I embarked on a bit of an odyssey in selecting this purchase. I hope you won’t find what follows boring, but it all forms part of the narrative.
It had come to my attention that a re-stocking was long overdue, though it’s not that I’ve been drinking more of late. You see, I like to keep lots of things in stock, so when I start to approach the bottom of a bottle, I have a tendancy to move on to something more volumous. Inevitably this eventually leads to a situation where nearly all your bottles are approaching their end, and you seem to be finishing something every time you have a drink. So with pay day in the very recent past, it was time to go shopping.
Before reaching my decision I had to forego some very tempting offers at Costco – a single cask Jack Daniels, because I’m saving potential US whisky purchases for an upcoming visit to Duty Free; a Hakushu because I wasn’t in the market for it; the Lapgroaig 10 that I’ve wanted to revisit for pure time, because I have had it before and Islay isn’t on my procurement matrix for a while yet; a Lagavulin 16 for the same reason; and a Tullibardine because I wasn’t looking for a Highland malt. Because, yes, I had already determined that this time around I was looking for a vintage Lowland malt.
Just for the record, I also had to forego decent offers on various Glenmorangies and Glenfiddichs in Sainburys because, if you let yourself, you could easily end up buying these all time time as they are in every supermarket, always on offer, and there always seems to be a new expression – there was even a Midwinter Night’s Dram from Glenmorangie, which struck me as odd on the hottest day of the year at the end of May.
Anyway, when it came to drawing up a shortlist it was all Auchentoshans and Glenkinchies. I can’t say I was finding the prospect of them all that exciting, but it’s all part of the whisky education and it means I’ll’ve completed the Lowland region before too long.
So the cheapest malt to consider was Auchentoshan’s Valinch 2012 at £40.45 (at The Whisky Exchange). I didn’t want to go that cheap, though it is worth mentioning that this was selling at £60 at Master of Malt and a massive £70 at Amazon. Then you had various Glenkinchie distillery editions, dated between 1996 and 2003 and all retailing from £48.95 to £55.95 (all prices exclusive of P&P btw). I wasn’t drawn to these because, despite looking the part, they’ve all been finished in sherry casks, and I’m a bit tired of that.
What it boiled down to then, was a choice between three or four merchant bottlings of Auchentoshan – each blended from two casks. I couldn’t find any indication as to which of these bottlings might be the best to get, so I just took a decision based on economics, having compared prices across a number of suppliers.Just within, but veering towards, the outside of my price range was an 18 year old Signatory from 1997. That was just under £80. When I saw a (more or less) identical 1998 17 year old though, at just under £60, I figured that seemed like better value for money. Finally though, I made one last compromise because I found the 1999 15 year old at just under £50. That would leave a bit of cash to get some tequila too.
In terms of the Lowland region, most of my experience has been with the now defunct Bladnoch distillery. You might remember I was delighted by a ten year old, and disappointed with a cask strength 12 year old. Other than that, I have tried a single glass of the standard Auchentoshan once before. I remember not being impressed, but that’s the way it goes sometimes – it was a single glass so there’s really no way of knowing what I really thought of it.
Auchentoshan triple distils all its whisky, and this sets them apart from all other Scottish distilleries. Signatory, on the other hand, is an independent bottler supplying three types of product – 86 proof, cask strength and un-chillfiltered (this one belongs to the latter collection) – representing all of the distilling areas of Scotland. The Cask Strength ones have a particularly intriguing bottle, but this isn’t one of those. It’s a fairly standard bottle with a no fuss label and gothic lettering, and it comes in a silvery tin-cardboard hybrid tube. It is bottled at 46%.
It is very pale in colour, and very light in body. I haven’t really had anything as light bodied as this before, and while I tend to prefer my whiskies full and oily, that isn’t a mark against the Auchentoshan. It’s just different is all. The nose is a little tangy, while on the tongue it almost feels like a gentle wash of wood that’s going to float up from your tongue and evaporate.
It has slipped out of the bottle and down my throat very easily, so easily in fact that I don’t remember drinking so much of it. I must be pouring larger measures.
Anyway, it looks like I’ve only fully evaluated three merchant bottlings previously, and this one is going into 2nd place behind the Bunnahabhain 1979 and ahead of the Fettercairn 7 with Scapa 2001 bringing up the rear. As for comparisons with the single malt genre in general… I’m struggling to place it. Probably just outside the top 10 though.