One of the most beautiful, and yet infuriating, things about this whisky lark is that as soon as you think you’re close to figuring out the status quo, someone pulls the rug out from under you. That is precisely what happened to me towards the end of last year while standing in a small corner of an old, prestigious wine merchants in London.
A little context, I think. The Berry Bros. & Rudd shop has existed in the St. James’s area of London since 1698, although I have to admit, I only discovered it in 2013; still, better late than never. Tucked away at the back of the shop is a well-appointed spirits area where you’ll invariably find Rob Whitehead, the shop’s spirits specialist. Amongst the usual fare you’d expect to see in a prestigious London whisky shop, you will also find a range of single cask bottlings from their own whisky label, Berrys’. I recommend you try some; I’ve not come across a bad one yet.
Where was I? Right, the rug-pulling, gotcha. Whenever I go into the shop, Rob will end up pouring a few samples from the ever-changing Berrys’ range. More often than not he’ll do this without telling me what they are and let me have a guess. Whilst this can be tremendously fun, it also means I run the risk of making a complete prat of myself. On my last visit I managed to deftly sidestep ridicule by identifying one of the samples as an old grain but, just as I was starting to feel cocky, he crushed me with the most un-Auchentoshan Auchentoshan I have ever tasted. It was so intriguing, I ended up taking a bottle home with me.
Ladies and gentleman – I give you the Berrys’ Auchentoshan 1984.
Nose: Parma violets and cut flowers at the outset with soft icing and lightly-candied tropical fruits. A few drops of water give off a light waxiness and old-school furniture polish. Fascinating and superb.
Palate: Wow. Huge hit of Parma violets, echoing the nose. Soap shavings and lemon rind. This is 80’s Bowmore without the peat. Water brings a lighter citrus and more floral notes and hints of toffee as you approach the finish. It doesn’t quite live up to the nose but it’s hugely entertaining.
Finish: Medium in length. Woody citrus underscored by a lingering floral hum and a white pepper warmth long after the flowers have wilted.
Thoughts: You could have given me fifty guesses when I tasted this blind and I still wouldn’t have been able to pin down the distillery. At 29 years, this is by far the oldest ‘toshan I’ve tried. I don’t know if they’re all like this but the similarities with its Islay stable mate lead me to think that this was distilled after Morrison Bowmore acquired the distillery in 1984.
I’m not the biggest fan of Auchentoshan and often find better quality in the independent bottlings. Even so, this is a cut above the rest. Entertaining, educational and a little eccentric. Bravo.