DISTILLERY PROFILE: AUCHROISK
Hiding in plain sight
The huge success of the J&B brand in the early 1970s, especially in the United States, meant that brand owner International Distillers and Vintners needed more whisky. Its portfolio of distilleries at the time already contained Strathmill, Knockando and Glen Spey, but they were already running to capacity. The answer was an ambitious project to not only provide more whisky, but the style needed to fulfil its blending needs. SMWS ambassador Lee ‘Connas’ Connor guides us through the unsung hero of Auchroisk
Building a distillery is never straightforward. Even in more recent builds, budding producers will testify to a minefield of hoop jumping and compromise. Of course, when the dust settles, such challenges only add texture to the rich tapestry of what makes a distillery tick. In the case of Auchroisk, what we are looking at is an intriguing balance of function and, unusually for the time, fashion.
A NOT-SO-UGLY DUCKLING
If we take a step back and glance at the industry through the prism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, new distilleries – and even re-builds – were taking on a far more industrial approach as we began to embrace science and technology, with the goal of achieving a more reliable output.
This can be reflected in the more ‘brutalist’ designs of the distilleries and rebuilds at the time. The imposing, factory-like Loch Lomond. Tomintoul, itself designed by The National Fuel Efficiency Service, with its flat sides and right angles more reminiscent perhaps of a power station than a traditional Scotch distillery. Even Islay’s mighty Caol Ila was transformed into a unit which is famed to this day for the view ‘out’, rather than the view ‘of’.
So when production began at Auchroisk in 1974 you could be forgiven for assuming that the rolling juggernaut of industrial advancement would flatten the very idea of a more traditional architectural offering. And in doing so you’d be somewhat mistaken.
What designers Westminster Design Associates delivered was a striking building, clearly conceived with the intention of honouring the style of their historical contemporaries while housing a modern distillery, complete with eight stills, seven warehouses and the preserved steam engine from Strathmill in the entrance hall.
A potential showcase distillery, capable of winning multiple awards for architecture, among a trend of where aesthetics were arguably something of an afterthought.
BUILDING FOR SOMETHING BIGGER
Attention to detail was also extended to the design of the spirit. When furnishing blends, in this case originally for J&B Rare and more recently for Diageo, it is imperative to ensure that quality and consistency are provided.
As this is somewhat pre-determined by the flavour profile of the eventual blend, we start at the end. Once mature, the goal is to have a weighty, nutty spirit, bolstered by cereal notes. Auchroisk achieves this in a variety of ways during production.
The antecedents to the heavy, nutty character are initially created via a speedy mash followed by a tightly controlled short fermentation of 55 hours, ensuring that lighter and more floral notes are not developed.
A slightly higher than usual fermentation temperature is employed in a way that encourages the desired quality, which when done correctly will not negatively impact on the eventual yield of alcohol.
A rapid wash still boil contributes a slight ‘singe’ on some of the solids lying in the initial distillation, some of which are allowed to carry into the spirit still, again maximising toasty cereal-like flavours. The resulting newmake is often described as ‘burnt and nutty’, so maturation is essential to gain the finished article.
Auchroisk is usually set down in toasted re-fill bourbon casks, where the emphasis is on adding a sweeter honeyed and vanilla note, while underlining the nutty character. This maturation also extracts some of the harsher scorched flavours, giving balance to the final whisky.
UNDER THE RADAR
Auchroisk is rarely seen in single malt form, outside of various special bottlings, which makes it an excellent contender for our ever-innovating SMWS Spirits Team.
Since the introduction of our approach to flavour profiles in 2014, Distillery 95 has appeared in no less than seven of the 12 profiles we have available. So it would seem that, even with the weighty character of the spirit, we have been successful in creating diversity using a wide selection of cask types.
Cask No. 95.66: Dali-esque bodega landscape for example comes from a Pedro Ximenez cask, with notes of ‘raisins, dates and prunes, with allspice and mace to finish’. Cask No. 95.43 : Liquid cherry Bakewell tart meanwhile is from a charred red wine cask, with ‘a truly whacky kaleidoscope of aromas was followed by beef Wellington’.
Cask No. 95.59: A Spiced Cosmo comes from a re-charred brandy cask, which supplied ‘pizza topped with pineapple, red onions and pickled jalapenos before we turned into a cheery cherry mood and enjoyed a spiced cosmopolitan’.
We’ve even had an epiphany from SMWS ambassador Steven McConnachie, when tasting Cask No. 95.56: Could Jamaica mojito, rather appropriately taken from a Jamaican rum cask.
“This is such a great, underrated dram,” he says. “It needs time to breathe and the addition of water definitely helps settle it down – but even taking it with soda for a Highball is worthwhile.”
As ever, with all whiskies, a healthy habit is to forget what you think you know about any distillery you happen to be trying. There can always be a surprise waiting for you in the glass – it’s the journey, not the destination.