I like whiskies with big hits of sherry. I love a spice bomb. I enjoy being slapped in the face by smoke and peaty finishes that last for days. The anCnoc 12-Year-Old offers none of these things. It is, however, a whisky that is rarely absent from my shelf.
The thing is, very few people get into whisky by trying the latest Octomore bottling. Preposterous Islays are intimidating and can reinforce the preconception that whisky is foul firewater. The route to convincing your partner that the latest Ardbeg Day release offers fantastic value for money is not found through PX Cask Strengths. Sometimes, subtler techniques, and subtler whiskies, are necessary. Occasionally it is necessary to pour a whisky for a self-declared Non-Whisky-Drinker, and for that, I would almost always turn to the anCnoc 12-Year-Old.
AnCnoc is the name given to whiskies produced by the Knockdhu distillery, allegedly due to confusion with the Knockando distillery found 30 miles to its West. While the distillery sits in the far East of the Speyside region, it styles itself as a Highland single malt, based on style rather than location. The discussion on whether this is the right and proper thing to do is probably worth an article on its own! Most of the anCnoc range consists of unpeated expressions released as age statement whisky: as well as the 12-Year-Old, there are also 16, 18, 24, and 35-Year-Old bottlings. The range also contains a handful of peated expressions, perfect for introducing a new whisky drinker to the world of phenol.
While these older whiskies and peated releases may help drag the unsuspecting further down the rabbit hole of Single Malt, they rely on the 12-Year-Old for that first successful introduction. So, what makes the anCnoc 12-Year-Old such a good choice to lead the uninitiated astray?
Speyside/Highland Single Malt Whisky, produced at the Knockdhu Distillery owned by Inver House.
40% ABV, matured in second fill American oak, ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.
Chill filtration and colouring were not disclosed. However, the 18-Year-Old being specifically labelled as natural colouring and non-chill filtered is a reasonably strong indicator that the 12-Year-Old is both chill-filtered and coloured.
Nose: Honey and lemon, with notes of Earl Grey tea, fresh blossom, and rich tea biscuit.
Palate: Lemon, vanilla, and a little bit of shortbread. There’s a slight malty nuttiness to it and just a hint of the tea from earlier. Light and sweet.
Finish: Delicate flavours of honey, barley, and pepper sit in the mouth, but don’t overstay their welcome.
Opinion: While it is subtle, sweet and smooth, there is nothing particularly unique about the anCnoc 12-Year-Old. There’s no one-off flavour that makes it stand out. As a dram, it is light, a little complex, and makes for easy drinking, but that’s really about it. And somehow, all of this combines to earn this expression a particular niche in the market and permanently reserved spot on my shelf.
You see, for me, the anCnoc 12-Year-Old is the perfect gateway whisky. It’s the simple answer to a smug assertion that someone, while claiming to be open-minded, has just “never tried a whisky that I like”. Its packaging is simple enough to be unintimidating to the uninitiated while still appearing sophisticated. At around £30, its price is low enough not to break the bank while still separating it from the mass-produced supermarket blends. Its nose is interesting but far from overpowering, and its palate and finish are both accessible and intriguing. This is the sugar cigarette to Lagavulin’s Cuban cigar. While there’s no way to prove that trying a little anCnoc leads to a 20-dram-a-day lifestyle, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that most whisky addicts will have started by nosing something just like this. In fact, far too many horrendous mornings after probably start with nosing just this dram!
Examined purely on merit, though, there are a couple of problems. Its palate doesn’t quite deliver on the promises of its nose, and its flavours are a little straightforward. The team at the Knockdhu distillery don’t seem to be trying anything exciting or innovative with any aspect of the dram. The choice of wood is about what you would expect; the fact it’s chill-filtered will raise no eyebrows; the ABV is the industry standard 40%. While it does earn a permanently reserved spot on my shelf, it’s still not a whisky that particularly excites me.
Ultimately, though, all my criticism could be summed up by saying that this is an entry-level whisky. And if anything, it’s the perfect entry-level whisky: inexpensive, accessible, and easy to drink; it is possibly the ultimate entry point into the world of whisky as a whole.
While we wouldn’t typically specifically request comments, it would be interesting to hear from anyone who uses other whiskies for a similar purpose; please let us know below if you have a preferred “gateway” whisky.