Despite being a whisk(e)y geek and making an effort to seek out new and unusual whiskies with some regularity, there are still quite a few Scottish distilleries whose products I’ve never tasted as a single malt. In part, this is because there are a number of distilleries whose production primarily gets sent off for use in blended whiskies.
Whiskies such as these rarely crop up as single malts, typically relying on independent bottlers to get them directly into the hands of consumers. Two such whiskies are Auchroisk and Balmenach, which I had not had the opportunity to try, until Exclusive Malts made them available in my home state.
Not only did Exclusive Malts make these unique whiskies available, but they made sure they were presented right. The casks used in every Exclusive Malts releases are selected by David Stirk of the Creative Whisky Company, and each release is bottled at cask strength, non-chill filtered, and free of caramel coloring. Music to my ears. Going in, I had very little idea what to expect from these two whiskies in particular, but I knew they’d be presented at their best.
Auchroisk 2003 (11 Years Old)
Auchroisk is a very young Speyside distillery. It was built in 1972, with its production intended for use in the J&B line of blended whisky. Since 1986, Auchroisk has rarely been bottled as a single malt, under the name “The Singleton” (Diageo may have thought that the brand’s name was too much of a mouthful for consumers). The brand reverted to using its given name for bottlings in the early 2000s, but those bottlings remain quite infrequent.
If you want to try Auchroisk as a single malt, your best bet are independent bottlings, like this one from Exclusive Malts. In fact, if you like spicy Speysiders, I recommend tracking this one down!
Strength:56.4% ABV. This is a potent cask strength whisky, which means that there’s lots of flavor trapped in there. It’s relatively easy to drink at cask strength, but a little bit of water will definitely help to open up this whisky.
Nose: Spicy and pungent, with lots of fresh ginger. Cinnamon, clove, and allspice follow shortly after, mingling with creamy vanilla crème brulee. There’s a hint of something smoky, but it’s more like toasted spices than anything peaty. A little orange rind and a kiss of honey round out the nose.
With a drop of water, the initial ginger kick softens slightly, but it’s still prominent (good thing too, because I love ginger). The sweet spices all mingle together slightly, yielding an aroma like a freshly baked gingersnap cookie. I also get an enticing note of chocolate fudge. A little astringent lemon cuts through the sweetness just a bit, keeping the aromas refreshing.
Palate: The arrival is thick and sweet, with vanilla, honeysuckle, and (as on the nose), plenty of fresh ginger. There’s a definite alcohol burn, but it takes a moment to kick in, which lets the sweet arrival wash over the tongue first. After the arrival, I get a prickle of black pepper, some cardamom, and orange peel, as well as plenty of baking spices like cinnamon, clove, and allspice. The finish lingers, with ginger, vanilla, black pepper, and cinnamon.
The whisky remains viscous and sweet after adding a drop of water, but alcohol burn fades, allowing the flavors evolve. The spices remain front and center, with ginger the star of the show, although now it reminds me of candied rather than fresh. I also get butterscotch pudding, burnt brown sugar, as well as a slight anise or black licorice note. The finish lengthens, with less pepper, but more warming spices lingering at the back of the tongue, particularly clove, allspice, and some nutmeg. There’s something slightly sulphury lurking in there as well, but it’s not unpleasant; actually, the slight tang makes a nice counterpoint to all of the sweetness.
Balmenach 2007 (8 Years Old)
When Balmenach was sold to Inver House in 1997, the sale did not include any mature casks, reducing the likelihood of single malt bottlings hitting the market. Now that new stock is maturing, there is again the possibility of some single malt releases, but so far there have been no new official bottlings. Independent releases such as this one from Exclusive Malts remain the only way to get your hands on Balmenach as a single malt.
I’m not usually one to put a lot of stock in the color of a whisky, but just by looking at this one, I could tell I was in for something unconventional. Take a look at that glowing, rosy pink color!
Even before tasting this whisky, I knew that it was matured in a port pipe. Knowing this, I was even more eager to try it, behcause I’m a sucker for port-matured whiskies.
Strength: 57.6% ABV. Despite the high strength, this whisky is scarily drinkable neat. I find that the sweetness imparted by port casks tends to mellow out harsher alcohol notes, and that’s definitely the case here. Still, I find that a few drops of water really opens up the whisky and adds to the overall experience.
Nose: Holy crap that’s rich! Dark fruits, particularly ripe bing cherries and juicy raisins, as well as figs, plums, and raspberries. There’s also a rich current of dark cocoa powder running through the nose, as well as some black coffee. Dried orange rind joins in among the fruits, as well as some warm cinnamon.
With a drop of water, the chocolate softens (but by no means disappears), allowing the fruits to emerge even more strongly. Dates, blackberry, and coconut join the dark fruit, along with a surprising (and delicious) banana note.
Taste: It’s scary that this is almost 58% alcohol! I mean, sure there’s a bit of a prickle there, but it’s WAY too easy to drink! It arrives chocolatey rich, with dark, melt in your mouth chocolate, coupled with sweet ripe cherries, ripe raspberries, candied oranges, and chocolate covered raisins. Cinnamon coffee cake makes an appearance toward the middle, perfectly paired with strong coffee. The finish is sweet and full, with cherries, cinnamon spice, and lots and lots of chocolate.
A drop of water makes this even easier to drink, if you can believe that. Some vanilla caramel joins the chocolate and fruit, along with something ever so slightly briny. The finish remains long and doesn’t change a whole lot, but the lingering chocolate notes lighten slightly, like blending a bit of milk chocolate into the intense dark.
Overall, I really enjoyed both of these whiskies, and will be keeping my eye out for other releases (official bottlings or otherwise) from these lesser-known distilleries. If you’re in the mood for something a bit different, I suggest that you do, too.
Questions of the Day: Have you tried any Exclusive Malts releases? What’s your favorite independent bottling of a single malt whisky?
Disclosure Statement: The whiskies reviewed in this post were samples sent to me by Impex Beverages. All thoughts and opinions contained in this post are exclusively my own. I’ve been a big fan of Exclusive Malts before I received any samples, and the glowing tone in this review is really just because I personally love these whiskies!