...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Single Malt Report: Auchentoshan Three Wood

Here's the scene:

Exactly one month ago, I meet up with a friend for lunch at The Bowery, a Hollywood restaurant with a very impressive whisky selection -- about two to three dozen single malts.

So I go with the Auchentoshan Three Wood, figuring that it would be reasonably priced.  When the waiter tells how much it was going for, I was surprised.  Doesn't Auchentoshan tend to run a little cheaper?  But with the drink now in my hand, it's too awkward to turn down.

And, well, the pour is irresponsible.  It had to be about 4 ounces.  About 1/6th of a bottle.  Well okay then.  I'll drink it.  Luckily my friend is okay with taking a long lunch.  Like 2 hours.  I have a lengthy drive back to Long Beach that I'd prefer to do soberly.

So, the brandy snifter of whisky is in front of me.  A new issue arises.  Is this whisky?

It's a dark drink.  Really dark.  Like Newcastle dark.  Looks more like a brandy or cognac.  I give it a sip.  Brandy and cognac flavors.

I seriously wonder if this was what I ordered.  The waiter had me repeat "Auchentoshan" a couple of times, which is understandable.  But I decide not to make a weird thing of it and do tasting notes anyway.

Immediately after lunch, I pull up other online reviews of Auchentoshan Three Wood and sure enough, that's what I'd just been drinking.

Auchentoshan, which sounds roughly Germanic to my ears, is Gaelic for "corner of the field".  The distillery is right outside of Glasgow so, like Glenkinchie, it's a Lowland distillery.  It has a much better website than Glenkinchie, full of videos, pictures, and distillation descriptions.  It proudly flaunts its triple distillation process, though it is not the only "only Triple Distilled Single Malt In Scotland".  As I'd mentioned in the Glenkinchie post, normally Scottish single malts are distilled twice.  The classic Lowland style incorporates a third distillation of whisk(e)y (as usually done in Irish whiskies) which smoothens and lightens the malt texture considerably.

The distillery was founded in 1800 (though there are reports that 1825 was when it opened).  It was fully rebuilt after World War Two, then refurbished and overhauled when Morrison Bowmore bought it in 1984.

Auchentoshan has many official bottlings.  There's the very affordable Classic, which replaced the Select a couple years ago.  There's a 12 year, which replaced the 10 year in 2008.  There's an 18yr, a 21yr, a Bourdeaux-finished 11yr, and a cask-strengthed Valinch.  And then there's this Three Wood...

Distillery: Auchentoshan
Bottling: Triple Wood
Age: minimum 11 1/2 years
Maturation: 10yrs in American Oak, 1yr Oloroso sherry casks, 1/2 yr Pedro Ximenez sherry casks
Region: Lowlands (Western)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

I'll get straight to the notes:

The color is very very dark brown with a bit of underlying rosiness.  Probably the darkest whisky I have every tried, with Oban's Distillers Edition being a close second.  Such a cognac-ish nose on this.  In fact it smells like cognac tastes.  There's some vanilla from the American Oak.  Rich sherry from......two different sherry casks.  And a squeeze of maple syrup.  The texture is very thick and heavy.  For the taste, here are my notes verbatim: "BIG NUTS, Big Vanilla, Big Amaretto, and a dollop of whip cream."  The finish was short but sweet and creamy.

The cognac is gone from the nose.  Maple syrup and nougat is what remains.  The texture actually remains pretty thick through the added water.  The palate is all hazelnuts and almonds and Coca Cola.  The finish is short and quite chocolatey.

It sat very heavy in my stomach like a rich dessert.  While drinking it, I was reminded of a Petit Syrah as it's so dark and bursting with enormous flavors.  But it's the first time since I've started doing tasting notes that I could not find any malt in there at all.  Donde esta mi uisge beatha?

I don't expect every whisky to be peaty and smoky.  I don't expect every sherried whisky to taste like Macallan or Glenfarclas.  The range of flavors and scents derived from new make malt and oak casks is so broad that its exploration has just begun.

But still, this one left me wondering when does a whisky stop being a whisky?  The Three Wood follows the whisky production process; it was distilled in Scotland; it was from a single distillery.  So it is technically a single malt scotch.  But what a strange bulky being it is.

To prove I'm not crazy (Ed.: I'm always trying to prove this, am I not?) here are some notes from the big boys:
Jackson - "...the whisky struggles to assert itself among the woods..."
Valentin - "...frankly, this is a tad bizarre...Not unpleasant even if it’s still sort of a ‘strange mix’..."
Master of Malt - "...a rum-like quality and notes of Bas Armagnac..."
The bottle price since is double that of the Classic bottling, and 30% more than the 12yr.  I'm assuming that's due to the higher quality sherry casks.  Yet, it doesn't fare well when compared to other whiskies in and below its price range (including other malts released by Morrison Bowmore).

Here's a positive spin: If you don't like whisky, you might like this.  If you like brandies, cognacs, and amarettos this might be your thing.  It's probably DELICIOUS in highballs and mixed drinks.  Very desserty.  So as a liqueur it's not bad.  As a whisky, it's odd.

Pricing - $60-$65 - Huh?
Rating - 73