Ahh, fall. Time to shut off the air conditioning, take out those sweaters and sip the new seasonal small batch whiskies to ward off the chill. This year, Morrison Bowmore is releasing three limited editions from Auchentoshan (pronounced “ock-un-tosh-un”) and Glen Garioch (pronounced “Glen Geery”): Auchentoshan Valinch, Auchentoshan 1999 Vintage Bordeaux Wine Matured and Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage.
Auchentoshan is very dear to my heart since I had the pleasure of visiting the distillery, just outside of Glasgow, Scotland, back in May of 2010. That was a special day, where I was given the red carpet tour with Senior Blender Jeremy Stephens. Auchentoshan, which means “corner of a field,” practices triple distillation, which is rare in Scotch world. This third distillation brings the spirit up naturally to a higher ABV than the typical double distillation. This means its “cask strength” is much smoother than your usual dram.
On that day, Jeremy showed me how to use the valinch, a long siphon that is used by distillers to draw the spirit out of a hole in the barrel, to taste for readiness. It’s an awkward instrument to master, like tripping out in Wonderland with an outsized pipe that comes between you and your tea. It was well worth the reward once I found the right balance.
And balance is just what characterizes Auchentoshan’s Valinch limited edition Scotch. While the ABV is somewhat lower than usual, 57.5%, the flavor takes the whisky to new heights. It builds on the signature Auchentoshan 12 Year characteristics of vanilla, toasty oats, pear, banana and baking bread and adds more floral, citrus, toffee and dark chocolate flavors. But despite these sweet aromas and flavors, it never feels too viscous or cloying.
The Auchentoshan 1999 Vintage Bordeaux Wine Matured Whisky is aged for 11 years in once-used Bordeaux casks. According to Morrison Bowmore Master of Malts Iain McCallum, the spirit was taste-tested throughout its maturation until it was deemed suitable to “meet the market expectation” of Auchentoshan quality. This delivers and then some. The wine cask imparts an unusual grapey, plummy finish to the Scotch as well as a pretty purplish hue, with the wine tannins balancing out the finish. However, the integrity of Auchentoshan’s characteristic cereal and vanilla notes are never overpowered by the effects of the wine. It’s an elegant way to mix wine and liquor without a nasty hangover.
The Glen Garioch 1994 vintage Scotch is a rare treat. The distillery closed for renovations for 18 months back in 1995. When it re-opened, they made a conscious decision to change the flavor profile of their whiskies, forever bumping back its once prominent smoky flavors. This release is like taking a ride in a Scotch time machine of sorts, affording the drinker the rare experience of tasting old school Glen Garioch.
“Whisky shouldn’t be one-dimensional,” says McCallum. This Scotch is anything but. While there is a distinct smokiness, it’s not like sipping a fireplace. Instead, it’s a sweet, almost pipe tobacco or smoldering flower smoke taste that is rounded out with honeysuckle and nutty toffee flavors. There is also a distinct apricot note that matches the typical post-1995 Glen Garioch malts, proving that despite the change, there are pervading character traits true to its ancestry.
All three of these Scotches are worth seeking out for aficionados and newbies alike. But they are all from limited distillery batches that won’t be available again once they’re snatched up, with very few bottles of each hitting the U.S. market. Definitely get your hands on them while you can, and enjoy a great way to ease away the weather’s “chitterin’ bite.”