According to my personal list of whiskies I’ve tried, I only ever tried an Auchentoshan, the Valinch, back in 2012 when I was just starting out exploring whisky. Because I wasn’t blown away by that at the time, combined with the lack of enthusiasm from other commentators, I never went back to it.
This changed a few weeks ago. I was sent some blind samples along with a couple of challenges to guess which is which. Turns out there was an older Auchentoshan in there, bottled in the early 2000’s, which I selected as my favourite of the 5.
A bunch of thoughts came out of that blind tasting, including the one that I should give Auchentoshan another chance. Auchentoshan Jedi Mark kindly sent me some samples, let’s dive into the first one.
The Dark Oak is a newish release exclusive to travel retail (ugh). The Dark Oak is a vatting of ex-oloroso, PX and bourbon casks. It’s bottled with no age statement (uuugh) at 43% ABV. Let’s go into this with an open mind.
Nose: This gives off a very sweet impression. There’s candied oranges and dried apricots that jump out. Vanilla and an intense honey, along with a slightly herbal note like parsley. Some crème brûlée and stewed red apples too.
Palate: Quite a soft arrival that builds in intensity. There’s an interplay between the intense sweetness from the nose, in the form of plums, raisins and rock candy. It’s somewhat balanced out by slight wood notes and vanilla.
Finish: A medium long finish with quite a creamy feel, hints of blood oranges and sweet oak.
It’s a tad on the sweet side, but it’s way better than I was expecting. The interplay between the three different cask types is fairly balanced. A good start to swoon me back to the Auchentoshan camp.
Despite being a part of Diageo’s Classic Malts range and being generally available, I haven’t had a lot of experience with Cragganmore. However, I do have a soft spot for distilleries experimenting with their product.
In 2006 there was a drought and subsequent water shortage on the isle of Sky. Because they didn’t know how long this was going to take, they decided to produce a back-up in case Talisker had to temporarily seize production.
They started to produce peated spirit at Cragganmore for about 3-4 months, peated to Talisker-like levels. For Diageo’s 2019 Special Releases, they brought out this peated version of Cragganmore, aged 12 years in refill American Oak and bottled at a cask strength of 58,4%
Colour: Light gold
Nose: Light to medium peat combined with orchard fruits. I’m getting red apples and grapes, reine claude plums as well. There’s a minty note to be found too. With some time, I’m getting added hints of marzipan, wax and honey.
Palate: Quite a strong arrival with a nice and oily texture coating the mouth. Peat and spices are up first, think black pepper and cloves. A more aggressive arrival than I would have thought. It then gets smoothed by white grapes and grapefruit, along with an earthy note. You could really draw comparisons with Ardmore.
Finish: A long finish with white fruit, oak tannins and lingering smoke.
The juxtaposition of the classic fruity speysider notes and the almost Talisker-esque peat works very well here and is nicely balanced. Easy to sip but the complexity is there if you want to dig a little deeper.
Springbank is one of my favorite distilleries. The combination of authenticity yet not being afraid to innovate is not easy to achieve, yet Springbank always manages to do just that. When this rumwood was initially announced I must admit I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about it. I’m not opposed to using new casktypes and finishes (even though this is full-term maturation), but I just can’t recall a rum-influenced whisky that I really enjoyed. Lets take a look.
Nose: Quite a busy nose, but if you take your time with it, it’s layered very nicely. The first thing to jump out is unripe banana’s over a soft peat fire. Then there’s cotton candy, white grapes, green apple, peach, lemon zest and a slight molasses note. It doesn’t omit that typical Springbank funk though. All in all, it comes across very fresh.
Palate: A nice and smooth arrival. The peat is there but quickly makes way for banana, pineapple and coconut. There’s some salty crackers, lemon and lime and sweet and sour sauce. A prime example of near perfect balance between sweet, bitter, salty and sour.
Finish: Quite a drying, medium long finish with hints of woodspice, coffee, unripe banana again and some lychee.
This one is bustling with complexity. It’s not the easiest dram, but very rewarding if you take your time with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I bumped this 1 or 2 points as I go through the bottle.
I seem to keep coming across Douglas Laing’s blends. I don’t mind though, they usually are a masterclass in blending. Big Peat is their Islay version of a regional malt, usually being made up of Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg and Port Ellen. There’s nothing wrong with the regular release, but I was blown away with the 26 year old expression I tasted last year at the Ghent International Whisky Festival. When I saw they were releasing a 33 year old variant, I had to get my hands, nose and palate on it. This one was finished in ex-cognac and sherry casks, it’s interesting, but at the same time I’m wondering if it was really necessary to finish a whisky this age…
Nose: It’s called Big Peat so I suppose it’s no surprise to find peat here. It’s not a sharp, focused peat but rather round and mature. The age is already showing here. There’s some menthol, but otherwise we’re dealing with quite a sweet nose with elements of raisins, red grapes and prunes. I was rather sceptical about finishing a 33 year old whisky, but it seems to have worked.
Palate: Very well rounded and integrated, yet it still comes across as heavy and robust, in the best possible way. Quite salty, sweet tar and some of the fruits from the nose. Just like the nose, I find the cognac casks have imparted more influence than the sherry casks. That’s a good thing though, because of the somewhat unusual casks, we also get an interesting concoction of flavour.
Finish: A nice and long finish with lingering smoke. A touch of lavender, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out there’s a decent amount of Bowmore in here. At the very tail end, there’s a little coffee bean to reduce the sweet notes on your palate, preparing it for the next sip.
