Auchentoshan is one of the few remaining Lowland distilleries, and it is the only Scottish whisky distillery to permanently triple distill their spirit. The result of this triple distillation is a house style that leans towards smooth, light and floral whiskies. Beginning in 2008, the entire range of Auchentoshan went through a radical transformation, as owners Morrison Bowmore reimagined everything from the packaging to the core expressions.
The Auchentoshan Classic is the new entry-level whisky in the distillery’s portfolio. It is a young, No Age Statement (NAS) whisky matured for an unspecified amount of time in ex-bourbon casks. The official tasting notes describe a vanilla and coconut nose, followed by a fruity taste on the tongue and a “zesty” floral finish.
Color: Thick honey.
Nose: Fragrant grass, peaches.
Taste: Same as the nose, but less exuberant. Some fruits and grass up front, fragrant flowers towards the back. A hint of butterscotch. Perhaps that’s my palate’s interpretation of the vanilla and coconut, which aren’t readily apparent to me.
Finish: Light and crisp. Fairly short.
Overall: More interesting on the nose than on the tongue, it’s a decent summertime dram for those muggy nights when a highly peated or sherried Scotch just won’t do. It’s not the best Scotch you can get in this price range by any means, but you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. I agree with many fellow whisky bloggers and reviewers that this could be an excellent starter Scotch for someone who is a little intimidated by the cask-strength, super peated whiskies that are in favor today.
- Whisky for Everyone: “It is rich and creamy with lots of vanilla and coconut present (classic characteristics of bourbon cask maturation). The whisky also has a pleasant malty flavour that mixes with an interesting citrus note (imagine lemon or lime zest).”
- Whisky Magazine: Dave Broom says “Balanced clean and a good starting point.” Rob Allanson says “An easy dram for any time in the day.”
- Drink Hacker: Calls it a great starter Scotch and gives it a “B” rating. Drink Hacker also reviews the rest of the new Auchentoshen core range.
- Connosr: Only one reviewer has looked at the Classic on the whisky social network, and his verdict is “It’s no instant classic, although it does not suffer from being a young whisky, but it’s not a tremendously great dram either. It’s a nice addition to the Auchentoshan range and easy to drink, making it an ideal aperitif or whisky for a novice.”
Auchentoshan Fun Fact: I’ve heard of many micro distilleries engaging craft breweries to provide the wash for their distillation, but Auchentoshan may well be the only whisky distillery to make their own craft beer.
The Cooley Distillery in Ireland is known for independence and experimentation. The youngest Irish distillery, they offer a wide range of products that go well beyond the standard, non-peated, triple distilled product put out by Bushmills and Midleton. This strategy has served them well, and in 2010 Malt Advocate declared Cooley “Distillery of the Year.”
Connemara is the peated, single malt brand in the Cooley portfolio, and Turf Mór seems to be their play to really engage the peat freaks. At 50 ppm phenols, Turf Mór is the peatiest expression in the range by far. It’s 3 years old and bottled at cask strength and non chill-filtered. As the latest release in Connemara’s Small Batch Collection, only 20,000 bottles of Turf Mór will be available.
Connemara Turf Mór
Color: Sauvignon Blanc
Nose: Heavy Peat, light citrus. Meaty.
Palate: Holy crap. A huge burst of peat followed by an intense rubbery taste. Ever watch the opening credits for The Simpson’s and see that giant pile of flaming tires? This is like diving into that burning rubbery mass and inhaling until your lungs can take no more.
Finish: One of the longest finishes I’ve encountered. This burning hunk of rubber just won’t quit.
With Water: Much the same, but the nose seems hotter.
Overall: This bottle is getting raves all over the blogosphere (see below), so I’m in a clear minority when I say that I just don’t like this whiskey. I’m a huge fan of peated/smokey/medicinal whiskies, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed extreme peat monsters like Octomore and Ardbeg Supernova, yet this seems one note to me - and an unpleasant note at that.
