. The sort of things you would get at an all-inclusive holiday resort, when you think, 'Ah! I might as well have malt whisky!'"

Pictures from the outisde are OK
The warehouse is rather generic. The Bourbon casks come from Heaven Hill, mostly, there are quite a few French wine casks and all of them have barcodes. The guide tells me nothing goes to blending. The whole production is dedicated to the single malt market.

The final stop is the lounge, a room that looks more set up for corporate events than anything else, yet it has a few lovely industrial-era features. It also has two sofas that are as uncomfortable as they are low and deep, which means it is impossible to sit in them them and retain any dignity.

Auchentoshan 18yo (43%, OB, American Bourbon Casks, L4242): nose: warm wood, kept in a wicker basket near the stove, gentle coffee, toasted bread. This is much richer than the previous ones. Mouth: it falls completely flat, here; watery, with hot chocolate, diluted in too much water. Finish: watery again, it has notes of cola. Disapointing. 6/10

I am hoping we get to try the 21yo as the final dram, but no luck.

Auchentoshan 10yo 2006/2016 (59.2%, OB Distillery Cask, Bordeaux Cask, C#199): nose: liquid chocolate, caramel, merbromin, cinnamon, red-hot candy and a bit of sulphur. Mouth: wine, mulled wine, with cloves and cinnamon sticks. Finish: warm and invigorating, with milk chocolate, peppered with rum or some liqueur. This one is full of character and personality -- and pretty nice, in fact. 7/10

The tour ends. There are a couple of interesting bottles in the shop, though it is clear they are trophies more than souvenirs (high price point). They do not sell polo shirts, t-shirts, sweat shirts or suchlike, unfortunately. When asked, the staff replies that they discontinued them, because units were not shifting. Since doing that, everyone has been asking why they did not sell shirts... Perhaps the design did not look good?

It was fun, though as far as distillery visits are concerned, this is one of the worst I have been on. Factual errors, lack of passion, big group, average dram selection... It all felt like a standard 30-minute tour at any distillery. Except it cost four times the price. Unimpressed.

Blackstreet - No Dignity

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