Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Auchentoshan 12 years, Auchentoshan Three Wood, Auchentoshan 18 years

Ever get really angry?  Like really *^%&^T%HJIU!!!!!!!! angry?  Me?   It happens every once in a while, and unfortunately rather recently.  I was so peeved I could have led an angry mob complete with pitchforks, sling shots, torches, carrot peelers,  pointed sticks and other implements of destruction!  Ah, but more about that later.  Let's start at the beginning.

A couple of months ago, I organized a scotch club in my home town, and wrote about it a few posts ago.  Anyhow, we met a few times.  At one meeting, M (he wants to remain anonymous for some reason . . . he seems to think any public affiliation with this blog might harm his career) suggested we try the various releases of the Auchentoshan Distillery in an upcoming meeting.

Inwardly, I cringed while outwardly maintaining an unflappable Mitt Romneyesque smile and demeanour.  I was familiar with the horrifically tedious, uninspiring, pine board flat, supremely insipid Auchentoshan 12.    But, I appreciated that I am not the Sun King, and my opinion, well, is just that, one man's opinion in a room with several others in various states of inebriation whose punching reach was a lot greater than mine.  The meeting ended and I was tasked with picking up at the local liquor store: Auchentoshan 12, Three Wood and the 18 year old.

Fast forward to the next meeting.  "Mission accomplished!" I declared as I hoisted out of environmentally unfriendly green plastic shopping bags the aforementioned Auchentoshan progeny.

Auchentoshan 12 years
I stared at the bottle of Auchentoshan 12 knowing that it would disappoint, as it had in the past.  But, I thought to myself, if I can just wrestle that gag reflex under control till the Three Wood is opened, maybe, just maybe, I would make a new, pleasant discovery.  And the 18, yes, sweet 18, maybe this distillery could delight yours truly.

Color
I don't normally comment on the color of whisky, but I do this time because the Auchentoshan 12 looks unusually dark given it comes from the Lowland region.  My suspicion is the presence of caramel E150a added by the distillery ostensibly to bring uniformity of color from batch to batch.  The great problem with the addition of E150a is the hard to predict impact on the taste of the scotch.  Too much E150a and you have bitterness coming through the caramel flavor notes.  At other times, E150a may actually improve the taste.  Video whisky reviewer Ralfy discusses this, in part, in his review here.

Nose (undiluted)
Very faint citrus, Pine-Sol or is that Mr. Clean?  Maybe some peat in there somewhere, but again very, very weak.  Weak like Reese Witherspoon's acting.

Some of the whisky club members were picking up little or nothing on the nose.  M scrunched his nose up and quizzically looked at me.  "Don't look at me Einstein.  It was your idea to try this," I thought to myself, but neglected to utter out loud given his boxer's reach.

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth.  I'm talkin' plate glass dude.  Flat like the business side of an iron.  Not a lot goin' on.  So, I hold this on the palate.  It commences with a sweetness that is slightly soapy before becoming malty.  Caramel candies that have been in the vending machine way too long, in violation of all imaginable food safety laws governing confectionery.  In a word: stale like forgotten Halloween candy discovered in July.

Finish (undiluted)
Ginger, green onion, cloves, some smoke, oh alright yeah, there it is: a scintilla of peat.  There is something a little spoilt, bad, flawed on the finish.  A peculiarly subtle bitterness.

General Impressions
Guess I'm still not a fan.

Drinking Auchentoshan 12 confirms my suspicion that triple distillation is best enjoyed in Irish whiskey.  The Auchentoshan distillery trumpets on it's website (click here) that all its spirit undergoes this process:

"What does it mean to be the only Triple Distilled Single Malt in Scotland?  Auchentoshan new spirit is the highest distillate of any single malt distillery in Scotland.  When you taste our new spirit, strong notes of fruit and citrus are revealed because we have distilled away all the impurities in the liquid."  (Emphasis added)

Actually, I think the triple distillation process also distilled away much of the flavor!  That's the risk with that process.  Yes, you make the whisky lighter, but do it too much and you lose the flavors too.  With Auchentoshan 12, I am asking myself:  "Where's the sherry, the peat, anything?"  All I have is a mouthful of lemon/citrus notes mixed with a stale maltiness.  Finished with some ginger/green onion and a grizzly taxi driver's exhale of a Matinee cigarette.

