Sunday, July 22, 2012

Auchentoshan Distillery Tour

First off, don’t expect this to be as clever as the usual posts by Big Smooth as he is a known grammar maven.

Recently, while on “holiday” in Scotland, I had the opportunity to visit the Auchentoshan distillery. (pronounced aw-khen-tosh-an)  Auchentoshan was built in 1800 and its name is simply “the corner of the field” in Gaelic. It is classified as a lowland whisky, which makes it one of the few lowland distilleries still in operation.  I’ll keep the history lesson brief, as I’m assuming everyone reading this is somewhat familiar with scotch.

on to the tour

this place is real hard to find, even with a GPS we really used the funnel technique to find it. (basically circle around and around getting closer until you eventually get there) We stopped to ask a few locals, they pointed us in the right direction, however their standard directions are "it's just up the road" even if its 15 miles up the winding curvy road.

Once we arrived, we entered an awesome gift shop, they had more merchandise there than I could think of buying (and I thought about a lot).

There were a few different levels of tours you could choose from, anywhere from 1 tasting at the end to bottling your own straight out of a cask, not wanting to spend $250 (although it would have been cool) I decided we would do the entry level tour as most of my traveling companions aren’t nearly as excited by whisky as I am.

I wont go into the process of the distillation very much as Greg has explained it pretty well in his posts of the bourbon trail.
This was a cool poster they had right as the tour began showing the different whisky regions in Scotland.

(the bald guy is my father in law)

The tour starts and we walk into the room where they make the mash. There wasn’t too much to see here since it was empty, but still cool to see the size of this thing.

Next we get to the room where the mash is stored, these were neat to see as they are no more than 2 x 4’s banded together. The guide told us we could look in, but its full of carbon dioxide, so if you stick your head in there and breath you could die or something like that.  He said they have to keep it wet inside even when its empty so that the boards dont dry up and leave gaps between them.

Next we went into the room with their signature 3 copper pot stills.  It is unusual for a Scotch to be triple distilled, and the folks at Auchentoshan are quick to tell you that the triple distillation is key to making great whisky as it allows them to increase the proof of their alcohol with each distillation to make it extra strong.

 After that, we went down to where they store the barrels, I’ll include a stock picture I found online since they wouldn’t let us take pictures in here on the premise that we would explode ourselves and the entire building if we did.  The “angel’s share” is lingering all over the room, it smells like alcohol and a few other things, but its was really cool to see.  Pretty much everyone in Scotland believes that scotch whisky is the best whisky on the planet and other things (for example, Bourbon), shouldn’t be counted.  However, they gladly buy up the fine oak barrels from Bourbon distilleries.  As we walked through the room, to our left there were racks of port and sherry casks, to our right were the bourbon barrels.  I really enjoyed seeing “Heaven Hills Distillery” marked on almost every one, as they manufacture some damn good bourbon here in the states.  Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy Auchentoshan so much.  I did see a few barrels marked Jim Beam, but most were heaven hills.  I did ask the guide and he said those were the only 2 bourbon companies they deal with.

Heading through this storage warehouse and down a hill, we end up in their bar.  It was beautiful inside, very modern with glass cases displaying 40 year old bottles and some other rare bottles they have made throughout the years. 

 The bar itself has every bottle of whisky they currently have in production and we were ready to start tasting.  We were each handed a glass of Auchentoshan single malt 12 year.  My plan for doing the entry level tour worked perfectly, as most people in my party were happy just to smell their glass and then pass it to me. Our guide did explain that you should never put water into your whisky before you’ve tried it, they go through all this effort to make a taste that is exactly what they want, and then you come along and pour water into it to change the taste.  After finishing all the whisky our group had been given, and while listening to the guide explain all the characteristics of this whisky as well as some of the others at the bar, I started to think about what others I’d like to try.

Our guide mentioned that the 14 year is his favorite of all time.  This guide had a strong Scottish accent and absolutely loved whisky, so when he told me that this was the best whisky of all time, I simply had to give it a go.  My dad happily gave him the money (about 7 quid as the locals say) and we both tasted the 14 year old.

It was great, delicate, light, smooth.  At this point the guide knew I was loving it and that I was a fellow whisky lover and he said that I should try the 16 year as well to compare the two.  he poured a small shot and said “this one’s on me”.  BEST GUIDE EVER.  The 16 year was similar, but exactly as you would suspect, a little more mature.  Both were great.

(a closer look at the bottles)

I went back and forth with the guide all the way out of the bar asking questions, and getting input on whisky. Then he lead us down the stairs and into the gift shop where we first began.  It was a great experience.

Also, as we were waiting for the tour to start, a group of “Mexicans” came in.  these were some Scottish guys out for a bachelor party.  Apparently Mexicans are even fun to mock in Scotland.
(the dude dressed as a woman is the groom)


  1. I got thirsty reading this. Going to a distillery for a bachelor party should be a standard move everywhere.

  2. Nice writeup of a favorite. I was thinking about the system for buying bourbon barrels. I wonder how much Auchentoshan I would have to have before I didn't want more in trade for barrels.
    Nice blog btw.

  3. Great post. I am hanging out with your brother tonight, I look forward to the gift. Did they say anything about drying the malt? Do they use peat smoke or is it unpeated? I know it's not a smoky one but wasn't sure if it's lightly peated.