Arguably my favourite Lowlands whisky and frequent flyer in GreatDrams whisky tastings, I could not have been happier to have had enough time spare after visiting the Oban Distillery to make an last minute stop to The Auchentoshan Distillery.
Alistair, The Auchentoshan Distillery Manager was my host for the morning, a really passionate and genuine chap who is originally from Bowmore, Islay and has worked within the whisky industry at a couple of distilleries his entire adult life.
We started my visit by sitting down and chatting through The Auchentoshan distillery, the brand, the history and the relevance of it today.
Turns out it was a lot more fascinating than I had imagine, weird as that sounds. The name derives from the Gaelic for “corner of the field” as it was literally built in the corner of a field.
Don’t mention the war!
The Auchentoshan distillery was a victim of the German Blitz during World War II, being directly hit by 18 bombs over two nights of bombings across the 13th and 14th March 1941, destroying Warehouse 3 in the process.
I was shown warehouse books from warehouse three where they had to score out a lot of the output of the distillery due to being lost in the Blitz, and you can never beat the Scots for wit and dry humour, even if unintentional.
The comments on EVERY single line in the book that is scored out reads:
“Output lost due to enemy action”
Directly targeting the emerging younger middle classes.
In terms of consumers, and as Scotland’s only 100% triple distilled single malt right now (2015), Alistair updated me on how despite the lofty ‘single malt is for sipping and maybe one ice cube’ culture that exists within staunch, older whisky consumers, newer consumers are increasingly using The Auchentoshan in cocktails.
There is a heavy London skew to this but the nature of The Auchentoshan distillery’s lighter, more delicate flavour it is flexible enough to work well in cocktails and is seen as a useful alternative to other blended Scotches out there by mixologists.
Their ‘new’ consumers are aged 25 – 35 and are after more a Scotch brand steeped in heritage, sure, but also one that is a bit more ‘contemporary’ that the others out there. A brand that ‘gets’ them a little bit more and connects visually as much as through taste.
The case for triple distilling
A typically Lowland process, triple distilling not only adds an interesting USP for brands such as Auchentoshan but also takes perceived harshness out of the new make and final spirit that directly answers the consumer needs above, handily.
Rumour has it that the Rosebank distillery may reopen, instantly becoming a challenger to Auchentoshan’s triple distilled crown. Will be interesting to see how they respond.
Auchentoshan has been on a rapid growth trajectory over the last seven years, growing from 300,000 litres of spirit output in 2008 to around 1.3 million litres this year and averaged ~1.6 million litres 2011 – 2014. Mightily impressive stuff.
All of this despite a capacity of 2.1 million litres which gives the brand a lot of headroom for growth.
“Onwards and upwards, I only see good things on the horizon,” said Alistair.
They use non-prated concerto from Simpsons, like many other distilleries, and have never created a peated variety… I do hope they have a go some day, bet that would be rather brilliant.
The process is still pretty hand operated, with computers used as a backup instead of a primary river of the process that includes four wood and three steel washbacks, most of which routinely last thirty years production time.
The distillery was at the beginning of a two-week shut down period, with all the stills and spirit safe being polished and lacquered as we went through the distillery.
The new make here runs into he spirit safe a little higher than expected at around 81% ABV, and I was fortunate enough to try some… a lot smoother than I expected, really light, fruity and highly sippable.
A few minutes later we walked around the site, into the cottages, around the forecourt and into the warehouse where I got to sample and bottle my own 8 Year Old at 57.1% ABV. So much fun.
Thanks to Alistair and his superb team for accommodating me at such short notice and for being great hosts.