I like light whiskies, but they have to have some character, some flavor.

You may be thinking:

"Jason, you are being overly harsh.  You're just a pompous snob with a severely receding hairline and unaware that a circa 1985 Corey Hart haircut is not attractive."

Ok, cruel world, don't listen to me.  Let's see what Adam of the L.A. Whiskey Society has to say about Auchentoshan 12:

"I get strong barley soup in the nose.  Also some rye.  Interesting.  But the palate . . . it's so plain and watery.  There's a slightly fruity/winey character, and slight spice and hay/grass hints.  More spice creeps into the slight but long finish.  Though I've had some tasty treats from Auchentoshan (Lowlands tend to get some bashing), this is whisky with little to say."

L.A. Whiskey Society's Dave is not much kinder:

"Dark in color makes you think it will be rich and flavorfullll . . . . but not so much.  Pretty weak and I see why they did the 'triple wood' thing to 'fix' what was broken . . . too bad the fix was just a bandaid that didn't actually cover the wound."

. . .
A Suggested Alternative


Whisky club member "M" is a fan of Glenkinchie 12 years and suggests it as a superior alternative to Auchentoshan 12.  While I am not a huge fan of Glenkinchie 12, I would agree it is better than Auchentoshan 12.  Glenkinchie, another Lowland malt, is distilled only twice.  More flavorful for those who like the ginger/citrus scotch flavor profile without much peat or sherry.  If for some strange reason you are already an Auchentoshan 12 fan, then you will probably like this suggestion.

My suggestion is ignore "M"s suggestion and go with mine: Glenfiddich 15.  It's floral, complex, honeyed and delivers a nice light honey fest.

Auchentoshan Three Wood

Next up was Auchentoshan Three Wood.  A no-age-statement bottling of the distillery that is priced higher than the 12 year old.  My anticipation is that it's gotta be better, particularly in light of it's rasion d'etre embossed on the back of the container:

"Triple distilled and matured in American bourbon oak; the whisky is finished in Spanish Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks."

So, three different types of wood used, you know, plus the price greater than the 12 year old indicates this is gonna be better.  I must say, all of us, were disappointed at the 12 and so had high hopes for the more expensive Three Wood.

Nose (undiluted)
An improvement over the 12.

Subtle, very subtle, hot chocolate, vanilla and sherry.

Palate (undiluted)
A rounded body delivering sherry, mushroom, brackish water, black coffee, raisins and preserved beets.

Finish (undiluted)
Carmelized onion, pepper, bitter fig, bay leaf, and some bad smoke that is damn close to vinegar.

General Impressions
I and the others dejectedly stared at our respective Glencairn glasses.  You could cut the silence with a knife.

Damn!  This stuff is bad.

The 12 year old was a disappointment, but we all had the hope that the Three Wood, being $13 more would improve our spirits!  Not so!  Like I was getting really ticked off at this point.  I had dropped well over $200 for these three bottles and so far, the first two were huge disappointments.  What ran through my mind was what I could have done with that money.  There were so many good whiskies and we just threw it  away on this crap.

What kills me is the finish of the Three Wood.  It just heads right off a cliff.  It's just a vegetal/caramel  bitterness  hugging a mustiness of some serial killer's basement that has no place being a component of a scotch flavor profile.

The Three Wood ranks as one of the worst single malts I have ever had the misfortune of tasting.  I'd drink any blend over this junk scotch.

Again, don't take my word for it.  Andy from the L.A. Whiskey Society summed up the Three Wood as follows:

Nose:  Musty old kitchen drawers (perhaps with old glue inside it).
Palate:  Mustiness with an old wood, feintly with molasses.  Maybe a bit of cough syrup.  The finish grabs the tongue but doesn't taste like much."

(DISCLAIMER:  It turns out that this bottle of Three Wood I bought and reviewed was flawed.  Click here for an updated review of a proper bottle of Three Wood.)
. . .

