The original concept was to put together an Auchroisk vertical tasting with the assistance of the Glasgow Rare & Old Show. Except that the vendors didn’t display much love or attention for the distillery, with zero representation.
Digging further, the same lacklustre level of support applied to Jura and Fettercairn wasn’t much better coming in with a solitary example. It’s a sobering thought that an iconic show with a wealth of bottles doesn’t spread the love out to the far reaches of the Scotch whisky landscape. Well, except Jura as that’s not a surprise merely confirmation of the general belief.
Established in 1974, Auchroisk is reaching middle age status in the distillery landscape and whilst its output is largely swallowed up by support for the Singleton and Johnnie Walker brands, it has received a handful of enjoyable official and independent bottlings including the 1976 Singleton of Auchroisk. Closed to the public, a few of us were allowed indoors a couple of years ago for a manager’s tour that confirmed the sheer size and scope of the place. A little soulless and industrial, the malt itself has character and seeing this bottle back in stock at the London branch of Cadenhead’s I swooped upon it. Yes, we do buy a large proportion of our own whisky here and why not?
Except, this Auchroisk features a wine cask. Generally these aren’t my favourite whisky vessels and I tend to leave them to the Waitrose shoppers such as Mark. In recent years, wine casks have been used to paper over cracks or lift up dull casks, or in other works trying to mislead whisky drinkers. Pure maturation in a wine cask can overpower a whisky and send it down towards the vineyard with a lasting drying finish. When it’s more wine than whisky you have to debate the end result. Even with these concerns I handed over circa £65 and left the big smoke for a quiet corner to explore this whisky.
The initial foray commences midweek with a late night opening and 4cl pour. I’m anticipating it might take a while to come to the final conclusion at the bottom of this review. Wine casks and my palate do not see eye to eye. We’re going to go on a journey with this bottling from Cadenhead’s.
The nose is thick and cloying. Almost syrup like in its thickness and consistency. For wine casks this is a reasonable start in my worn book. A closed shop and not an arrival that is full on or over the top. I’m not reeling, which is often the case with whiskies that veer more towards the wine front. The palate as well comes across like a secretive society once again with the union boys having a monopoly. It’s not immediate or flamboyant. This whisky is going to take some effort to delve into and explore – all the better for it.
When is a finish a finish and a double maturation exactly that? It’s an interesting malt maniac question. I guess it depends on the overall age of the whisky and someone out there may have a distinctive formula. My own approach is more organic. Anything under 2 years is a finish. Over this and you can look to call it something else if the phrase double maturation or cask isn’t trademarked by a large soulless corporation. Create your own buzz phrase as you’ll have earned it waiting for a prolonged period.
Another evening arrives in Scotland and a 3cl measure is poured with the addition of a teaspoon of water. Then time passes as we let things open up and settle down. That padlocked door is now slightly ajar. Stepping inside, there’s more of a fruit jam now, rolled tobacco and the spicing is noticeable however there’s a sense that it has more to offer. The palate has been transformed with the sticky nature now subsiding for a more fluid cinnamon ball experience with tobacco and cardamom. The overriding sense is that this is an end of dinner dram. Those closing moments where you have to sit back and delve. Putting it aside for another evening, we consider the label information.
This Auchroisk has spent around 8 years in a Chateau Lafite [ed – Cadenhead’s constantly misspell this as Lafitte] cask, being deposited into this new vessel in 2009 resulting in an outturn of 246 bottles at 54.3% strength. Yes, I know like you that Cadenhead’s seem to have filled a great deal of maturing stocks into casks from this Chateau including that Glengoyne 1996 19 year old release that Mark still goes on about till this day.
Another chaotic day draws to a close and the Auchroisk is reached for once again. Lets up the ante with 2 teaspoons now and some patience. The aroma of tangerines dipped in dark chocolate fills the room with caramel, ginger and a rusty quality. On the palate the tobacco takes a back seat to the citrus vitality, but overall it’s more rounded and dignified. Of course, the question is now we have 3 whiskies within a bottle whether this could take another teaspoon of water? Perhaps, or we’re very near bottoming out now. I’m quite content with the level we’ve just reached. It feels just about right for my palate.
Exploration will continue but for now let’s turn our attention to the review itself – this is for Noortje who skips past all of the above text and heads straight to my tasting notes. I suppose its better than just scrolling down for the conclusion or score? I’m not insulted or anything; why bother with the introduction after all?
Cadenhead’s Auchroisk 16 year old – review
Colour: battered copper.
On the nose: in its rawest sense there’s honeycomb, blood orange, cloves and raspberries wrapped up in resin and a rusty nail aspect – something I always find appealing. Marzipan, all-space and cardamom. We’ve played with water and we’ll so again but a tablespoon to keep things interesting. Pencil shavings, dried orange almost potpourri in nature and a touch of sulphur – not to Glen Scotia levels – but its there and enjoyable at this level.
In the mouth: rich and pungent without water almost flamboyant with its audacity. Tobacco, figs and cherries with cardamom. It’s a thick cluster that almost hard to penetrate with an outer shell of dark chocolate. Water for a tablespoon brings a release and lightness. A transformation if you will, now its more of a short wine finish reminiscent of an Arran. Fleeting flavours of chocolate, toffee, treacle and tobacco drift by. It still offers something but we’ve gone that step too far. At least with the bottle there’s more of a budget to explore and discover. One more for the road?
A playful whisky and very much a journey. When I’m asked about reviewing whiskies and working with small measures it comes with practice. Of course you’d like a bottle to sit down with especially if you have a passion for rubbish hats, evil eyes and self-proclaiming. A bottle, in theory, allows you to dissect in greater detail although the enjoyment of sitting down with a whisky comes in moderation. You have to look after number one and most of the team here I suspect take a few days per week off the whisky.
However this impulse purchase after visiting the Cadenhead’s London store – I almost felt dirty for buying something not in Edinburgh – was a welcome release. Priced around £65 it’s pitched around that level where you can acquire without too much saving and play around with the contents, which I’ll continue to do either by myself or with friends.