Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year
Auchentoshan 1979 Oloroso Sherry Matured, 50.5%, $550
There is a common misconception that lighter styles of single malt whisky, such as those distilled in the Lowlands, cannot cope with maturation in sherry casks without the distillery character being totally overwhelmed, resulting in a one-dimensional, sherry-laden dram.
This cask strength 1979 vintage expression from Auchentoshan, distilled on October 22, 1979 gives the lie to such views, as it has managed to survive with its integrity more than intact for 32 years in former sherry casks, and first-fill oloroso sherry butts at that. It is a textbook example of sherry wood maturation at its most sympathetic.
When it comes to sherry cask aging, Auchentoshan already has lots of form, as Auchentoshan Three Wood — matured initially in bourbon barrels, then in oloroso sherry butts, and finally in pedro ximenez sherry casks — is a notably popular element of the core range, while sherry wood-matured spirit is a component of the 21 year old expression.
Additionally a limited edition, cask strength 18 year old from oloroso casks is still to be found in some outlets, and a number of well-aged vintage releases from suchcasks have taken place over the years. The oldest house bottling of Auchentoshan to date, a 50 year old 1957 vintage, was also aged entirely in oloroso wood.
Clearly, the triple-distilled Lowlander from the banks of the River Clyde has enough presence to thrive in sherry casks when the wood in question is chosen well. Oloroso casks probably have a greater effect on the character of maturing spirit than any other, and they give the Auchentoshan 1979 expression a rich amber color while adding muscularity to the body and dark, spicy fruitcake and toffee notes to the classic Auchentoshan orange, lemon, vanilla, and mildly herbal house character. —Gavin Smith
Whisky Advocate’s Distiller of the Year will be announced tomorrow.