I’ve come to the following conclusion about Auchentoshan malt: Unless you’re allergic to flavor, Auchentoshan is best as a canvas for cask-delivered flavor, and does not perform well when aged in a way that minimizes the influence of oak. While distillery marketing departments might argue that this style “showcases the purity of the barley” or “lets the distillery house character shine”, these are just justifications for products that taste good… but also taste of little.
Auchentoshan 18, like its younger siblings the Classic, the 10-year (now retired) and 12-year, is triple-distilled Lowland single malt that is aged only in ex-bourbon casks. Judging by the color and flavor, we’re talking refill casks here. This bottle used to retail for the refreshingly low price of around $80 (not bad for an 18 year-old), which made up for its dryness and general lack of flavor. That price has, however, risen past $105 recently, pushing this way out of the range of acceptability. Auchentoshan 18 at $80 would have been a middling Recommended. At $105, I say look elsewhere – Glenlivet 18 might be a good alternative in the same style, and it’s still $80!
Nose: Somewhat hot. Classically Auchentoshan – lots of distinct cereal grains and minimal wood. Vanilla, sugar cookies, white chocolate, and blonde fudge.
Palate: Nice medium body, just the right amount of tongue burn – enough to announce its presence. All of the aroma notes are repeated on the tongue.
Finish: On the short side. Sugar cookies and vanilla fudge continue to be a theme. On the finish, a note of nut skins creeps in, suggesting tannins, but doesn’t get bitter.
With Water: Water brings out a little more sweetness in both the nose and on the tongue. The effect is additive, and makes a few drops of water a good idea with this malt.
Overall: Auchentoshan 18 is a clean, light, elegant malt. That said, it doesn’t show a great deal of improvement over younger Auchentoshan, and seems to be aged in a way that picks up minimal wood. For some people that might be a blessing, as it showcases the purity and delicacy of the malt (something triple distillation does, as well). For me, that just means it has less flavor and less complexity. As far as the price goes, I think I prefer Glenlivet 18, which is better-priced and similarly light, but which carries a bit more complexity, and some fruity notes to boot.