While I pride myself a punctual person, I am often “late to the party.” The last trend I was ahead of was yo-yo’s in middle school.
Let me be clear, I don’t mind this at all. While everyone’s talking up some new bestseller, I’m off in the corner catching up on some dead author’s work. I’ve “discovered” bands, only to look them up and see they’ve had entire careers and broken up already. Again, I do not mind. I know the music will be there waiting for me when I am ready for it.
Sadly, the same thing cannot always be said for the whisky world.
One of the reasons whisky (and other spirits) have been booming is the spirit geek’s worry of “missing out.” Who knows what magical unicorns will emerge from the multitude of releases each year? It’s a guessing game that spreads consumers (and their wallets) thin. By the holidays, you’re hoping you’ve spent your money wisely, only to be tempted yet again by the special editions that are hung with care by big whisky companies. Most years, I watch these releases come and go (fortunately, without much temptation).
However, 2016 was a different story.
Diageo had released its usual clutch of old whiskies. Among them, one particular bottle stuck out to me: Auchroisk (pronoucned orth-rusk) 25 years old. Auchroisk is part of a group of unsung distilleries that I admire. Their whiskies have been, to me, delightful, which is a bit surprising as Auchroisk is young operation (having only started distilling whisky in the early 70’s).
The distillery provides malt for Johnnie Walker and J&B blends. It did bottle single malt under the Singleton label, but that stopped in the early 2000’s. Because most of its work is blended/behind the scenes, the distillery has a stark industrial look, and is tucked amongst some of Diageo’s northern warehouses. It’s a place of pragmatic function. I’ve always liked that. Not every distillery needs a “It’s a Small World After All” tour for the public.
The few times I had tried Auchroisk’s malt was enough to convince me to taste this older expression. So, I managed to get my hands on a few drops from a sample bottle. Because I had so little to taste, the experience was brief. But, even with such a shallow pour, it had made an impact. I looked for a full bottle, but most of the shelf prices were about $500. At such a price, I had to let the idea of getting a bottle go. Besides, I only had a taste of a taste.
Fast forward 5 years: I was visiting a good friend in Chicago and – like a diligent spirits nerd – checking out retailer shelves in my downtime. It’s a habit I picked up when I started buying wines. Sometimes you get lucky and see a great bottle collecting dust. Fortunately, this time, my diligence was rewarded. One bottle of Auchroisk 25 was sitting in a dark corner on clearance sale. It too had once been $500, but had been brought down to $300.
Suddenly, I remembered that glimmer of a taste. You don’t get many second chances in life or whisky. So, despite the (slightly less) steep price, I bought it. When I packed it to head home, I hoped my taste buds’ intuition and my vague memory were right.
Auchroisk 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2016
Aged in refill American and European oak casks. Bottled at cask strength (51.2% ABV).
Colour: Pale straw
On the nose: Really enticing, like a quiet voice with a lot to say. Tea biscuits, summer fruits, and sweet spices really set a scene in your mind. Like a regal picnic in the countryside. Light leather, a warm scent of violets, vanilla, and white pepper. There’s also an aroma of “blue fruit” that I always seem to find with whisky aged in european oak. It’s like a minor form of synsxtsia, the closest fruit I can compare it to is an açai berry. The whole experience is quite subtle. The aroma would likely be unremarkable if sampled in a bar or at a show, where dozens of stronger scents compete for your attention.
In the mouth: The texture is effortless, coating the tongue like clarified butter. The flavors on the palate match the aroma’s calm intensity. Vanilla, dark malt, game, and a lick of leather. The mid-palate offers tender kiwis, dry spices, and shaved chocolate. The finish breathes warmth into your cheeks, walnut oil, more blue fruit, and a mild char.
It is worth noting that I may be the perfect mark for this whisky. It’s nuanced, aromatic, and cohesive, qualities I prize a great deal.
With that out of the way…
If you’re looking for a whisky to slap you on the back, this isn’t it. There’s nothing big to be found here, just small glories. This doesn’t satisfy like sinking your teeth into your favorite food. Instead it lays into you, like new music that you didn’t know you loved. I could keep attempt to encapsulate the experience further, but the best whiskies can’t be mapped out entirely. There’ll always be a little more.
I imagine many reading this will have already bought great bottles for gifts or to share with friends during the holidays. To those who found what they were looking for, congratulations! For those who “missed out,” don’t fret. The canvas of whiskies out there is never entirely erased like an Etch A Sketch. While some whiskies have left us forever, there are always new additions, and yes, some stick around longer than you’d imagine.
I feel very lucky to have found this bottle when I did. I wish you the same fortune in the coming years, and the countless new whisky releases. Cheers!