Are You Tasting the Pith? - 13th February 05
Wines have vintages, beers have, err, different beers, and whisky has different expressions. Although the taste of a specific whisky is stable over time (both in terms of durability if unopened, and consistency of flavour, despite being blended from many different casks), most distilleries offer different blends of the same whisky. Some may be cheaper then their classic expression, others usually more expensive - the "Distillers Edition" is a deluxe expression of many well known whiskies, often clocking in at twice the price of the classic version. These expressions come from older casks, so tend to be mellower, and often have an added finish to them, sherry being the most typical. This means that a proportion of the whisky has been aged in an old sherry cask, imparting smooth sherryish flavours, adding a premium quality and price.
However, not every alternative expression is more expensive than the classic version. Perusing the shelves at our local Asda, I came across a bottle of Auchentoshan Select for about £15. Having recently enjoyed a bottle of the classic Auchentoshan 10yr Old (around £22), I thought I might give this cheeky young whippersnapper a whirl.
First of all, it should be noted that Auchentoshan isn't your regular Scottish malt. It's distilled three times, as opposed to the more customary two, and consequently has a smoothness more usually associated with Irish whiskey (which has three ditillations and an extra 'e' as a matter of course). Talisker this ain't - it's a very smooth and refined dram. Nosing them side by side, there is a huge difference between them - the 10yr old having a full aroma, hints of sherry and orange, perhaps a slight oily nuttiness, and a hint of peat reek, whereas the Select is much tighter, majoring in more zesty notes (lime, apple, grassy). Oddly, nosing them side by side, one notices a feral, slightly musty note in the 10yr old expression - certainly not a fault,and not something I'd noticed before, but comparitive tasting does tend to exaggerate differences between drinks, and this odd note needed a young expression to reveal itself against.
On the palate, the differences are similar, but even more pronounced. First up is the apparently sweet taste - triple distillation seems to give this effect of sweetness, although I can't really believe that there is a difference in sugar content between double- and triple-distilled spirits. The young expression is full of zesty apple notes, hints of fresh hay and butterscotch, and the finish is quite brief, but very clean and crisp. The 10yr old version is predictably fuller, certainly more complex, but also to a certain extent more fusty - sure, it has the complexity, but after the crisp zinginess of the younger expression, it somehow seems a little dour in comparison. Of course, without doing this side-by-side comparison, you would never realise this, and perhaps be happier in the belief that more expensive is always better. I suppose this could actually be the case, but perhaps with the addendum that cheaper isn't always as bad as you might expect, and can sometimes cast up a refreshing, unexpected change.
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