Launchpad: Auchentoshan

Hamish Smith takes a closer look at a much-touted travel retail launch

It's wood, not age that matters most, reckon the people at Auchentoshan. And there we were thinking Chivas Regal had it right with its campaign The Age Matters.

To the Lowland scotch brand, flavour comes from the quality of oak in the barrel, not the time spent inside. Almost to prove the premise they’ve created a range of wood-forward whiskies, exclusive to global travel retail.

Of course, the single malt sector has had its dalliances with heavily wooded whiskies before. There’s been The Balvenie Portwood, Laphroaig’s Triple Wood, Glenfiddich’s Rich Oak and Auchentoshan’s own Three Wood, to name but a few. But then, these are more about the former contents of the barrel than the wood itself, and have tended to complement a gamut of age-statement whiskies, not provide the basis for an entire range. 

Something different

Three expressions of Auchentoshan’s five-strong line-up – Springwood, Heartwood and 14-year-old Cooper’s Reserve – were launched just weeks ago in UK World Duty Free ahead of a GTR roll out, while Silveroak and Solera are set for May GTR launches.

“We wanted to give the brand a push and do something different,” says Paul Hunnisett, regional sales manager at Morrison Bowmore, the brand owner. 

“We’d like Auchentoshan to get into the top 10 of single malt whisky brands in GTR and the top five in European travel retail. We have stiff growth targets – I’d like to see double-digit growth over the next five years.”

At the moment Auchentoshan sits at number seven in ETR and 12th in GTR. And with around 17,000 of its 51,000 nine-litre cases yearly total volume sold in travel retail, the market is of crucial importance to the brand.

For many brands travel retail acts a springboard for new expressions, with the wider market lying in wait. But Hunnisett is quick to rule out the roll out: “This is strictly for duty free and will only ever be duty free.”

The range has also seen revamped packaging. According to Hunnisett, market research found consumers are looking for clearer information about their whisky. “People want to know about our triple distillation, the difference between sherry and bourbon barrels, what the name Auchentoshan means and they wanted tasting notes.”

The entry-point whiskies are the range’s real pioneers. Springwood (£34.99 for 1-litre, 40% abv) has been matured in ex-bourbon oak that contains a proportion of young, soft wood that develops in early spring. 

This provides “spring like freshness, vanilla and sweetness” says Iain McCallum, master of malts at Morrison Bowmore.

Heartwood (£41.99 for 1 litre, 43% abv) is so-called because of the use of oak sourced from the core of the tree. The cut of wood and the flavour marriage between the vanillin North American oak and the tannic European oak “adds richness” to the dram, says McCallum.  

Fine barrels

The 14-year-old Cooper’s Reserve (£49.99 for 70cl 46% abv) is the third expression of the range but is somewhat of a departure from the specialist oak-cut theme. Auchentoshan describes all its barrels as ‘fine’, but the emphasis for Cooper’s expression is on the time spent in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks. Perhaps a little tenuously, Silveroak (£79.99 for 70cl, 51.5% abv) takes its name – not its wood – from old oak trees that develop silver rings. Solera (£130 per 70cl, 48% abv) has not been aged by way of the solera system – as brands Royal Salute and Ballatine’s 30 Year Old are – but instead takes its name from the use of ex-Pedro Ximenez casks, a product of the sherry ageing system.

Because the range tails off from its bespoke-oak theme into more familiar styles and expressions, Auchentoshan’s travel retail rebirth doesn’t exactly furrow virgin territory. But then, in a competitive and crowded scotch landscape, there are few truly original ideas. In Springoak and Heartoak Auchentoshan has thought of two, which should be enough to convince travellers that wood really does matter.

A taste of the tasting notes

Springwood: barley sugar, orange, coconut, honey, lemon, floral notes.

Heartwood: oak, sandalwood, rosewood, cinnamon, coffee, chocolate. 

Cooper’s Reserve: fruit, nuts, barley, chocolate, toffee, brazil nuts, butterscotch, crème brûlée, orange, figs and apricots.

Silveroak: herbs, fruits, floral, honeysuckle, tea tree oil, jasmine, oak, bananas, toffee, almond, liquorice, Turkish delight, coffee, Demerara sugar. 

Solera: dried fruit, plums, cherries, raisins, rosewood, cherry blossom.