Looking back at my previous reviews of Connemara whiskies - the 12 year, NAS and NAS Cask Strength - a clear pattern emerges. I enjoyed their 12 year, but didn’t think much of the younger, NAS expressions. Maybe Turf Mór - a 3 year old - just needs more time in the cask before it will appeal to my palate. Or maybe I just don’t like Connemara. Check out the opinions of other whisky bloggers and decide for yourself.
- Whisky for Everyone thought it was quite good for so young a dram. “If you like the peaty, smoky style of whiskies, then you simply have to try this one - it’s a cracker!”
- Whisky Notes: “This Connemara shows heavy peat but in another way than most Islay distilleries. The added roundness and fruitiness brings a nice variation on the theme. This will be popular.”
- Dramming says “this is a real young peat monster but not in the smoky Islay sense. The dry fruityness of the Connemara is something very unique.”
- Chris and Lucas at Edinburgh Whisky say it’s a “full bodied and full-blooded peaty bad boy boasting complexity and kick. But don’t be mistaken, it is not an Islay-style whisky, it’s a different beast altogether.”
- Yossi at JSMWS says “I’m not going to lie — this whisky is not for everyone. However, if you like the more medicinal/peaty/earthy whiskies – this will please you. “
- Whisk(e)y Apostle have the most similar take to my own, nevertheless they call Turf Mór a “stand out” whiskey.
*A free sample of this whiskey was provided for review by representatives of Cooley Distillery.
Amrut Intermediate Sherry Packaging
Amrut has done very well recently. Their standard collections are winning awards (and I assume) selling well, even grabbing last year’s Third Best Whisky in the World honor from the Whisky Bible. The Amrut ‘Intermediate Sherry’ is their standard Cask Strength Whisky (it’s unclear if it’s their peated variety or not - I get a decent amount of peat in my tasting below), aged in Bourbon Barrels for I believe 3 years, then shipped to Spain for aging in Oloroso butts for a few months, shipped back to India to age in bourbon barrels again, and then bottled in a limited production run at cask strength. The packaging is wonderful on this one, and it was my pick for our 2010 Chrimbus Holiday Gift Guide for gifts over $100.
Amrut ‘Intermediate Sherry’ Indian Single Malt Whiskey (NAS)
Legs: well formed and mixed. Small and skinny, with a quick drop initially and slower drops behind.
Amrut Intermediate Sherry Legs
Color: a liquidy, crystallized darker brown.
Nose: really briney. Salt and seaweed. A forest right after rain, earthy with a hint of smoke, but more sweetness. A little rubber, but it’s well behind the other scents. There’s a lot of malt here and it’s almost sanguine. Floral and sanguine.
Palate: belying the nose, there’s little/no salt. You taste the fire first. A strong cleaning fire. Not peat, but hot spice. But the overwhelming strength fades quickly. The initial blindside is followed by an initial thought of peat, which is then followed by sweet honeyed cherries, almost a jammy citrus marmalade and then a building pepper, a delicious sweet black pepper corn, that’s hot and almost smoky. On further tastings there’s a backdrop of licorice that comes out.
Finish: peppery fire, earthy , and wet copper bordering on a steel rust. suck a penny, lick a scratch, your choice. A spicy sweetness. The finish closes with heat and a lasting peppery kick. You’re sucking on a pepper corn that numbs your tongue while the rest of your mouth is salivating. Wow.
Overall: I was worried when I shelled out for this whisky. I tried it first at whiskyfest, and though I remembered loving it, I had been tasting a great deal already. Would I be let down? My first nose left me a little worried - I didn’t remember the brine. But I got over the surprise quickly. The whisky made me pay attention - there’s a good amount going on. Though the whisky shows its youth slightly, and the cask strength brings it in as anything but mellow, it doesn’t end the party. This whisky is wonderful, invigorating and thoughtful. I can’t wait to enjoy the rest of it.
- Jim Murray (c/o the K&L Page) says it has cracking delivery and is entirely unique in form.
- Whisky Israel finds Turkish Delight and lots of spice. He calls it complex, but doesn’t get the peat that I did.
