This is not actually my 100th review (since #93 is a duplicate due to a website glitch), but I will celebrate the 3rd digit rolling around anyway, by returning to a favorite.
You’ll probably be interested to read this review only if you’re interested in batch variation of this malt, or else my “reflections” section near the end.
The Three Wood was actually my first Scotch single malt. Sometimes the hay-laden HP12 is often called the best gateway, but the Auchentoshan was a perfect entry for me— and I know it has been for others as well. It is a well crafted and accessible NAS, drinkable fresh (without much oxidation effect), complex from mixed maturations, and just affordable enough.
However, the wide range of malts that I’ve now had DO alter my impression of it, so this review is partly a reinterpretation.
Background: —————- You can find my original Connosr review here: connosr.com/reviews/auchentoshan/… but my lasting first impression can be summarized: delightful butterscotch with lots of spicy flower subtleties, and some overtone of oak.
Luckily, I saved a small sample from that original beloved bottle, which I’d bought at the Edinburgh airport. So now I will finally get to compare the original bottle “A” with the newer one “B”.
Usually I don’t care to talk about this, but the first thing I notice after pouring A and B is an unmistakable color difference. I don’t need to worry at ALL about keeping track of which glass contains which malt! Malt A is ordinary “amber”, and B is an obvious 2 shades darker. I am not annoyed much by E150a (aside from feeling a little insulted), but it does somewhat bother me that it’s not serving its original purpose (to ensure reproducible color between batches).
On to the Nosing: ------- A: Ahh… lovely, just how I remember it— so I had not just conjured a false impression. This is strong-butterscotch-with-an-edge: the other elements just add and give an impression of “butterscotch^2”, in sequence: “butter” ,vanilla and caramelized bits, woody-maple plus flowers, which tickle the senses and trick you into thinking the butterscotch has blown your mind. There isn’t much fruit here, but I find “caramel apple” describes this nicely, the more I breath it.
B: Oh! It actually IS different. I would not call this one butterscotch, but rather dark brown sugar glaze. No more butter or apple, but “deeper”, with more coffee grounds and wood (maple and oaky nutmeg).
The woodiness is in good balance, and B’s “darker” tones are at least as good as A’s butterscotch (it is just different). However, an extra element in B detracts at the end of inhaling: MSG and… green young-ness, as if those coffee grounds are revealed to be actually raw and bitter. So, “A” wins; and a fresh breath confirms it.
A: What a smooth vanilla-milk entrance. And yes, there’s that wave of oak behind it: woody (nutmeg and hazelnut) tones, with the only sweetness coming from vanilla. A general toffee undercurrent.
B: A first hit of burnt toffee, with wood tones quickly crashing through: oak and orange zest peak. The oak stays, while a smoother leathery feeling hosts some tannic flavors: especially bitter grape skins and bitter-dark chocolate. There is not much for fruit here, but I could most identify red grape behind the slight burn.
A: Toffee/caramel, still delectable and buttery sweet. Accents of woody and floral nutmeg.
B: The grape skin tannins remain, along with lingering wood tones: hazelnut shells and peppery nutmeg. Some vanilla around the tongue, playing a smaller part.
I think it is clear: this reconfirms my suspicion that my first bottle of Three Wood was superior. Malt A is very much about butterscotch, with vanilla/butter/toffee in the lead— and wood tones a minor part. Malt B is deeper in flavor but also very tannic: wood tannins and grape skin tannins. So I stand by my high rating of malt A in my original review. My score reflects B though, since it is previously unreviewed.
Since my original interpretation of the Auchentoshan Three Wood, I think the main change in my understanding of taste is my experience with “woodiness”. My first few single malts had palates quite heavy in woody character, and I assumed that this was expected in any malt whisky. In fact, I’ve learned that the majority of quality malts are much tamer, in this regard. Similarly, I’d assumed that that youthful “grassy” tone was inherent to all spirits and could never really go away. Again, I’ve learned that more mature and quality malts are able to eliminate this young bitter-ish green flavor, which slightly stings my experience. Now I recognize that this youthfulness is present just ever-so-slightly in malt A, and of course it is clearer in malt B. As I re-evaluate the Three Wood, one other surprise is its lack of sherry fruits, considering that 2 of the 3 “Woods” are sherry. This is nearly a fruit-free malt (and to some extent nut-free), relative to what I’ve come to expect.
Identifying similar malts is the hardest part of reviewing, but as a reader myself I think they are one of the most useful approaches to understanding or exploring. So I try and try, even though any comparison is doomed to fail. But I still believe that an imperfect comparison is better than none at all: if you know the comparisons, then you can “connect” with the reviewed malt; if not, then you have paths for branching out.
First of all, the Three Wood has many elements of other “double cask” (or, naturally, “triple cask”) expressions, and I usually conclude that the Auchentoshan Three Wood is the best of this kind. Consider the Balvenie DoubleWoods, both the 12yo (far inferior) and 17yo (almost as good as my newer Three Wood). Balvenie’s travel exclusive Triple Casks expressions are also similar (woody malt vanilla) but I found the 12yo and 16yo too grassy and spicy. Sullivan Cove’s Double Cask may be the best example of a multiple cask malt with decent quality. Then there is the very good Arran 14, which has a lot of the oak, nutmeg, and vanilla tones, but adds some walnut and more light fruit. The Isle of Jura 21yo is quite similar but drier, with oak and coffee grounds prominent over any trace of fruit. Finally, Glenlivet’s Naddura may be my best example of a malt with similar woodiness but which shows a slightly fruitier side of Scotch.
Within Auchentoshan, the 12yo is the only reasonably close one I know, out of 4 other core offerings. Some prefer it, but I find it less butter-driven and even woodier. It does improve with age, though, and it is worth a try for its price.
That’s it! Thanks for bearing with me— my nostalgia here, and my reviews elsewhere: I hope they are of some use to someone out there. See you next time for the “real” 100th.