I've always had a soft spot for the 'sweet' style of Auchentoshan, that singular single malt from Glasgow by the banks of the Clyde, and this tasting did nothing but reinforce the feeling. Well, maybe even amplify it a bit.
We were treated to three iterations of Auchentoshan, the 12 Year Old, the 18 Year Old, and the Three Wood (which is the one most people fall in love with rather instinctually) and each was showing preternaturally well in the circumstance----said circumstance being the excellent food coming out of the Imperial kitchen.
Let the professionals have the purity of laboratory-slick antiseptic tasting facilities; I'll take a plate of Imperial's slightly salty but richly umamied mushrooms with my Auchentoshan every time. The smoked duck breast wasn't too bad either. Why people divorce spirits from foods when tasting is simply beyond me...
But enough soapboxing. What about the scotches?
Auchentoshan 12 Year Old
A lovely and well-oaked example in that rarity of single malts, both a Lowlands and a Triple-Distilled, replete with a bright zing of ctirus, toasted nuts, English toffee, sweet caramel, and the smoothness that comes from triple-distillation combined with long aging. Auchentoshan 12 is clean, balanced with a slight leaning overall to the soft woody-toasty note, and finishes with a lovely underlay of ginger spice.
Auchentoshan 18 Year Old
Take that signature Auchentoshan and add a few years more barrel maturarion and you get this: deeper, rounder, more mellow, slightly more nutty and toasty, with a round expansive mouthfeel. The Auchentoshan marketing guys say "green tea"...and I can buy that, whether suggestion or not, because there is a definite herbal-woody note to the 18 that is not as evident in the 12. It's a full and mellow mouth-filling dram that lingers for a nice long while.
Auchentoshan Three Wood
This is my icon for what I call "dessert malt." Doesn't necessarily have anything to do with having it after a meal---au contraire, it's often most delightful as a soft and mellow aperitif; besides, who says dessert should always be after a meal---but to signify the style of Auchentoshan as a clean but mellow and supremely easy-drinking style of malt. The truly beautiful thing about the Three Wood is that it incorporates distinctly different aspects of the scotch whisky experience in such a softly harmonious package; if you like your scotch rich and silky, this is a good one to have on hand at all times.
For all you scotch aficionados out there who are looking for good scotches to recommend for malt newbies, this could be the best of all. I often suggest Highland Park 12 Year Old as a good starting point for a balanced and harmonious style of single malt, yet even that lovely scotch can come across as bit austere for beginners. If you wish to play it safer and kindle a love affair that will last, try starting with the Three Wood. When people call it a "sweet scotch', that's not at all a pejorative; it's simply a good descriptive term to convey the caramelized sugars of...well, caramel, and butterscotch, and toffee and such...that seep into the whisky during slow maturation. So it's not 'sugar sweet' we're talking about in our arcane terminology; it's more succulent and softly aromatic and gentle and mellow on the palate. Introduce people to single malt scotch with the Auchentoshan Three Wood and they might eventually gravitate to different scotches---but in all likelihood there will always be a 'sweet spot' for Auchentoshan forever.