- Serge also finds Turkish Delights. He finds a little peat, but perhaps not as much as I found. He gets the saltiness and marmalade/jam flavor. He gives it a 91 overall and seems to like it as much as I do.
- Dominic Roskrow, a contributor to MaltAdvocate, finds a “fruity taste sensation” and vanilla.
- LAWhiskySociety member Chris finds the citrus and flowers that I get. The other members tend to find more of the sherry influence then the peppery peat.
Whoever said having good friends is a waste of time clearly never recieved even a few drops of this odd blend as a gift. You can read all about the history and unconventional creation of The Last Drop in any number of different reviews (listed, of course, below), or you can listen to this video explanation, but the main thrust is that the $2000/750ml blend is comprised of 70 single malts and 12 grain whiskies that, after 12 years, were moved into three (very high quality) ex-sherry casks. Thus in 2008 a 48 year old (or older…) whisky vintaged to 1960 came into existence. And just as peculiar as the approach taken in its creation are the colour, aroma, flavour, and finish of The Last Drop— truly 1/1,347th of a kind.
The Last Drop 1960 vintage (bottled 2008)
Abv: 52% (natural cask strength).
Legs: hundreds of miniature beads form at first, giving way to a few sticky, larger ones.
Nose: raisony, bourbony, and chocolatey on a magnificient first whiff; brown sugar, rock candy, prunes, vanilla extract, cereal malt; perhaps the term ‘sticky cinnamon bun’ is appropriate here. A drop of water awakens a rich floral style with big, lush fruits—something like fresh pomegranate.
Palate: a candy-coated entry of sticky, Pedro Ximinez-type sherry flavours (molasses is one), rolling into waves of chocolate-covered red fruits (strawberries at first, then perhaps cherries). Water brings out the fresh sourdough bread (ie, a tart maltiness) and array of warm spices such as nutmeg, vanilla bean, and a little bit of caraway (ie, such a slight anise flavour).
Body: I can’t quite say ‘full bodied;’ in fact, even though it is weighty from the sherry influence, it is fairly light bodied, almost silky but with a little bit of bite.
Finish: f*cking amazing; long, yes, but with loads of baking spices at first, turning to a port-like flavour that keeps developing (eg, toward marachino cherries) long after you swallow. I think I should forgo brushing my teeth tonight.
Overall: Just think about all that has happened in the Western world that this blend (of whiskies from the majority of the Scottish distilleries) has survived since it was laid down in wood: the commercialization of folk music, ‘Nam, hippies, a presidential assasination, Watergate, disco, the coke years (twice!), collapse of the Soviet Bloc, acid-washed jeans, the all-but-deceased Beatles, the all-but-alive Stones, mass consumption of “country” music, terrorism, a multitude of wars, and finally, and most impressively, the Bush/Blair era.
Fittingly, it’s got a lot of depth and a ton of character; lots of flavours developed during all those decades, and each one shines for just a moment. I suppose there is a quiet oakiness to it, but in no way are the 48 or more years of wood overpowering or detrimental (I would even say subtle). At first it really, really nosed like an insanely complex bourbon—so much so that I really wondered if we’d been swindled for a second. But no, this is good blended Scotch at its best, and in a final clichéd act, I found myself searching the glass to get that very last drop. Thanks, Dan!
Btw, I saw this bottle still available at Park Avenue Liquors last time I was in New York, and I know that Binny’s currently has it in stock— I guess the double-grand price tag has extended its shelf presence for a few years.
Other Opinions: who’s not going to love this bizarre, brown-colored, half-century-old whisky? Lots of support (and love) for the dark fruits (prunes, raisons, etc.), chocolate, some (but not overpowering) spice, and molasses.
- Jeff at ScotchHobbyist very much enjoyed his brief encounter with this ancient blend, and we’re both in complete agreement about the oddly bourbon-like nose.
- John Hansell, editor of Malt Advocate, gives high praise and scores (95!) to this remarkable Scotch, finding “molasses, fig cake, dried fruit, tobacco, dark chocolate, old pot still rum, and polished leather, finishing with lingering cinnamon and mint.”
