I’ve been on some kind of a 21-year-old Speyside sherried kick lately. And although I’m mostly a self-proclaimed peat-head, since I’m enjoying this particular style of Scotch, let’s just keep going! But first, let’s review the last week of tastings. First, I compared the Glengoyne 21-year-old distillery bottling against a Douglas Laing single cask (same bottle in this review) and proclaimed the former a winner. So then I took that and compared it against the GlenDronach 21-year-old, and it won again! I was pretty surprised, and so I ran through a round of GlenDronach vs Balvenie 21-year-old Portwood, and now the GlenDronach took the prize! So today, I’m digging out a 21-year-old from Auchentoshan to see how it will stand out in this crowd. I’ll let both breathe for 20-minutes and take this time to cover some background. But first, we need music! Now playing: Luke Howard – All Of Us.
I’ve covered the Glengoyne distillery a few times, and I think one last thing I want to mention is that it literally sits on the Highland Boundary Fault, on the imaginary lines between Highlands and Lowland. So its stills are in Highlands while the casks mature in Lowlands. Do with that information what you will, and then decide if any of that matters. What’s important is the liquid, in the cask, in the bottle, and then, of course, in your glass. This distillery uses non-peated air-dried barley, which is [mostly] aged in ex-sherry seasoned casks from the American and Spanish oak, which they take time to put together. This single-cask independent bottling is courtesy of Douglas Laing for their Old Particular range and series, charged from a refill hogshead, presumably holding another Glengoyne before, and before that, an Oloroso sherry. There is no colouring and no chill filtration, and it is bottled at a natural cask strength of 48.5% – a bit on the low side for a whisky that spent only about 21 years in a barrel. It is particularly interesting to note this because the 21-year-old Auchentoshan is bottled at a cask strength of 58.3% ABV. I guess we won’t know why, but there could be a lot of reasons – evaporation is obvious, as well as the original strength of spirit which goes into the barrel [more on that below]. I’ll add a bit of water and let it stand some more.
The Auchentoshan is a Lowland distillery located very close to Glasgow, with its name derived from Gaelic Achadh an Oisein, which basically means “corner of the field”. Its liquid is triple distilled [instead of the “standard” Scotch double], which allows it to produce a higher strength spirit of 81% ABV. Matured mostly in ex-bourbon barrels, their output has a sweeter single malt, often referred to in Glasgow as “the breakfast whisky“. This single cask independent bottling is from Signatory Vintage. No colouring in here, no filtration, and, as already mentioned, it is bottled at a hefty 58.3% ABV, which means that I’ll be adding plenty of water. It’s from a bourbon barrel, and I already picked up on those sweet notes of vanilla, honey, nuttiness and stewed fruit. I’ve tried it neat, and it is sure a biter, so plenty more water and some time is what it really needs to open up. After a bit, I started to sense and taste some ripe bananas, but it still not smooth and soft like “those other older whiskies” I have tried. This brings me to a point about “age”. What time does to a whisky in a cask is not about softness – it is more about the complexity the singe malt gets from interacting with the wood. And if the wood is great, you have a superb whisky, but if the wood is rotten… well… you just hope to use it somewhere else. This whisky needs a lot of time and water, and it demands a lot of patience for a reward.
I have not covered tasting notes on Glengoyne, but that’s because I’ve tasted it once before. Suffice it to say that it is a very drinkable and lovely whisky. With time and water, it has really started to come through. It has the right notes and the balance of the sherry with that of wood and alcohol and makes a pleasant drum. I struggled with the Auchentoshan for a while. I may have to revisit it again and start off with a third of water straight away to bring it down to a smoother 43% [yes, 1L of 58% mixed with 0.35L of water will produce a 43% ABV liquid – see formula]. With that said, I’ll proclaim the Glengoyne here a winner and save the Auchentoshan for a taste another time.