By Guest Author - Jim Taylor.
I’d popped up to visit friends in Glasgow for a few days and found that I had a day free for a bit of sightseeing - and what else should one do when in Scotland, but take in a distillery tour. As a relative newbie to the wonderful world of whisky, my knowledge of the location of distilleries isn’t very good but I knew that Auchentoshan were based just outside of Glasgow, so decided that would be the easiest place to visit.
Looking on their website I found that they offered a variety of tours, but as I was going with a couple of friends who were not whisky enthusiasts, and who were just tagging along, I suggested we do the most basic tour (read “cheapest”) at just £7, which is approximately $14. This included an hour long tour, with a free sample in the bar at the end and, a complimentary glass too. Very reasonable.
We met up with our guide, Neil, in the gift shop and set off on the tour in a group of 11 people. We started off in the first room, which is where the mash tun was housed. Neil explained a few things about the distillery, the parent company (Beam Suntory) and about whisky generally, passing around some samples of barley to smell - one un-peated, and one peated, just for comparison. Auchentoshan doesn’t malt its own barley, so contracts this out, and has deliveries of malted barley ready to use for mashing. Despite the samples provided for us to smell, they don’t use peated malts either, but it was interesting for folks on the tour to know the difference. Production was just about to ramp up after a closed period, however the mash tun was still empty, just about to be filled up.
Next we moved into the fermenting room with the washback’s. There were four massive 38,000-liter washback’s - two currently in use, and two not in use. We were told that, when not in use, the washback’s remain filled with water to help keep the wood conditioned, so that it doesn’t dry or shrink. The water for the whisky they produce comes from Loch Katrine.
After this we moved into the distillation room, with their three copper stills for which they’re famous. Neil explained about the process of distillation, the different cuts, and passed us some samples to show how the spirit looks and smells at various stages in the process. We were even able to try a tiny drop of the new make spirit which, despite being 81% / 162 proof, was extremely smooth and flavorful but of course lacking the refinement and depth which comes with the maturation.
Lastly we headed outside in beautiful spring sunshine (a rarity for Glasgow, so I’m told!) and walked over to one of their maturation warehouses. The warehouses are designed to keep very low ambient temperatures year round, and Neil explained that this is something in the region of 5 - 18 degrees’ centigrade year round. Despite being warm and sunny outside it was extremely cool inside, however the wonderful aroma of the hundreds of barrels of ageing whisky soon made me forget about the cold!
We had a few minutes walking round the barrels, and learning a little about the types of barrel that Auchentoshan uses, such as virgin oak, ex-bourbon casks from their parent company Jim Beam, ex-Oloroso sherry, and ex-wine casks). We also learned about the variety of prices these can cost ranging from as little as £80/$152 for the ex-bourbon casks, right up to £1000/$1900 for some of the ex-limousin wine casks.
We finished up in the tasting bar which was well stocked with a wide variety of Auchentoshan expressions, as well as some from sister distilleries (such as Bowmore). We were offered a sample of Auchentoshan American Oak whisky - but as we were only on the cheap tour, no more samples were offered. However, I had previously enquired in the shop prior to starting the tour, about the Distillery Cask edition (which was a rich, cask strength, oloroso sherry cask bottling) so was given a small sample - and immediately knew I’d be taking home a bottle! We concluded the tour after about 1 hour 20 minutes, and headed back into the gift shop.
Speaking to Neil again back in the gift shop, I found that the Distillery Cask edition is actually is the one you get to bottle yourself and, if I preferred, would I like to bottle my own instead, rather than take one from the shelf? I checked with my friends who were quite enthusiastic to come and see the process, and we had plenty of time so naturally I jumped at the chance!
Neil took us back into the warehouse, into a special side-room set aside for bottling your own. There was a full size cask placed centrally in the room. We unsealed it, and I was handed the valinch and a large jug, and after some instruction from Neil on how to use the valinch, I drew out the measurement for my bottle of whisky… approx 800ml. Neil decanted the correct measure (700ml) into a fresh bottle, which left a little bit left over which we polished off and returned to the shop to label, record, and box my bottle. It was distilled in September 2004, and of course bottled in March 2016 so is a bit under 12 years old, and was recorded at 59.6%.
A great experience and £75/$142 seemed very fair for the experience and the whisky which is stunning - like a good Aberlour A'Bunadh batch but many times smoother and richer. I even think the experience might have turned my two friends into liking whisky, as they went into it with no real liking, but a nip of the Distillers Cask bottle seemed to really change their minds!
I’d recommend the Auchentoshan distillery tour to anyone, however I was advised that it can get extremely busy in season, and certainly if you want to bottle your own you must book!
More information is available on their website - http://www.auchentoshan.com
All images and content within this post are copyrighted by Jim Taylor who has kindly provided this content. Reproduction of these images are not permitted under any circumstances without the express written permission of Jim Taylor.
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