- The Luxist (a luxury merchandise blog) finds “dried fruits, tobacco and leather,” noting its “beguiling lightness,” and finding the water-induced floral quality that seemed apparent to me as well.
- Business Week even got in on the Drop (appropriate, considering its targeted market), similarly noting “figs, dates, and raisins, [with] some chocolate on [the] palate as well and a hint of molasses,” a “jammy” finish, and a toasted-oak underpinning.
- The Malt Imposters did their thing in a Boston bar, finding “wood spirits, corinthian leather, … cotton candy made from maple syrup,” etc.
Johnnie Walker Black Crate
At the Alameda Flea Market last Sunday, I stumbled upon a vintage wooden crate that used to store Johnnie Walker Black. There are always wooden crates around, but this one, with it’s two-toned color walking man, was especially cool.
Happy Holidays with Compass Box and Johnnie
What’s cool? Finding a vintage Johnnie Walker crate at a flea market.
What’s cooler? That vintage Johnnie Walker crate being cheap, having a two-tone walking man, and having it actually be related to San Francisco.
What’s da coolest? Aside from peeing your pants, the vintage Johnnie Walker crate acting as vintage decor so that there is no problem with the lovely lady I live with, in other words, providing me an opportunity to have more whisky displayed. It totally counts as Catalog Living.
Win win situation all around. I’m guessing the crate is from the 1980s because of the Canada Dry Corporation mark, but I’m not sure. Anyone have an idea based on the front/back? Maybe when that third street warehouse was active?
Canada Dry Corporation Warehouse in San Francisco
It’s that time of year, and while many others around the blogosphere have pioneered the art of the Holiday Season Gift Giving Guide, such as our friends and colleagues at Whisky For Everyone, Scotch Hobbyist, and Master of Malt, we’ve decided to follow suit and recommend some special, gift worthy options in three different price ranges. We’ve also each chosen a non-liquid but whisky-related gift idea to help make you the complete consumer.
Exceptional Value @ $0-60:
[Mike F.]: Balvenie 14 year old Carribean Cask
This newly released Balvenie, much like its 17 year old Rum Cask predecessor, is finished in casks that previously held Carribean rum; unlike the old 17 year-aged version, this one is available now and costs somewhere in the range of $50-60. The result is a delicious explosion of flavours including big fruits such as pineapple and papaya, the expected Balvenie vanilla, and a dark-rum spiciness. It’s an especially appropriate gift for all those who long for warmer-weather vacations rather than staying snowbound this winter.
[Mike C.]: McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whisky
The American micro/craft distilling movement continues to gain speed, and whether you are a naysayer or ardent enthusiast, everyone agrees that this seasonally released dram from Clear Creek Distilling company is one of the best American single malts on the market. An incredibly smooth, peated dram with notes of chocolate and the sherry character of the casks just beginning to shine through. A bright, Americanized version of Lagavulin. See our review here.
[Dan]: Balvenie 15 year old Single Cask
Balvenie 15 is somewhat of an anomaly in the official bottlings released by distilleries. It’s aged 15 years, released at cask strength, and always from a single cask. David Stewart, the master distiller at Balvenie, handpicks all the casks, and makes certain that though they will all be unique, that they represent the honey, vanilla and oak that make Balvenie what it is. Not only a serious value for under $60, but a serious value that whisky geeks can appreciate for the flavor, the uniqueness, and for the official cask strength bottling.
Rare Quality @ $60-100:
[Mike F.]: Sazerac Rye 18 year old
Winter is a great time to pour you and yours a nice dram of Scotch, but don’t overlook the marvelous decadence of this 18 year old straight rye. The 2009 release improved upon the divisive 2008, and brings spices, sweetness, herbs, and leathery tobacco together in a fantastically aged melange— a much better aged rye than Michter’s, for example. The color, in a crystal clear presentation bottle, is a stunning crimson that is a wonder of its own. Various releases have won “Best of the Year” awards, including Jim Murray’s 2010 Whiskey of the Year, so you know the recipient will be proud of their gift.
