The Cabinet met last week to inaugurate the new year with a look at Lowland whiskies, and to welcome our first new member in seven years. It would be exceptionally easy to find people eager to join, but primarily due to space considerations, and also so as not to change the nature of something that has been working so well, we have capped the membership at nine.
The Lowlands are perhaps the least loved of Scotland's six whisky regions. Interestingly it also produces the highest volume the highest volume of whisky, but the great bulk of it for grain whisky and for blending. Only four producers of Lowland single malt are still active, although four more may join them soon. So why would the Cabinet attend to the unloved? Two reasons. The first is that our January meeting often is close to Robbie Burns Day, so members that have kilts wear them and a toast to the bard is usually part of the proceedings. Burns was a Lowlander. The second reason is that the Cabinet has not yet devoted an entire meeting to the Lowlands, which seems an oversight.
Auchentoshan, from near Glasgow, is by far the most well known and most widely available of the Lowland malts, so we lined up two of their bottlings - the 12 year old and the "Three Wood". In addition we sampled a Glenkinchie 12 year old, from Edinburgh.
It's a safe bet that if you're reading this you will be familiar with the Auchentoshan 12. It is simple, clean and highly inoffensive. This is the classic beginner's scotch. The classic single malt to buy a non-scotch drinker. But we happen to like flavours that beginners would consider offensive, so an "inoffensive" scotch is something the Cabinet views as little more than a pleasant opener.
On to the Auchentoshan Three Wood then. The box states that it is matured initially in bourbon casks before being finished in Oloroso and then Pedro Ximénez casks. As the latter two are both sherries, the three wood designation is perhaps a bit misleading. Moreover, as bourbon casks are extremely common in scotch production (including the Auchentoshan 12), often not even being declared anywhere on the label, that is unlikely to be a noticeable differentiator. This then means that we are really dealing with a "Double Sherry" rather than a "Three Wood". And it shows. This whisky is a deep russet in colour and noticeably sweet on the palate. There's not a whole lot more going on. It's not horrible, but it's certainly not an improvement on the 12 year old. The opposite in fact.
We finished up with a brilliant selection by our new member: the Laphroaig 18 year old. This was, ironically enough, a bottle we first acquired seven years prior when we last inaugurated a new member. Now this is an excellent whisky. It is clear that our hearts lie further north and nearer the sea.
It wouldn't be a Burns Night without poetry, but I cannot do a Scots accent. Cannot. So instead I quickly composed a little verse entitled "Cabinet Night" that can be read in a flat Canadian accent:
It is Cabinet night,
And the members gather.
They enter the Chambers,
There's nowhere they'd rather.
The Scotch whisky is poured,
And the glasses raised high.
In the morning they work,
And some day they will die.
But for tonight they live,
And this living is good.
For they hold the magic,
Of grain, water and wood.
So drink up my good friends,
For your soul and your heart.
So drink up my good friends,
And let this meeting start!
Special thanks to our guest, Kevin, for all the snacks!