Auchentoshan 18 years
So, here we are.  I pull the Auchentoshan 18 year old out of the carton and am confronted by a slanted, Johnnie Walkeresque label.  It's crooked.  We got a wonky labelled bottle.  Is it gonna be worth something one day?  We'll never know as I open it.

Nose (undiluted)
Not terribly pleasant sea air.  Kinda alcoholic on some level.  Gentle Vicks Vapor Rub.

Palate (undiluted)
Again smooth.  Lemon grass, green tea, lentils and celery.

Finish (undiluted)
Woodsy, oak and ginger merge into a gustatory travesty of scotch mediocrity that no one should endure at this price point.  There's more too: dry, balsa wood, pencil shavings and eraser.  And the salt, that ain't Kosher.  Boring.  Snorefest.

The more I drink of this, the more the finish becomes maltier with an emphasis on those aforementioned pencil shavings.

General Impressions
OK, this takes the cake for the biggest snorefest of an 18 year old single malt I have ever tasted.  Matter of fact, I cannot think of an 18 year old single malt that I dislike (other than this one).  I always like the 18 year olds:  Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Highland Park, Macallan, etc.  But, now there is an exception:  Auchentoshan 18.  No complexity.  Flat liner in terms of flavor profile.  There are blends that offer way more!

Superior alternatives to Auchentoshan 18 that are floral, delicate, complex and honeyed are:  Cragganmore 12 yrsGlenfiddich 15Glenfiddich 18; and Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition.  All those suggestions are better and roughly 50% lower in price.  Do the right thing and take a pass on Auchentoshan 18.

Outrageous Price!
What really gets me steamed is the price of this 18 year old single malt:  $122.79 

No value for money whatsoever.  I could be a little more tolerant had this bottle been priced at half the sticker.  Where I live, Glenlivet 18 goes for $71.00;  Glenfiddich 18 is $72; Aberlour 18 is $115.00 and several others that I would always choose over this canine Auchentoshan bow-wow!



















Now you know why I am a wee bit angry.  I could easily lead a mob through my town at night to ferret out all the vampire bottles of Auchentoshan 12 and 18 and pile them in the town square and burn them up!  I am thinking a bonfire with flames reaching 20 feet in the air, high enough to divert the attention of US spy satellite operators from the latest Megan Fox sighting to this very important crisis of whisky nuts everywhere!

Cheers!


Jason Debly


Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for certain photographs.  Some of the photographs appearing on this site are not by the author, but rather other photographers and/or copyright holders and so their permission is required to reproduce.  Photo credits as follows:  Image of Simpsons characters mob is the copyright of © The Simpsons TM and 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Auchentoshan 12 bottle and back of same bottle by Paul Henman; the great photo of the Auchentoshan cork is by Steven Garvin; Back lit line up of various Auchentoshan bottles by Ian Murray; Mitt Romney photo by Reuters.  Bonfire photographer is Paul Stevenson and reproduced here pursuant to the Creative Commons copyright.  Note:  All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.  Moreover, all images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.

35 comments:

  1. Ha! Thanks for the stern warning, Jason. I hope that you and M and really buddies and you're just giving him a hard time, or it's going to be awkward at the next meeting.

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    Replies
    1. "M" and I are good friends in spite of this suggestion and his affection for Glenkinchie 12.

      Delete
  2. Wow, those reviews are withering! Coincidentally, I recently overheard an LCBO employee trying to talk someone (who wanted scotch as a present) into taking the Auchentoshan 12 over the Glenlivet 12. Said employee was arguing that the Glenlivet is boring/bland and not for serious whisky drinkers, recommended the Auchentoshan instead. If I had read this a week ago I would have intervened and saved that poor customer. (Glenlivet 12 isn't jaw-dropping but it's pleasant and consistent.)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Lewin, the problem with LCBO employees is that they don't know what they are talking about most of the time.

      Glenlivet 12 is a good value for money scotch that will always outshine Auchentoshan 12, Three Wood and the 18!