[Mike C.]: Laphroaig 15 year old
Yes, this is a discontinued dram and it’s damn hard to find. But I know for a fact that it’s still lurking out there - usually in bodegas and discount liquor shops where the “connoisseurs” would ne’er deign go. Just last week a buddy of mine found a bottle on the shelf of just such a disreputable venue. The heat and campfire of Laphroaig, finished with a nutty sweetness that rounds out the rougher edges, the 15 year old remains a superior dram to its more expensive older cousin the 18 year, and its more brash younger sibling the Quarter Cask. If you can dig a bottle up for your loved one, it’s worth twice the price tag. See our review of the 15 year old and Quater Cask here.
[Dan]: Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist
Ardbeg no longer produces this whisky, lovingly called “The Beast.” It’s been replaced by the extremely well received (though no age statement and younger) Corryvreckan. The Beast is everything you want out of an Ardbeg - it’s sweet, spicy, heavily peated, and the finish just does not ever want to let you go. It’s outstanding. As the whisky is no longer being produced, it’s getting a bit harder to come by, but it’s a whisky that will be appreciated by all for whom you buy it. Though it originally cost $125, you can pick it up online for under $70 here.
Affordable Luxury @ $100-200:
[Mike F.]: BenRiach 21 year old Authenticus
A steal of a deal at $125, this well-peated, non-chillfiltered 21 year old should appeal to both Islay-philes, due to the 55 ppm phenol content, and Speysider fans, due to its provenance and pedigree. Furthermore, it will show each something entirely new and is not likely to be given to them by anyone else— a rare, delicious, and special bottle for a very reasonable price. See our review here.
[Mike C.]: The Macallan 18 year old Sherry Oak
The big, creamy taste that The Macallan is famous for, with an added layer of complexity of delicate, charred smokiness. I love smoky whiskies, and I love the big creaminess of the Macallan. This is a perfect marriage of the two, and any whisky enthusiast will be thrilled to see a bottle of this beauty show up in their stocking. See our review here.
[Dan]: Amrut “Intermediate Sherry” Indian Single Malt Whiskey
For the over $100 whiskey category, I think that quality and taste, availability, uniqueness factor, and presentation should all play a part. Quality: Amrut knows how to make whisky. I tried this at WhiskyFest and it was outstanding. Sweetness and spice in a gentle, balanced dram. Availability: Amrut Intermediate Sherry is rare. There are only 510 bottles allocated for the US, and the US got a large allotment overall. Uniqueness: The barrel aging is incredibly unique. Amrut Peated Cask Strength, after being aged in bourbon barrels, was then transferred to sherry butts for a few months before being brought back into bourbon barrels. It’s a unique aging and part of the reason for the limited availability. Presentation: A beautiful large red box with a satin lining, nice graphic design, information on the bottle, and a ribbon tying it all together. It looks extremely luxurious, and if you’re giving it as a gift, it will impress the heck out of someone. At $125, it will make a great gift. See our review here.
Non-Liquid, Whisky-Related Gifts:
[Mike F.]: Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson ($45)
More than just an exhaustive compendium of distillery descriptions from all over the world (including Scotland, the US, Ireland, and Japan), this coffee table book delves deeply into all aspects of whisk/e/y, including its origins, how it’s made, terrior distinctions, cocktail recipes, and tasting notes from the master. It will captivate and educate all who are interested in the water of life, from those about to take their first sip to the seasoned enthusiast.
[Mike C.]: Bottega Del Vino Whisky Tots ($85 for a pair)
Almost as important as the quality of spirit you drink is the quality of the glassware you drink it out of. While I’ve got nothing against slinging $4 wee drams out of your average double shot whisky glasses at a local bar, if I’m going to blow $150 on a bottle of whisky I need a quality glass to drink it out of. A friend gave me two Bottega Whisky Tots as a wedding gift, and they are now my go-to glass for tasting quality drams. The deep bowl and tulip edges make for a perfect sip, and the measuring lines cut into the glass help me pour the perfect wee dram, or the more obscene “gill.”
