A trip to
Orkney Speyside et al.
The hard climb of Ben Lomond, and our final reward: the Auchentoshan distillery visit.
(Back to Days 7-8-9 / Days 5-6 / Day 4 / Day 3 / Day 2 / Day 1)
The last day of our holidays started early, around 6.30, because we had a great plan for the morning: climb Ben Lomond! So, after a quick breakfast at the van, we put our boots on and took the trail to the summit. The sky was very grey, and we hoped it would clear up a bit later. Spoiler alert: it did not. Actually, after the first couple of km, we got “inside” the clouds, so not only it was cold but also very wet. We took the less steep trail (“less steep” so to speak, because it’s still over 900m of ascent in less than 7k, compared to the other one which is about a km shorter). Despite the harsh climb and the terrible weather, we got to the summit, just to admire the whitest of the view: it looked like we were on Solaris!
The descent was a bit more enjoyable because of the view on the lake, which we could finally see after a km past the summit. We arrived at the campervan very very wet, but very very satisfied as well! A quick change of clothing, and a soup at the Clansman, and we were on the road again to go grab our prize for the morning climb, direction: the Auchentoshan distillery in Glasgow!
The distillery was reachable directly from the highway, so after a stop for a coffee and a detour because of roadworks, we arrived there fairly easily. Being a bit early, we had plenty of time for a deep inspection of the distillery shop. A couple of tips: they have an expression of their malt finished in Chardonnay casks (NAS and bottled at 47%), and we also found the cheapest glencairn holders made of cask wood! We were fortunate to get in in time to avoid an almost tropical storm (did someone say “climate change”?), which considering we were at the end of our holidays and that we had already had a change of clothes earlier in the morning, would have been not so great.
The other two guys joining us were not so lucky, and they started the tasting a bit wet. The tasting we had chosen was the Auchentoshan Masterclass. A particularity of this distillery is that, unlike many others in the Highlands which used to dry their barley with peat before the train lines were built, Auchentoshan never did that. Of course, this is because they are in Glasgow, which granted access to coal much earlier. We were very curious about this distillery, of which we already had a couple of bottles. Although the American Oak expression is fair for the money you pay for it at some grocery store, the Three Woods one already shows a bit of character (maybe for the 43% abv instead of 40%?). The tasting was guided by Douglas, which definitely knew his drams! During the tasting we found out that he’s from the same village as the other two guys (and we will find out later that one of the guys’ sisters works in the same institute as Gianluigi, although they never met…the whisky world is smaller and smaller!).
We started with a sample of new make spirit, which is something that we really appreciated as it is a fundamental piece to understand the character of what will become single malt. It did not disappoint: fruity and very light. The second dram was an 18y matured completely in ex-bourbon casks, which they can source directly from Jim Beam and Makers Marks, being part of the same company. A nice dram, a bit underwhelming probably due to the 40% and the chill-filtering (doesn’t look like it’s artificially coloured though, it’s very pale!). By contrast, the next it’s the already known Three Woods (with these being American Oak, ex-Sherry casks and ex-PX casks). A sherry bomb, not bad for being a non-age statement. But the real deal is coming with the last two drams, coming from their distillery casks: a vintage 2010, full maturation in an ex-bordeaux red wine cask, and a vintage 2006 from an ex-oloroso sherry cask, both cask strength (and natural colour and non-chill filtered). Both drams were absolutely delicious, but while in the second the sherry cask had definitely a big impact, in the former the soft spirit character was definitely still alive and kicking, mixing all the red fruits and grapes notes from the wine. So, we had our confirmation that Auchentoshan can have a mouthfeel, and it is quite impressive too!
Coming out of the distillery we gave a ride to our whisky pals, to avoid them getting soaked again. And then, we finally drove towards Leith, which took a couple of hours (one of which just to exit Glasgow’s traffic jam) under an incessant rain. Once again, we were so happy that despite the initial setback, we had managed to take this trip anyway. All the midges and the rain in the world cannot beat this: amazing landscapes, great people and incredible whiskies. Sometimes we can’t believe how lucky we have that life brought us here. Until next time, slainte!
Price: £30.00 pp (August 2021)
Tasting: 5 drams: new make spirit, Auchentoshan 18y, Three Woods, two distillery exclusive single cask 2010 ex-bordeaux cask finish and 2006 ex-oloroso cask
Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks
Value for money: very good
Highlights: the drams
Things we did not like: nothing