      Delete
  3. Not a great distillery, even for a lowland, of which there are hardly any nowadays. I've tried the 12yr and 18yr releases and the fact I have never bought any, visited the distillery (which is within an hour's drive) and avoided their stall at various functions says it all. The price you paid is criminal as this distillery tends to be one of the most heavily discounted here. I could pick up a bottle of the 12yr for about $32 Canadian. Other editions are almost as cheap.

    Hopefully your friend didn't prompt a series of club memberships to be cancelled. I'm visiting Glenkinchie in a couple of weeks, its not a malt I really enjoy but what the heck, it is free. If you are looking for lowland then try Bladnoch or one of the silent releases such as Rosebank. I shall think of your pain this evening as I enjoy the 21yr Glen Spey, my current tipple.

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    1. Hello Raithrover,

      I agree Glenkinchie 12 is not great, but I was mightily impressed by a Distiller's Edition from I think 1992. It was everything a Lowland is thought to be: floral, complex, and effervescent. Try the DE sometime.

      Delete
  4. Interesting take on the Three Wood. Others (including Serge over at Whisky Fun) have found it strange, and some have actually liked it. It is enjoyable, and I don't think the finish is as bad as you make it out to be, but it is definitely more of a dessert whisky, and should be paired with something rich (like toffee cake or a chocolate cake) rather than consumed on its own. I've added a link to your review into my own review (http://dan-the-tax-man.livejournal.com/41293.html). Not having sample either of the others, I can't comment on the 12 or 18. Cheers!

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    Replies
    1. Dan, thanks for the link on your site. I'm flattered.

      But yeah, I think the Three Wood is just about the worst whisky I have had period. Musty, musty, musty!

      Delete
  5. I remember touring the distillery two years ago -- a great tour, very well done, spiffy bar, subtle lighting, suitable for the urban location; also, one of the few tours where they first put a glass in your hand that you can enjoy throughout, a very civilized approach! I was also much underwhelmed by the whisky itself -- the only thing I could detect on the 12yo was cat piss, and I'm not joking. It got slightly better as the whiskies got older, with the 21 tipping into "like" territory. Sorry for your loss, Jason.

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  6. Jason, I'm a little bit surprised actually that the three A's didn't stir your sense of taste a bit more positively. Your appreciation for small scale, detailed, nuanced malts (Aberfeldy 12y especially) would suggest it. The famed malt writer Michael Jackson wrote glowingly of all three versions for years, and Mr. Rostrow's hand in the latest guide changes little of that. I myself enjoy them as well. Taste and preference is nothing if not a remarkably diverse adventure, no ?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I have repeatedly tasted these and frankly can't say much positive about them. The Three Wood is simply terrible in my opinion. The 18 is the best of the lot, but smooth and very boring.

      While I have a lot of respect for the late Mr. Jackson, it is not to the point that I will defer to his opinion on all matters whisky. He and I part ways on this distillery. I suspect that Auchentoshan has lost its way as it increases production to Pepsi levels of distribution. Maybe it was a good distillery at one time, but not so at present.

      Dave Broom (http://www.whiskymag.com/whisky/brand/auchentoshan/whisky4940.html) rated the Auchentoshan 18 a 73/100. Pretty low score.

      I am glad you enjoy them and there are many more who do.

      Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully comment.

      Delete
  7. I've only tried the 12, but like you wasn't very impressed.

    Also, their claim to be the only triple distilled whisky in Scotland is patently false now that Hazelburn (a relatively lighter single malt, but still decently robust flavors) is getting bottled.

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    1. Jordan, you are correct that Auchentoshan's claims to be the only triple distilled scotch whisky are wrong. I didn't go down that road in the review, otherwise it would have gotten very long.

      Delete
  8. Something to note is that Rosebank was also triple distilled and many consider it the best of the Lowlands (and remain sore about its closure). I presently have a bottle set aside for a special occasion so I have not tasted a Rosebank but I believe Auchentoshan's problem is more that they are letting quality drop to increase quantity.

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    1. I have only heard very positive comments about Rosebank. A pity it was closed.

      Delete
  9. You wrote regarding the Auchentoshan Three Wood: "I'd drink any blend over this junk scotch".

