I was about to start this review by saying that I have a “love/hate” relationship with Auchentoshan… but then I realized that would be incorrect. It’s more of a “like/frequently-forget-about” relationship. I recall being blown away by the effect of heavy sherry on this otherwise shy Lowland malt, but I also recall being thoroughly whelmed (Get it? Neither over- nor under-whelmed…) by just about every other release. The name is fun to say, though, so they’ve got that going for them…
Along comes an Annual Limited Edition (this is the 2016 edition, number #01… I guess the ‘0’ signifies that they have confidence there will be at least 9 more?) called “The Bartender’s Malt”. This is an NAS release assembled via some media stunt involving a cadre of 12 “international” bartenders of some renown, apparently. The slogan “For Bartenders By Bartenders” on the label threw me for a second as I am not a bartender, but the price tag ($43) and the proof (47% ABV) swayed me and I picked up a bottle.
I spent some time trying to delve into the contents of the vatting that make up this edition, but it appears to be such a muddle of styles and ages that identifying individual characteristics is a fool’s errand: Auchentoshan triple-distilled malt from 5 different decades, including wood such as American oak, European oak, sherry casks, red wine casks, and German oak, of all things. On their own, some of those components (especially the 5th decade – do tell!) might be interesting, but vatted together like this it’s all just going to taste like Auchentoshan.
Although it is not discussed on the website nor the label, I imagine the goal here is to create a single malt that is useful in cocktails. This explains the elevated ABV (although 47% instead of 46% smells of trying too hard) and the choice of Auchentoshan malt, which is more liable to blend with other ingredients and not stand out on its own. I’m not sure why all the fanfare is necessary, so the real goal is probably just another excuse for a press release.
Nose: Slightly spirity, top notes of lemon peel, light honey, pale sweet malt. Pleasant, but not exciting.
Palate: Medium, syrupy body. Mild tongue burn. Raspberry, white tea, “cooked” malt (tastes like cooked cereal grains – like porridge – rather than fresh/raw – like… I dunno, granola?).
Finish: Medium length. Honeycomb. Evolves slightly around malty/sweet/cereal flavors. Some mild oak tannin and a little charcoal bitterness. Fades classically, with walnuts and a nice marshmallow note.
With Water: A few drops of water don’t seem to open up the aroma much… perhaps even closing it off instead. A rest in the glass reveals a sweet melon note. It also softens the palate a bit. Water is beneficial with this dram, as long as you’re willing to be patient with it.
Overall: A very standard-tasting malt with no rough edges. A robust and well-chosen 47% ABV keeps it sprightly while the lowland malt keeps it sweet and unchallenging. Definitely a decent summer malt, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for putting a few ice cubes in a glass of this on a hot day. Still, the liquid doesn’t set itself apart from any ex-bourbon Highland malt in the $40 price range or even the entry-level American Oak if you don’t care about the ABV. You won’t be disappointed in your purchase, but you also probably won’t go back looking for another bottle.