Auchentoshan is usually known as a light, gentle spirit, originating from the Lowlands which is also known for producing generally light, gentle spirits. Auchentoshan reinforces this reputation by triple-distilling its malt in the Irish style. By its very nature, triple-distilled malt whisky has fewer flavor compounds – by volume – than spirit distilled by the more usual double distillation. It also has less bad flavor compounds, so the style has its proponents. Throw all that out the window, though, if you’re looking at Three Wood. It turns out Auchentoshan, in its shyness, isn’t just a canvas for sherry influence, but instead totally disappears under the weight of the Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso casks (the third “wood” is ex-bourbon). What results from the process – apparently 10 years in ex-bourbon (which is longer than the cheaper Classic bottling), 1 year in Oloroso sherry, and then a final year in Pedro Ximenez sherry – is a sherry monster of undeniable weight and ferocity.
Is it worth the extra $20 over its Classic sibling? If you like sherry more than you like Auchentoshan, then yes. Yes it is.
Nose: A powerful blossom of sherry greets the nose. Nutty, with plenty of dried fruits (predominantly fig). Some nice acidity comes through – like cranberry, or red wine vinegar – and a bit of caramelized sugar. Overall, the impression is of a mid-aged heavily sherried malt where the sherry is doing all of the work.
Palate: Viscous body, heavy with notes of balsamic reduction, fig paste, dark chocolate, and hazelnuts. Very appealing.
Finish: On the short side. Tarry molasses and override plums. A little minty. While the fruit notes slide to the burnt side, like port reduction beginning to scorch in the pan, there are some nice concentrated dried fruit notes and a heavy nuttiness that continues to the end. No undue bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water might coax out a little more caramel and nut meats, but doesn’t appreciably improve the experience. I’d skip it.
Overall: If this was once Auchentoshan, then the sherry monster murdered it and stuffed it in a closet. While Auchentoshan Classic is understated, vanilla, and crisp, this is resinous, sticky-sweet, and overripe. That’s not to say it’s bad. While the Auchentoshan rots slowly in its closet, the sherry monster throws a wild party – the kind that ends with garments hanging from chandeliers – and there’s some value in that raw, undiluted expression of sherry. Good sherry, too, the PX sherry really shines here. If you’re a fan of sherry in all its guises then you must grab a bottle, bypass the police tape, and witness the gory crime scene for yourself.