Auchentoshan have just released their virgin oak matured single malt. Just to clarify, this is solely matured in virgin oak, not merely finished in it. Now this, coming from the distillery with one of the most subtle taste profiles in Scotland, is rather an oddity. There is no idea of age but the virgin oak would suggest a malt of less than 10 years before it is overpowered by the wood.
At a personal level, I have mixed feelings about Auchentoshan. The 12 I can take or leave and the Three Wood I’m coming round to. As one writer put it: ‘Where is the Auchentoshan-ness in all this?’ He has a point. Why take an essentially brilliant but light and floral spirit and then drench it in Sherry so that it loses all trace of its original character? The Auchentoshans I love are those bourbon matured malts where the distillery character still remains. So why would you want to obliterate the delicate and banana-ry Auchentoshan with a virgin oak cask? The answer is…errr, well I’m not entirely sure. To hell with conjecture, let’s give it a try.
Nose: At first, it smells a little European to me (i.e. quite sappy and young), but this soon passes. The spice from the virgin oak seems to have been held in check and is replaced by a sherberty note with lemon meringue pie and vanilla. Some green fruits in evidence and a hint of banana. Overall, a nice fresh and zesty nose reminiscent of a Speysider and not the nose burning I was expecting.
Taste: Jeeeeezus!! I think I might have bitten a chunk out of a new cask, such are the splinters now lodged in my lips and tongue after my first sip. But, when I have removed the last splinter with tweezers (and let me tell you, this might take a while), there is another hit of sherbert, more citrus fruits and vanilla ice cream with a nutty almond element and a refreshing spicy finish. But here’s the funny thing, the spice really works with this and doesn’t, after the initial explosion and when one’s lips have recovered their feeling, actually overpower the distillery character too badly.
Overall, I really like this but I maybe the virgin oak is a little too fierce. I suspect it would have been better with a limited time in virgin oak rather than solely matured in it.