This month we feature the second of the Auchentoshan lines – the Auchentoshan Heartwood. It is the same spirit as used in making the Springwood, so this is about explaining the difference between the Springwood and Heartwood.
To recap on the distillery itself – Auchentoshan is a lowland distillery in the outskirts of Glasgow, established in 1800 and now owned by Suntory. This distillery is unique in Scotland using triple distillation in all their whiskies. Springbank in Campbelltown use a partial triple distillation, which is why Auchentoshan so boldly make their claim, “Every single drop triple distilled”. This triple distillation has the benefits of refining spirit down to a very pure alcohol, ensuring the elimination of unpleasant methanol and acetone.
What is ‘triple distilling’ you ask – well it’s exactly as it sounds and way more complicated at the same time. In essence, all the raw spirit is distilled 3 times to remove as much impurities as possible. Auchentoshan distillery manager Jeremy Stevens has hand-drawn the process which is great – as it’s very wordy to explain in text.
So difference between the Auchentoshan Springwood and Auchentoshan Heartwood boils down to one thing, the wood the raw spirit is matured in. The Springwood is only aged in American oak barrels, whereas the Heartwood is initially aged in American oak barrels, but is then aged for a couple of more years in Olorosso sherry casks from Europe.
In case you haven’t noticed Americans and Europeans do things differently. American oak is prepared to age spirit by partially burning the inside of the barrel to create charcoal, which is excellent at removing unpleasant flavours. Europeans toast their oak, rather than burn it. Often baking the oak in big ovens. This toasting effectively caramalises the sugars in the wood, allowing the oak to impart a lot of flavour to the spirit, thereby masking rather than absorbing unpleasant flavours. There’s a joke there somewhere comparing American and European, but we’re loath to open that can of worms.
The Auchentoshan Heartwood comes from a marriage of oaks that both purify the spirit (the American – highly carbonised oak) but also impart big fruity flavours (the European ‘caramalised’ oak). The best of both worlds, so to speak. The result is a very ‘clean’ tasting whisky – yet with a load of fruit cake.
The Heartwood has masses of beautiful rich flavours from the Olorosso Sherry casks. They flavours of Christmas cake, dried fruits (apricots, raisins, sultanas) and orange zest. Yet Auchentoshan being a lowlander has a typically astringent, dry character (the American oak making itself known) , which offsets this richness leaving the whisky in balance, cleansing the palate, readying the senses for another intense bath in those wonderfully rich Olorosso flavours.