I first seriously tried Auchentoshan a couple of years ago and had mixed feelings about their basic 12 Year expression. Later that year I got to visit the distillery, which gave me an increased appreciation for their products.
Since I actively dislike Glenkinchie, Auchentoshan was the obvious choice to represent the Lowlands when I held an introduction of scotch tasting a few months back, giving me an excuse to revisit the whisky.
Auchentoshan has revamped the packaging for its whiskies over the last year or two, which, as always, makes one suspect that they contents have changed a bit as well. Either way, it is still bottled at 40%, presumably with coloring and chill-filtration.
Auchentoshan 12 Year
Nose: creamy purple/bubblegum sherry, grapes, strawberry/raspberry, pineapple, yeast extract, vanilla, malt, bread dough, mild fresh oak, walnuts, green/herbal, floral, incense, a touch of charred wood. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes softer but darker, with the sherry taking on an almost smoky edge, the oak becomes more polished, and the other younger fruit notes mostly disappear.
Taste: a core of malt sweetness with a yeasty/savory undercurrent throughout, sherry comes in quickly behind and gains a bitter chocolate/tannic edge around the middle, which lifts slightly near the back and is joined by a touch of salty bread dough. After dilution, it becomes more malt forward and the sweetness is pushed towards the back where it assumes a vanilla frosting character,
Finish: creamy malt with an overlay of bubblegum sherry, crisp oak tannins
The most striking difference between my first impressions of this whisky and the ones I have gotten more recently is how much more clearly sherried the whisky is now. While the mini I tried was more bourbon cask-driven (I was actually unsure if there were any sherry casks in the mix until I checked with the master blender), the full bottle tilted more towards the sherry casks. I don't know if that's just a difference between minis and full bottles or if there has been an actual shift in towards sherry casks in the makeup.
I still wish that Suntory would up its game and release Auchentoshan with the craft presentation it deserves, as the palate falls a little bit flat in comparison to the nose. But I will admit that going through a full bottle has made me appreciate its charms more fully. The use of sherry casks in this expression is relatively deft and has a unique sherry character, though I still find myself longing for the purity of their bourbon cask spirit. Ultimately its strength is as a crowd pleaser - I've introduced this whisky to a number of new and experienced drinkers over the last couple of months and it never failed to impress. It's sweet without being cloying and light enough to be an easy sipper without being boring.