    Any? Even Lauder's!?

    Bwa ha ha. You know I had to bring that one up.

    -Yochanan

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    Replies
    1. Yochanan,

      I gotta say that Three Wood is worse than Lauder's! Lauder's is sickeningly sweet.

      Auchentoshan Three Wood is something worse. There is a barnyard funkiness, a mustiness of wood, bad wood, that is truly repulsive that is far and apart gaggingly worse than Lauder's.

      Ouch!

      Morrison Bowmore Distillers (owner of Auchentoshan) probably have a small team of lawyers studying the possibility of suing me for defamation of a whisky brand . . .

      Delete
  10. Eric P (Frisco, TX)May 18, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    Jason,
    I have been very much enjoying your website over the last six months. I have bought various bottles out of interest from your website...to include JW Green Label, Glenfarclas 12 and GlenGarioch 12.
    I wish you would have come out with this particular review of Auchentoshan a month ago. I decided to add the Auchentoshan 12 to my collection 3 weeks ago purely out of curiosity (and a few decent reviews online). While I don't share your complete dislike, I am not impressed at all with the Tosh 12. I would much rather have a dram from one of the other 20 bottles I currently have in my cabinet.
    FYI - I just picked up a bottle of the latest Talisker Distillers Edition yesterday...and it is as good as ever...please try it!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eric,

      Talisker is such a "go-to" whisky! I am sure the Distiller's Edition is exceptional too. I have enjoyed it at whisky tastings and festivals. Trouble is I can't lay my hands on a bottle where I live. Maybe this summer when I am in New Hampshire I can locate it.

      As for Auchentoshan 12, it's a low priced single malt for a reason. A musty, funky disaster. People who buy it probably ignore the nasty wood and musty character, and comfort themselves in the cheap price.

      Glad you like the blog, thanks for commenting!

      Jason

      Delete
  11. Hello !
    I would not put too much faith in people from L.A.Whiskey Society.
    They rated Auchentoshan 12 as C+, same like Craggenmore 12, Oban 14,Glenfiddich 15 Solera Reserve or Glenlivet 12. And they gave Auchentoshan 18 A- ,same like Highland Park 18 (this is really a joke!)
    They are just a bunch of snobs and their notes are completely out of common taste.
    Greetings............Your steady reader......Marek

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Marek,

      I hear your point about the L.A. Whiskey Society. Yeah, there is a definite whiff of snobbery about them, but their comments on the 12 and Three Wood were accurate, but as you point out, not a lot of credibility given their marks on others.

      Delete
    2. Jason, I know a few of those LA whiskey review-writing attorneys myself. Readers may dismiss their reviews because the content frequently shades more towards edgy posturing than a thoughtful or complete critique. However, I can't disagree about the nature of LAWS's review accumulation, that their view may be that the inherent quality level of the drams mentioned is quite, well, equivalent (among Oban 14, Cragganmore 12, Auchentoshan 12, Glenfiddich 15, etc.). Why can't they be equivalent to these tasters ? Sure, these are differing drams stylistically, absolutely so, but can anyone legitimately object to a reviewer liking each one the same amount ? No, that's missing the point to say the reviews are a joke. Frankly, my tastes align quite well (C+) in terms of the drams mentioned. BTW, I'm not a member of the LAWS. Cheers. JK

      Delete
  12. What about CAOL ILA 12 or CAOL ILA 18? Could you review them? thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Where I live, it is not available, so I don't foresee such a review coming up anytime soon. Sorry.

      Delete
  13. Where I live TALISKER 10 is not available...Excellent work anyway. thanks

    ReplyDelete
  14. Jason, What do you think are the chances of your group having obtained - and sampled - bottles tainted in some way during the distribution process (i.e., not representative of the quality produced by the distillery) ? Heat, cold, and light have enormous effects upon food products. Since I cannot find even one review of Auchentoshen's three primary distillates so consistently and thoroughly vilifying as yours, so I have to ask that question. JK

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    1. JK, I am fairly sure these were not spoiled or flawed in the sense that they were exposed to extreme temperatures, etc. A member of our group is familiar with the 12 and Three Wood and he considers them to taste as they have in the past when he had bought them a couple of years ago. He regards the Three Wood as the worst single malt out there.

