For as long as Whisky Live Singapore has been running, it’s unusual that it’s actually the first time that Beam Suntory has taken part in one – so officially, the likes of Bowmore, Laphroaig and Auchentoshan, have not featured at Singapore’s most prestigious whisky event.
With Neil Alexander Matthew in town, it’s also the first time that we got to speak with an official representative directly from the distillery. Literally, as Neil cut his teeth guiding visitors around the distillery, amongst other duties at the tightly-knit company.
Neil’s here to speak in particular about the Auchentoshan 18YO and Auchentoshan 21YO, which aren’t new but are unusually hard to get your hands on despite the fact that these are usually standard offerings for most distilleries – which is why we rarely hear about them, if at all. Just for context, the output for the 18YO stands at 100,000 bottles per year while 21YO is around 20-40,000. In contrast, when Laphroaig had their 200th-anniversary limited edition 15YO, the total outturn numbered 200,000.
Auchentoshan’s capacity has peaked at 1.4-1.5 million or so litres (roughly two million bottles) over the past five or six years as well. To cope, they’ve assembled a portfolio that has a good mix of age statement whiskies along with the now ubiquitous Non Age Statement (NAS) offerings (nothing wrong with that, some of the all-time great whiskies were NAS). As it turns out, the increased availability here is down to allocation. Neil’s visit is an expression of Beam Suntory’s eagerness to get the word out on the street – after all, how many of us have had the opportunity to try either?
Neil shared that part of the reasons 18YO and 21YO are hard to come by is that they don’t strictly designate a fixed number to deliver to their distributors; if the liquid is ready to bottle then they will be bottled – if not, it’ll have to wait. As such, batches are often limited in quantity and often feature whiskies much older than the declared age.
Citing the example of the Three Wood, Neil explains that the NAS helps them better manage how they can deliver consistency. It typically spends 10 years in ex-Bourbon casks, then 12 months in ex-Oloroso, and another 12 in ex-Pedro Ximenez. But depending on the quality of the casks, it may require 9 years or 11 years in ex-bourbon, or perhaps 10 months or 14 months in the ex-sherry casks. As far as Auchentoshan is concerned, they are aiming to create a certain flavour profile, and as such, it then makes more sense to not have an age statement rather than to modify the label for every batch that they make. For that matter, the length in which it takes to produce a batch is also part of the reason why they do not have a 15YO in the range as well, for the Three Wood may take up to 15 years to make, and marketing-wise a regular 15YO may get a little lost in the lineup.
It also helps to understand that Auchentoshan isn’t quite your typical Scotch whisky distillery – until the recent whisky boom, it had been one of the last bastions of the Lowlands style, and one that uses triple distillation to boot. This method is more akin to an Irish style and hints at the founders for having Irish roots. The key difference in triple distillation is that the resulting distillate is also a lot ‘cleaner’ compared to the average double-distilled whisky; there isn’t quite anything like this in Scotch and the closest would be the likes of Glenmorangie if you want to have an idea of how delicate the spirit is.
Triple distillation results in a very clean spirit and generally, there’s far less ‘bad’ congeners to begin with. The subject of congeners is kind of borderline controversial albeit under the radar; at least on the surface – these are residuals that are partly responsible for your hangovers; they are the elements that give your spirit character. Part of the objective of maturation is to let unwanted congeners break down, and this is a process that takes time. For Auchentoshan, Neil says that their spirits tend to be ready for bottling a little earlier than most, thanks in part to triple distillation.
Auchentoshan tends to be a lot lighter than most and many will find it characteristically ‘smooth’. As such, it relies heavily on the wood that it resides in for its flavour. Much like Glenmorangie, its more refined spirit takes much of its final character from the cask. In this regard, it has a pretty good starting point: as part of Beam Suntory, it has access to a pretty decent supply of Clermont Springs (Jim Beam) barrels along with Heaven Hill and sometimes Woodford Reserve.
Which makes the 18YO and 21YO all the more interesting given the extra time it spends in oak.
Auchentoshan 18 Years Old
All ex-bourbon, all the way. A more intense presentation of the Auchentoshan style, with more pronounced notes of citrus, green tea and almonds.
Nose Fresh tobacco leaf – then sweet with a hint of caramelised sugars, green tea and toasted almonds.
Palate Sweet barley balanced by a tinge of zestiness, rounded off with a sense of charred oak.
Finish The sweetness fades gently away.
If this were the 12 YO in terms of price and accessibility, this would be a runaway winner – austere, simple, but has a richness that makes this a satisfying sipper.
Auchentoshan 21 Years Old
Auchentoshan’s gentle spirit welcomes the judicious use of casks and this 21YO showcases much of its delicate nature layered with the influence of two distinct sherries.
Nose Sweet vanilla and slight grassiness with hints of citrus.
Palate Hints of chocolate on top of honey and citrus peel.
Finish Satisfyingly long and with a slight spiciness.
I much prefer the simplicity of the 18YO but the 21YO would make a better impression on most thanks to its balance – when you get ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks right together, it’s hard to go wrong.
Check them out if you’re heading over to Whisky Live!