[Dan]: Malt Advocate Magazine Subscription
There are two main whisky magazines one can subscribe to: Malt Advocate and Whisky Magazine. I think Malt Advocate is more approachable, and it’s editor, John Hansell does a phenomenal job of fostering a community amongst his readers. At $18 a year, it’s well cheaper than a Whisky Magazine subscription, and it provides some amazing content - from fascinating stories about the burgeoning American Whisky market to reviews that make or break whisky.
Other great gift bottles:Old Parr ($35), Glenlivet 15 yo French Oak ($40), Connemara Peated Irish Single Malt ($45), Jura Superstition ($45), Longrow CV ($60), Glenlivet Nadurra ($60), St. George Single Malt ($60), Aberlour A’bunadh ($60), George T. Stagg bourbon ($65), Talisker Distiller’s Edition 1998 12 yo ($70), Jura Prophecy ($70), Ardbeg Corryvreckan ($85), Glenmorangie Astar ($85), Highland Park 18 ($90), Ardbeg Supernova ($130), Hibiki 21 yo ($170), Caol Ila 25 yo ($205), Highland Park 25 yo ($250), Port Ellen 30 yo 9th Release ($370), The Last Drop ($2000)
- Thanks, WinterMan! Merry Chrimbus, Everybody.
Isle of Skye with a roaring fire
The name “Isle of Skye” would make any whisky lover think immediately of Talisker. But this isn’t some cute-named independent bottling of Talisker, it’s a blended whisky containing elements of Speyside, Isle of Skye and grain whisky that make up a nicely balanced dram. It comes from Ian MacLeod distillers, a family owned whisky company that owns the GlenGoyne Distillery. Thanks to the folks at JVSImports, we got to try a little bit for our 40 under $40 series.
Isle of Skye 8 Years Old Scotch Whisky
Color: orange gold
Nose: heather. brine. a tinge of smoke in the backseat and stone fruits. fruitcake and honey
Palate: a light mouth feel with a nice maltiness and faint citrus. a light honey and fruity sweetness with a swirl of smoke. so far, not what i’m expecting from a peaty scotch. you can find the pepper, but you also have to look for it.
Finish: the tinge of smoke builds a little, but in general still balances with the sweetness that has turned to cherries and honey with cracked pepper.
Overall: Isle of Skye is a good whisky. It’s not really complex, but it does what blends should do - provides a nice balanced whisky to drink. Despite the name Isle of Skye, it doesn’t have this huge peppery kick. The smoke and the pepper hang back, letting the malt and the sweetness of speysides do most of the heavy lifting. This is a good, light whisky. Worthy of sharing with friends who might not be into whisky yet. It won’t turn them off of smoke but it won’t necessarily encourage them, either. Definitely worthy of a purchase, and a good value to have around for yourself or for folks who usually get scared off from whisky.
A Golden Compliment to a Cold Night
- John Hansell finds the balance and the citrus and the honey in his review.
- Peter at the Casks winds up liking it, but it takes him a while. In his review, he doesn’t find the sweet and smoke as balanced as I did.
- On Isle of Skye’s site, they have a quote from Jim Murray recommending the whisky to Islay-philes, which judging from what I and others got, doesn’t make much sense. So it goes.
Lipsticking, the online marketing blog geared at women, points out that spirit companies are doing very little to reach out to women beyond the usual “girlie drinks” promotions. Being a guy, it’s not something I’ve thought about too often, but I can definitely say that some of the larger whisky events I’ve attended have been very dude-heavy.
In an effort to counter that, Skyy Spirits launched a new Facebook Page - Women and Whiskies. So far there are almost 800 members. Depending on how they are set up and moderated, Facebook Pages aren’t necessarily the most interesting/interactive of online communities, but they can be a good launching pad for future campaigns on Skyy’s part, and even a source of user-generated activity by the women who like the page. It’s nice to see the beginning of a concerted outreach effort to women whisky drinkers, and it will be interesting to see where this leads.