The Ancnoc brand is not nearly as long-lived as the distillery is harks from. Knockdhu was built in 1894, close to Knock Station to take advantage of the Banff branch of the Great North Scotland Railway. It was also conveniently located close to sources of both barely and peat. But, in 1989, current owners – Inver House – decided that the name of the distillery was too similar to that of another Speyside producer, namely Knockando and thus Ancnoc (meaning Black Hill) was selected as the brand to represent the whisky produced at Knockdhu ,with the first bottling under the new name being released in 1993.
The Ancnoc range seems to undergo fairly regular changes to its diverse lineup. There’s a series of vintage expressions – which due to their nature are going to phase out and phase in. Then there’s Knockdhu’s range of peated whiskies, the latest of which – Peatheart - joins a range of standard and travel exclusive bottlings, all named after tools used to cut and prepare peat. Finally there’s the core aged statement expressions, which currently features a 12, 18, 24 and 35 year old. Just last year there was a 16 in the mix, as well as a 22 year old. So, if you’re interested in following Ancnoc bottlings, watch closely as the distillery is seemingly never standing still.
We’re taking a look at the 24 year old. Originally released back in 2015, the expression has now directly replaced the well-regarded 22 year old. The precise cask makeup is a little difficult to find to ascertain, but seems to be a combination of American ex-Bourbon and sherry-seasoned casks, and is bottled at 46% ABV.
Nose: Stewed fruits and marmalades. A heady mix of plums, and rhubarb take on both orange preserve and fresh lemon juice for a deep simmered fruit start. These are supported by some woody aromas of saw dust, sandal wood and oak spice – light pepper. Some floral undertones are present – particularly lilies, and there’s an interesting metallic edge, very akin to the copper pot still this was distilled in. Water brings out notes of honey and particularly tobacco, the fresh unsmoked kind.
Taste: Good mouthfeel which shifts the experience into dried fruits. Apricots, prunes, figs and sour cherries make up the bulk of the palate, but as joined by some very pleasant aged notes of tanned leather, well-steeped tea and a fair amount of cask influence in the form of pepper (which is very nicely balanced against everything else). The sherried nature of this whisky is obvious. The addition of water makes for some barley like qualities and introduces pear juice to the equation. Interesting.
Finish: Medium to long, nicely astringent and favouring citrus and pepper.
Ancnoc 24 year old has a sherried and fruity base that make for a naturally sweeter whisky, but opposing aromas and flavours (pepper, black tea etc) just about keep this sweetness in check. It’s an agreeable whisky with some nice aged characteristics. However, I can’t help thinking back to the Ancnoc 22 year old I had sat on the bar a couple of years ago – that was pretty awesome and I’m not sure this 24 year old version quite reaches those dizzying heights. Still, if you’re looking for a sweeter, sherried whisky with some age and complexity at a reasonable price, this is a very reasonable choice.