"Having long been possessed with an ardent desire to see the Distilleries of Scotland...", Alfred Barnard, 1885

"O Thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink", from Scotch Drink, by Robert Burns

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Auchentoshan Distillery

Barnard’s visit to Auchintoshan (sic) was, in his own words, hasty. He dropped in on his way to Littlemill and my visit today was also brief. I have twice before been on a tour round this smart distillery and this day I felt a need for new experiences.

Colourful expressions at Auchentoshan
I do recall receiving a warm welcome on both previous visits and the staff are very informative, so I wanted to visit again to check a few details from Barnard’s brief description (13 lines). First, he stated that the distillery was founded in 1825 however this is confirmed to me as 1823, the year it was first licensed, although there appears to have been an unlicensed distillery here for a few years before then.

Barnard also records the water source as the Cochna Loch (actually ‘Cochno’ Loch) in the nearby Kilpatrick Hills. This has long since been replaced by water from Loch Katrine which makes Auchentoshan unique as being the only Lowland distillery supplied from a water source in the Highlands. The cooling water is taken from a small reservoir in the grounds that is formed from an old bomb crater. Auchentoshan stands at the opposite end of Clydebank from Yoker and largely escaped the bombing during the 1941 blitz, although their website does note that three warehouses and over a million litres of whisky were lost!

(R-L) Wash, intermediate and spirit stills
A more significant change appears in the distillation process. Barnard records two “Old Pot Stills” but the distillery has always practiced triple distillation, even in Barnard's time. A third still was installed in the 1920s to provide wash, intermediate and spirit stills, lifting the spirit to a much higher % than the double distillation practiced at other distilleries. Until the 1980s distillation was ran on a traditional basis to a spirit of 84% and was then replaced with a ‘balanced distillation system’ producing spirit around 81%, which is then diluted to 63.5% for casking.

Once a more common practice in Scotland, particularly in the Lowlands, and still common in Ireland, Auchentoshan is now the only Scottish distillery that triple distils fulltime, a few others use the process occasionally or partially. The higher strength of new make spirit produced prior to being diluted helps to achieve a lighter and smoother final product.

The different spelling of the distillery name is also peculiar. The distillery was perhaps founded as ‘Duntocher’, named after a nearby village, but then changed name to the spelling Auchintoshan which is Gaelic for ‘corner of the field’. This appears to have been changed to Auchentoshan in 1834 (Udo, 2005, p39) and this is the name recorded on the NLS map surveyed sometime between 1848-72, with the same spelling applied to the nearby estate house. Barnard, however, uses the old spelling in his account in 1885.

This is the first distillery on my journey that a) is still in production, and b) is open to the public. A new visitor centre was opened at the distillery in 2004 and you can enjoy their fine malt whisky here after a tour. Whisky tourism was unknown in Barnard’s time, although he could be described as the first known distillery bagger and perhaps the inspiration for some distilleries to open their doors to visitors.

Whisky tourism is now a useful diversification for many distilleries trying to recoup some cash flow while their product lies sleeping for many years, and also to attract new people to their whisky. Visitor centres, tutored tastings and open days all provide new opportunities for distilleries. If you want to find out more about Auchentoshan and triple distillation then I can recommend a visit and tour, or head over to the second Auchentoshan Festival which takes place on Saturday 28 August this year.