Last man standing

Posted 14 October 2019 by Matt / In Auchentoshan
The Dramble reviews Auchentoshan Blood Oak

Bottle Name: Auchentoshan Blood Oak

ABV: 46%
Distillery: Auchentoshan
Region: Lowlands

Successful PR is often not just about what you say, but when you say it. History is littered with examples of press announcements issued at ill opportune times: products publicised with known underlying flaws (see the Iomega Zip Drive); sweeping promises of grandiose designs issued so far in advance that the company hasn’t even commenced working, let alone established whether they can deliver said promises (see anything by Peter Molyneaux). And then there’s the danger of the Osborne Effect – namely that prematurely publicising future, unavailable products can actually damages the sales of existing ones.

The phenomena is named after Adam Osborne who back in 1983 announced a pair of ‘next generation’ computers (The Osborne Executive and the Osborne Vixen), only to see the sales in the existing model (The Osborne 1) plummet so sharply due to the future consumer anticipation (and the worry of obsolescence) that the company’s revenues collapsed to the point where they were unable to complete the build and release cycle of the new designs quickly enough to save the company from bankruptcy. Timing matters.

The whisky world, like all other industries has its own news cycle. And similarly, to other industries, this cycle is getting shorter. A quick look on the ever useful Whiskybase will show you that each year there is an ever increasing number of new bottlings being released. Whilst this should come as no surprise given the number of new distilleries which are opening around the world, this is not the only reason for the glut of bottlings. Product releases are sometimes about more than the product itself – they’re a PR opportunity which extends deep into the underlying reach and reputation of distillery/producer. An opportunity to raise profile. A prospect to achieve a shift in market share. Or in some cases just a reminder that said ‘quiet’ distillery is still alive.

I’d posit that the timing of bottle announcements is just as important as it is with product launches from other industries. I was honestly baffled by Whyte & Mackay’s Dalmore announcement last week – Trio, Quartet and Quintet (which increase in price with the number of casks utilised – erm, lost me there?!?) will not be hitting the shelves of travel retail until July 2020. That’s nine months after they’ve been announced. There’s much to be said about the benefits of making an early statement about an upcoming new whisky launch – it allows the hype train to start to roll, it gives the producer ample opportunity to plan events and additional PR activities to build further consumer appetite in advance of the launch and in some cases it provides consumers with a buffer period to count the pennies and start to save up. But nine months in advance of launch? Really?

Journalists tend to not want to write about new product launches more than once – what’s been said has already been said - and with the Internet, permanence is assured. So, I can only imagine that the upcoming travel retail Dalmore’s have been publicised so early that Whyte & Mackay’s PR bods are thinking they’re get another bite of the cherry in 8 months’ time. I’m not sure if memory’s are that short.

Then there’s Auchentoshan – who, in the same week as Dalmore also announced a shake-up of their travel retail line-up. I passed through Heathrow World of Whiskies six days later – and low and behold the newly released American Oak Reserve and Dark Oak were already on the shelves – front and centre. Press release issued, bottled available that week. Seemingly simples. If only Heathrow’s online ‘Boutique’ website would be updated from 2016 we’d be properly cooking with gas.

The new expressions (which join Blood oak – more on that very shortly) seem to be taking a leaf from Auchtentoshan’s continued drive towards on-trend whisky consumption. In both cases, the bottlings are highlighted as being specifically created for use in cocktails. But, if you look under the hood, the actual makeup of these new whiskies bears a striking resemblance to the Springwood and Heartwood expressions which they’re replacing.

American Oak Reserve is created from 1st fill ex-bourbon casks – Springwood similarly is derived solely from American oak barrels (of no stated provenance). Heartwood is matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks – Dark Oak has the same cask combination at its core, with an addition of PX. All of them are bottled at 40% ABV.

Whilst I’m sure the specific profiles of the whiskies will of course vary to those of their predecessors, perhaps it’s the message here – that single malt and cocktails is OK – that’s the most important thing? Auchentoshan has been pushing this with the release of Bartender’s Malt, so it’s little wonder that they want to get this message our wider into their travel retail offering as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, when passing through World of Whiskies this weekend I did wonder about the potential for the Osborne Effect – whilst the new Auchentoshan’s were proudly displayed right at the front of the outlet, Springwood and Heartwood were still seemingly well stocked, albeit languishing at the back of the shop and largely buried in the usual sea of strange NAS bottlings which make up much of whisky’s offering when it comes to travel retail.

Blood Oak was still in the selection – indeed, Auchentoshan’s reformulated travel selection is still intended to include it – albeit with upcoming revised tin packaging.

The expression was released back in 2015 and is composed of a combination of ex-bourbon casks and Bordeaux red wine casks.  Bottled at 46% ABV and non-chill filtered (though likely coloured – which sadly the distillery still seem to insist on doing – even for some of their more expensive, venerable expressions), you can pick this up from travel retail for £54.

Nose: Raspberries, dark cherries and tangerine peels are joined by gingerbread, marzipan and oak-driven vanilla. Running throughout malt loaf and hay provides an earthy, barley-focussed underpinning, whilst Rice Crispies adds cereal sweetness. Reduction favours the cask – almost ‘green’ woody notes of bark and branches, alongside stem ginger and candy cane sweetness.

Taste: The arrival has body and weight – and a hefty punch of spicing – chilli, ginger, cardamom and clove. Pretty heady. Macerated cherries sit with red and black berry fruit tea infusions whilst spiced orange segments are joined by an initial creamy oakiness which increasingly turns towards the drier more tannic side of things. Water thins this out quickly, reducing the prominence of the fruits, and increasing emphasising the bitterness of the cask influence. Best leave it alone at 46%.

Finish: Medium in length with chocolate, oaky bitterness, souring fruits and a high level of astringency dryness.

Auchentoshan Blood Oak sits uneasily for me. On the one hand, the Bordeaux-led berry fruits in combination with the underlying fresh barley of the triple distilled spirit offer both brightness and definition. But, on the other, the oak has been allowed to run amok, and the bitterness and tannins have been heavily amplified by the precursor liquid. Whilst the spiciness is high, so too is the astringency and dryness. Well-made, but to my mind a bit lost in the wine cask integration.

Score: 77/100

Master of Malt
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