      As for myself, I have had a bottle of Auchentoshan 12 before and it was pretty much the same as described in this review.

      As for not being able to find supporting reviews, I don't think that is persuasive that these are not that bad. Consider Drumguish Single Malt, which is another horrendous single malt, I mean horrid in the worst sense, but try and find someone on the web that will call it for what it is. I think you won't the straight goods on Drumguish or Auchentoshan Three Wood for two reasons: (1) Whisky bloggers/reviewers are diplomatic; (2) Many reviewers are indebted to spirits distributors and don't want to bite the hand that feeds them.

      On the diplomatic front, consider Dave Broom's awarding of 70 points in his review of Auchentoshan Three Wood (http://www.whiskymag.com/whisky/brand/auchentoshan/whisky465.html). I mean 70 points? I don't recall him handing out that low a score ever. But it is very low. In his review, available at Whiskey Magazine he describes the 'finish' as "Dry, burnt fruit." Not exactly encouraging. In my opinion, he diplomatically, in coded language, is telling the astute reader to stay away from this one like the plague.

      Bottom line: Most whisky reviewers are diplomatic (possibly due to their relationship with the industry), and me? Well, I just don't care and call it they I taste it.

      Anyway, I think you should rely on neither I or the critics, pick up a bottle of Three Wood and judge for yourself. I would be very interested in your tasting notes.

      Cheers!

      Jason

      Delete
  15. Well, I know the Three Wood bottling pretty well, though clearly I didn't sample from your bottle. It's not been a style I would buy, but not for reasons relating to the characteristics you described. I think your example presented a cork taint condition in your bottle. In finesse-styled, cork-finished beverages such as the Auchen line, the problem does rear its ugly head from time to time. Robin Garr offers a compelling (and concise) treatment of the subject here. JK

    //www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080310.php

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    1. JK, I picked up another bottle of Auchentoshan Three Wood, and it does not taste nearly as bad as the other one reviewed above. I am not getting that horrid mustiness. I suspect that you are indeed correct that my first bottle probably was flawed. I will let the current Auchentoshan Three Wood settle for a couple of days and then review again.

      Delete
  16. A frustrating thing, this "bottle variation". Whether related to a musty barre, a compromised cork, a few months' exposure to high heat or light, it drives me crazy. I can deal with barley harvest variation, itself no small thing.

    A pretty recent review of the Three Wood bottling from another spirits site...

    http://therumhowlerblog.wordpress.com/whisky-reviews/scotch-whisky/auchentoshan-three-wood-single-malt-whisky/

    JK

    ReplyDelete
  17. Not that you're looking for another snoozefest malt, but Auchentoshan's most recent official bottling is called Valinch (Gaelic for "Evangelist"). It is their cask-strength and non-chill filtered version of the Classic. It's a significantly fresh, stronger-geared, more intense and longer-finishing malt than what you experienced with the 12Y, with no sherry cask influence. It's my preference of their line, though it's priced at $48 and not cheap for a non-age stated release. Cheers. JK

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  18. I find Auchentoshan Classic and Auchentoshan Valinch very nice. There's a reason they're called "breakfast whisky". The flavours are sweet spice, especially in comparison to Scotch's more savoury standards. It is moreish! My standard is Laphroaig, and yet there are times when Auchentoshan is perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hello fellow Jason,

    I'm curious how you arrived at this disdain for the Auchentoshan 12 year after your early more favourable impression:

    https://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.ca/search/label/Auchentoshan%2012

    to largely dismissive:

    https://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.ca/2010/03/auchentoshan-12-year-old-single-malt.html

    and eventually downright hostility.

    What happened in-between? Do you attribute this in part to poor quality control between batches, or did you develop a disdain between these tastings?

    PS - love the reviews!!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Poor quality control and with time the more I reflect on this malt the more I am convinced it represents poor value for money.

      thanks for commenting!

      Delete