One of the discoveries that I've made is that I really prefer triple-distilled whisky from ex-bourbon rather than ex-sherry casks. Something about it just fits with the caramel and vanilla flavors that come from American oak without the overlay of sherry. This has been most noticeable from Auchentoshan and Hazelburn.
This sample comes from the WhiskyBase Shop, who not only do their own bottlings under the Archives label, but also put out samples from a lot of the bottles that pass through their shop. At 20 mL, they're clearly aimed at getting people to try whiskies that they otherwise wouldn't in the hope that people will then buy a full bottle. With that in mind I slipped one of these into my latest order.
The whisky was distilled in November 1990, aged for 23 years in a hogshead (probably refill?), then bottled in Septemeber 2014 at 47.7% without coloring or chill filtration.
Archives Auchentoshan 23 Year 1990/2014
Nose: very light - sugar cookies over fresh oak, hay, fruity bubblegum, vanilla, raspberries/strawberries, undercurrent of floral perfume. After adding a few drops of water, the hay becomes a little burnt around the edges, strong notes of lime and eucalyptus emerge, the floral notes integrate with the malt and overtake the sugar cookies, and a bit of chocolate with roasted malt pops out.
Taste: lots of malt and sugarcane sweetness throughout, fades through fresh hay, berry and fruit esters, chocolate-covered oak, and roasted malt, then back to hay. After dilution, the palate gains a lot of thickness, with malt gaining over the sugarcane and the chocolate oak spreading out underneath the other elements, while the hay at the back becomes drier (as opposed to fresh) and sweeter.
Finish: lots of fresh hay, rather sweet, an undercurrent of oak, lingering fruit esters, dark chocolate
This whisky seems to be a very odd mix of youth and maturity. There are elements, like the bourbon cask fruit and chocolate-y oak finish, that I associate with well-aged malts, but at the same time the plastic-y off notes (which admittedly burn off with time) and fresh hay remind me of young spirit. Given the rather reduced proof for something that's not terribly old, I have to wonder if this was bottled more in an effort to keep it from losing any more strength than because it was really at its prime.
With all that said, this nearly convinced me to buy a whole bottle. The whisky takes a while to open up, but it's a really interesting experience. Considering the age, the price is fair, though I would highly encourage you to take advantage of the WhiskyBase Shop's samples to try a bit for yourself first.