Beautiful combination of mature peat, sweet fruits and the interplay between them. Thank you Carl for the sample.
Kingsbarns is one of the newer distilleries cropping up. The Dream to Dram is their first generally available release. It’s 3 year old whisky of which 90% was matured in 1st fill ex-bourbon casks and 10% in STR casks.
Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: It’s young and doesn’t attempt to hide it. The spirity notes come through clearly, but nicely complemented by hints of banana, peach and red apple. Also some shortbread cookies to go along with the fruitiness.
Palate: Sweet and floral. Heaps of vanilla, honeyglaze, almonds, toffee and some white pepper at the back.
Finish: A medium length and somewhat drying finish. The vanilla and honey continues accompanied by a touch of walnut. At the tail end there’s a sudden burst of lemon.
I’m quite impressed by this, it had more maturity than a lot of other 3 year old whiskies. Kingsbarns is going to be one to keep your eye on!
At the start of my whisky journey, I wasn’t too fond of sherry bombs. With Glenfarclas maturing all their spirit in ex-sherry casks, I didn’t pay too much attention to them. Time to rectify this. This is a 9 year old bottled for the Spanish market.
Nose: Oranges and cherries at first. Some praliné comes through and with some patience, a quite malty note along with marzipan. Finally, there’s milk chocolate and hazelnut. It reminded me heavily of Zott Monte pudding, nice!
Palate: The chocolate and hazelnut mixture continues from the nose. There’s some added notes from cherries along with blueberry and juniper notes.
Finish: Quite a short finish with fudge, oak and grapefruit.
Not too bad for such a young OB. The casks influence is clear but doesn’t dominate the spirit. Nosing this is more fun than drinking it though (I love Monte).
The Scallywag has been the Speyside representative in Douglas Laing’s “Remarkable Regional Malts” series. While I haven’t yet had a chance to taste the core version, I did get myself a bottle of the Chocolate Edition. It’s made up of both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, with a higher percentage of the former.
It was bottled for World Chocolate Day 2019 and is limited to 500 bottles. It’s vintage 2009, so about 10 years old.
Nose: Quite a bit going on in the nose here. Orange zest and cherry liqueur. Sultana’s. I’m also getting a fruit jam sweetness, makes me think there could be some PX in here. Dark chocolate (of course) and some light bourbony notes like honey keep it from being a bit dull and dusty.
Palate: The chocolate takes the main stage here, with both milk and dark chocolate coating the palate. Also some aniseeds and coffee beans.
Finish: Quite a long finish with the chocolate sticking to the taste buds, a hint of sweetness is there as well.
It does what it says on the bottle, and I’m happy for it. Excellent blend for it’s price!
I’m desperately trying to clear out my sampledrawer and pulled out this Glenglassaugh Revival. I’ve never really paid any attention to this distillery so I was pleased to try an unknown spirit.
The Glenglassaugh distillery was mothballed in 1986 only to be reopened in 2008 with new investors. They currently produce both peated and unpeated whisky.
The Revival was their first whisky they released from the re-opened distillery. It’s 3 years old and has spent the last 6 months getting finished in first fill ex-Oloroso casks.
Nose: Yeasty, grassy and somewhat metallic. It’s young, but the casks were quite active. I’m getting tangerine and cherry pits. Some vanilla is in there too. I’m surprised at the complex yet quite coherent nose for its age.
Palate: Some pepper and woodspice, then lots of ginger. There’s a truffle note too.
Finish: Ah, the sweetness from the Oloroso wood comes back here. Dark red fruits and some leather. The metallic note is here as well though. It’s a medium long finish.
I’m honestly surprised by this. I should pay more attention to Glenglassaugh in the future…
A 16 year old whisky from Campbeltown named Hazelgrove, it’s quite easy to deduce the distillery it comes from. It was finished in Pedro Ximénez casks for an unknown amount of time. It produced 176 bottles.
Colour: Amber with an orange shine
Nose: A very intense fruity sweetness, red grapes and cherry liqueur. At the same time however, there’s quite a pronounced industrial note. Diesel and rubber. There’s some minerallity too. Now, I love some springbank funk, but the industrial notes are a bit too dominant for me.
Palate: Dark chocolate, dark red fruits and waves of brown sugar. There’s a rubbery note but it’s more subdued than in the nose.
Finish: An almost sickly sweetness remains, the sugar clinging to the palate. The rubber also continues from the palate.
The funk here keeps it from being too sweet of a sherry bomb, but it’s a bit too dirty for me. I prefer the regular Hazelburn Oloroso Cask Matured.
Springbank has long been one of my favorite distilleries, making interesting yet engaging stuff. Hazelburn is sort of Springbank’s little brother, being unpeated and triple distilled. Following the previous year’s release of the Hazelburn 13, is the 2019 Hazelburn 14 year old from fresh ex-Oloroso sherry casks.
Nose: A very rich nose with clear Oloroso influence. Raisins and dried plums, some tobacco leaves and leather. Notes of furniture polish too. I’m getting a hint of sulphur but not overly so. Digging a bit deeper there’s cough syrup and ham. Hazelburn is supposed to be unpeated but I do get a whiff of smoke in there too.
Palate: Quite a fat and oily arrival. Dark chocolate, raisins, plums and brown sugar. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Springbank funk in here as well.
Finish: The brown sugar extends into the finish. It has quite an intense sweetness and lingers for a long time. I can’t seem to get rid of that smokey note, not that I mind.
A beautifully complex whisky, although not the most accessible to beginners.