Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 and The Accidental Vatting

Valinch - in the glass
A couple of posts ago I was reviewing a fascinating top ranked vatting of sherried and bourbon casks malts called Balvenie Tun 1401. I described my experience creating an analogous vatting myself by accident:

I became alive to the benefits of vatting these two types in a visceral and first hand way last week when I mistakenly poured a couple of glasses of unused whisky from a tasting event back into the wrong 4 oz transport bottle: I put Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 into Glenfarclas 25 at a 3 to 1 ratio. Initially horrified, I tucked it away. A few days later I took a dram and was delighted by a sweet and spirited result that was somehow more vibrant than either of its components on it's own. Lighter and more malty and floral than a sherried malt and more jammy and rich than the bourbon malt by itself. The whole in this fortuitous mix is greater than the sum of its parts.

What I don't make clear is the scene. Let me set it for you. Here's the table:

I'm doing a private tasting for a couple of VIPs. Note the big glasses and the full bottle of Auchentoshan Valinch and the 4 oz sample bottles at both ends. One of the 4 oz bottles has Glenfarclas 25 (reviewed previously in this blog). Another has Miltonduff 15 and the one of the left has Laphroaig 10. The 200cl bottle has Talisker 10. The tasting goes great, but only a small percentage of the pours are consumed. Ever frugal, I start to drink them. I quickly realize that this isn't realistic. I will pass out long before I finish. Plus the sheer folly of the attempt is blowing the good impression I just made. Thinking quickly I start pouring them back into the bottles - he head swimming slightly. Maybe it was bound to happen... Maybe it was just bad luck; or possibly good luck...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There are a number of whiskies on that table that I've not formerly reviewed. I'm going to formally review one right here and now - because it plays a major role in what follows:

Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 57.5% abv

Auchentoshan is one of the last remaining lowland distilleries. As such it triple distills, as is traditional in the lowlands - for a pure spirit with a more gentle and simple profile. Auchentoshan has had success with wood finishes and mature bottlings and the basic no age statement "Classic" is quite popular - sweet, floral, heathery and lovely; if a bit uncomplicated. Whisky folks demanded a cask strength version. Valinch is that: young, sweet, and fierce at full uncut uncolored unchill filtered unmessed with - straight from the cask.

Color: pale gold

Nose: Vanilla, gentle floral perfume (white lilies and honeysuckle), pure medicinal alcohol, and a hint of citrus and savory.

Entry is intensely and pointedly sweet with pure refined sugar, oak vanillins, and a delicate floral perfume. The mid palate expansion is intense, spirity, and hot. There is lacy malt and some gentle pale oak notes in the finish. The body is light but the mouth feel has a nice silky quality.

This flavor profile is overwhelmingly about the sweet intensity of the opening. It reminds me a bit of Octomore 4.1's intense sugar opening - with none of the tar or ash of what comes next. This is clearly young whisky, but not raw or graceless. Sweet and intense - it possesses flavor density - if at the expense of spirit heat.

Valinch cries out for a drop of water. After a phenolic burst, it settles down to an increased floral aspect to the nose. The entry is a bit more honeyed, but still full of white sugar, vanilla, and blossoms on entry. The mid palate bloom is fierce, malty, and lacy. The turn marked by an herbal bitters like dilute Fee Brother's. The finish is brief, but gentle and lovely. One of the really remarkable things about Valinch is that it continues to get sweeter and more honeyed as it sits in the glass. One hour, two hours... while some of the florals dissipate, the sweet honeyed glory keeps becoming more and more exquisite. It's really quite seductive.


In the tasting, however, Valinch was too strong for new whisky drinkers. They hated it. It would have been far better if I had gone for Classic. So I had a lot of Valinch left over. I was pouring glasses back into the sample bottles when I noticed with horror that I had poured the Valinch back into the Glenfarclas 25 sample bottle. I was horrified. I had "ruined" the nice Glenfarclas 25. It was a real "you got chocolate in my peanut butter" moment. I put the bottles away, sick at heart. The next day however, I investigated. Hey - not bad. In fact... quite good indeed:

The accidental vatting of 2/3 ths Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 and 1/3th Glenfarclas 25

Color: full gold

Nose: dry malt, citrus and apricot jam, a hint of floral and grass - like a distant meadow, and wine gum candy flavors - but without much sweetness. Also some dust and talcum powder. In the distance is a clear sherry note.

The vatting
The entry is sweet and powerful with fresh malt sugars, but immediately there is a jammy fig and and grape flavor darkening of the bright sugars. There are bitter notes of oak and a big mid-palate expansion of spirit heat an what reads as oak tannins - but yet really shouldn't be. The Glenfarclas 25 isn't overtly tannic. The finish is long and lingering and herbal bitter-sweet.

A few drops of water bring out spicy heat and clear sherry notes with bits of leather, dark chocolate and tobacco on top of a rich malt sweet hot chassis. The vinous notes aren't separate. They modify the floral and citrus aspects of the note to yield enhanced fruit basket notes simply not present in either component whisky. Then white pepper heat graces the expansion after honeyed lightly spritely sherried vinous notes. This white pepper isn't in either of the source whiskies either.

This is the part that reminds me of Tun 1401: the floral fruity aspect in harmony with sherry notes and an ascendent emergent blast of pepper - as if born of the friction.


Where did that heat come from? It was certainly present in the Tun 1401 too. The bottom line here is that home made vattings can be delicious. I was lucky. Many (and perhaps even most) chance pairings might prove bad. However some are glorious. This has become the beginning of a bit of a diversion. Watch for more posts on this topic in the near future. Certainly mixing single malts isn't necessarily a disaster.

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