The Whisky Barrel Axis of Evil

The Axis of Evil in whisky terms is fairly universal. At the head of the table sits the ominous presence of Jura. The undisputed leader of this horrific clan. Founded upon key values of artificial colouring, badly produced spirit, poor cask selection, marketing baloney and the dreaded 40% banshee scream.

Shadowed by his faithful lieutenants that collectively or individually are guaranteed to send a shiver down most whisky enthusiasts’ spinal cord. The unpredictable Tobermory that is as variable as the Scottish summer. The MacDuff, Glen Deveron or whatever the cad is calling itself this week. Tomintoul so insignificant you’d forget it existed and happy to crouch in the corner of the banquet hall until summoned. The radiant glow of the Dalmore comes with its own agenda and gold medal in whisky tossing. A pong fills the air with the presence of Laphroaig, a spectre that is slowly dissolving and dying a lingering death.

A new arrival from Orkney wants to wage war on the good whiskies. Particularly those bottled with information and devoid of a legend or bling. A feisty warrior from the north whereas the Lowland presence of Auchentoshan is a paltry figment of our imagination. Insignificant and laced with E150 as so many attendees around the table are. But this doesn’t apply to all. The William Grant duo of Balvenie and Glenfiddich do love themselves and are the vain end of the spectrum. Then there’s Mr Soapy, or Edradour as its commonly known. Small and perfectly formed with a lingering taste that few can forget.

Oh and I did forget about the Glenlivet as we all rightly should.

These are some of my members of the Axis of Evil from a Scottish perspective. Whiskies that consistently disappoint or fail to move me in any shape or form. I’d actually prefer a really bad whisky to one that is consistently dull and inoffensive. Mass produced from one of the Speyside factories and unleashed in some biblical crusade to be the biggest selling malt. Let them go and once in a while, a brief encounter underlines that very little has changed, or improved. If we were expanding the club to an international membership then we’d have an influx of members, led by the dire bubblegum Brenne Cuvée Spéciale French Single Malt.

Except that Axis of Evil is never a closed society. The beauty of whisky is that distilleries can turn around misfortunate and improve. Lifting themselves out of the banquet hall of despair and stepping into a more worthwhile existence. Deanston is a great example of this in action today. Pre-millennium Deanston was never a great thing but hard work and a desire to improve leads to a better whisky.

Another positive is the single casks that escape before the master blender or a member of his/her posse can water it down and chuck in some colouring. The little additions that take a wholesome cask and render it dull as dishwater.

These escapees thanks to the independent sector remind us that all of the above can produce a good whisky. A moment of harmony when all the elements align and give us something worthwhile. For these 2 exclusives from the Whisky Barrel, it’s an opportunity to gauge their progress. Edradour is on the upward curve and miles better than what was being delivered in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The Ballechin from 2005 being a cask in point. A whisky that perplexes and has you questioning Edradour’s existence once again.

Good releases from Auchentoshan are a rare thing indeed. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that Phil chases every time he’s outdoors. I should be compelled to write more about the distillery and the triple distilled dynamic but it is Auchentoshan under the leadership of Beam Suntory, consistently fails alongside Bowmore and Laphroaig. The bottle your owns at the distillery showcase what is possible if the distillery decided to care about its whisky more and do a Deanston.

For now, let us try this dynamic duo and see if these casks offer us some hope and transparency in a world of dull Scotch whiskies.

Signatory Auchentoshan 21 year old – review

This was distilled in 1997 and was fully matured in a refill sherry hogshead #2911, before being bottled at 52.4% with an outturn of 168 bottles priced at £129.95.

Colour: Copper.

On the nose: A decadent chocolate sponge, flushed with a worn varnish. Treacle and vanilla, alongside Cola Cubes and a beef Bisto gravy. Cinnamon and dried fruits follow as do chocolate digestives. With water, stewed apples, nutmeg and oranges appear.

In the mouth: All cask. Plenty of sherry notes for those that like this sort of thing. And if you do there’s little else to say. Tobacco, a chocolate brownie and an element of rum. A touch of rubber and a flourish of dryness towards the end. Water shakes up cask influence with caramel, applesauce and a breakfast tea.

Score: 6/10

Signatory Edradour 10 year old – review

Distilled in 2008, this release is from a 1st fill sherry butt #46. Bottled at 58.7% strength, with an outturn of 339 bottles this will set you back £70 online.

Colour: Blood orange.

On the nose: More fruity with rubbed brass and orange peelings. Roasted chestnuts with blackcurrant juice and a little cherry twist. A damp washing rag, apricot jam with a little aniseed. Water unlocks apples and lemon.

In the mouth: More elegant than the Auchentoshan with a pleasant texture. There are more interplay and chemistry here. Jaffa cakes i.e. orange and dark chocolate with a bit of sponge. A caramel wafer, blueberries, blackberry jam and quite drinkable at cask strength. A touch of charcoal on the finish which lingers nicely. Water showcases more caramel, vanilla and grapefruit.

Score: 6/10


I’d say the Edradour has the edge and its half the price so go figure. There’s more buoyancy between the cask and the distillery spirit whereas the Auchentoshan could really come from any distillery. If you like your strong robust sherry influence then both are possibilities with the Lowlander being a likely choice.

The Auchentoshan I’d never had considered was 21 years old. However, both round off a worthwhile selection in 2018 from the Whisky Barrel, most of which we’ve covered here at Malt. Click on the tag below and go explore!

Thanks to the Whisky Barrel for the samples and photographs. The links within this piece are commission free.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Dael says:

    “I should be compelled to write more about the distillery and the triple distilled dynamic but it is Auchentoshan under the leadership of Beam Suntory, consistently fails alongside Bowmore and Laphroaig. The bottle your owns at the distillery showcase what is possible if the distillery decided to care about its whisky more and do a Deanston.”

    What does this paragraph mean?

    1. Jason says:

      Summary? Auchentoshan official range is pretty rubbish much like the aforementioned distilleries named in that quote with the same parent company. The best option is the bottle your own at the distillery. As for doing a Deanston just look at what that former average at best distillery is doing now…

  2. Welsh Toro says:

    Ah, yes, the Axis of Evil. Entry to this exalted group, if I remember correctly, was based on the consistently poor quality of the distillate. Mainly blend material and thus churned out with little care or imagination. Chris Goodrum described all of them as ‘industrial’. Dubious cask selection and ABV compounded the issue.

    I don’t think Auchentoshan were part of the axis but notorious for the quantity of mediocre expressions from the distillery. I have had a couple of rather good independent bottles, however, so this Signatory offering caught my eye. Nevertheless, my spider-sense was on full alert – Auchentoshan and sherry-bomb? Why? A sherry-bomb is a sherry-bomb is a sherry-bomb. Plenty of them out there so I’m in no hurry to blow £100+ on a dram that is likely to have no distillery character whatsoever. I’m sure both of these are pretty decent drinks and good value but maybe some other time.

    1. Jason says:

      Hi WT, I think we’ve all got our own personal entries on the list. Including some surprises, but that’s what makes whisky so enchanting. Yep, Auchentoshan is very dull and we’ve got some independent versions on the writing slab just how. One is very much another sherry bomb that is all cask and disappointing. The other will be tasted tonight…

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