With more and more brands of single malt whisky available in Malaysia of late, it can be a little intimidating for new whisky drinkers to get into the category. As such, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “What’s a good single malt Scotch whisky for a beginner to start with?”
Well, I recently tried a relatively new whisky (in Malaysia, at least) that fills that “introductory whisky” space quite neatly – anCnoc, or more specifically, the anCnoc 12 Year Old.
Pronounced ‘a-nock’, the whisky is produced in a town called Knock in Scotland at the Knockdhu Distillery, owned by Inver House Distillers Limited.
As far as easy-drinking whiskies go, the anCnoc 12YO (40%ABV) has to be one of my favourites. It’s easy to imagine a first-time whisky drinker being drawn in by the clear and clean fruitiness on the nose, which also bore a pleasant fragrant floralness and hints of citrus. Take a sip, and there are a very clearly defined citrus, brown sugar notes, and a nice streak of sweetness across the palate.
While it’s a very straightforward, approachable whisky that would appeal to almost anyone, what I loved most about the AnCnoc 12YO is just how easy it is to pick up all the flavours and notes in the whisky.
This balance and clarity of flavours is exactly what master blender Stuart Harvey was aiming for when he created the whisky. “The new make spirit at Knockdhu is very fruity, floral, fragrant, and had a really good top end. It’s one of the most intensely floral and fruity whiskies out there. But what surprised me was the depth it had,” he said.
“When I made the 12YO, I wanted a balance between the new make’s fruity esthers and the heavier oak flavours. It makes for a very approachable whisky, easy to drink. For people who haven’t really tried single malt before, it’s a good introduction whisky.”
“When I joined Inver House in 2003, ancNoc did not exist as a brand at the time. My first job was to sample 8,000 casks of whisky, and to see what was available and what the quality was like!” he said. “Then I had to create a family of whiskies. The 12-Year-Old anCnoc was the first whisky I created when I joined.”
The name anCnoc is Gaelic for ‘the hill’, which refers to Knock Hill, nearby the distillery. “There is another single malt called Knockando in the market, so we couldn’t use Knockdhu for the name. So we went for anCnoc instead,” Harvey explained.
Knockdhu is one of very few distilleries to still use an old-fashioned cast iron worm tub to cool its spirit after it comes off the still. Most distilleries these days use a ‘shell and tube’ condenser – basically a copper ‘shell’ containing lots of small copper tubes in which cold water runs through. When the hot spirit vapour comes into contact with these tubes, it turns back into liquid.
With a worm tub, however, a coiled pipe called the ‘worm’ rests inside in a bath of cold water, which cools the spirit vapour as it goes through the worm, coming out the other end as liquid. The result is a heavier, more savoury new make spirit compared to the one condensed with a shell and tube condenser.
“The worm tubs really make a huge difference to the depth and complexity of the whisky. So at the top end you get fruity aromas, and heavier oily, meaty, vegetable aromas at the bottom end,” Harvey said.
Of course, the 12YO isn’t the only whisky Harvey came up with. The anCnoc core range also includes an 18YO, 24YO and a 35YO as well.
With an impressive 46% ABV, the 18YO was matured in Spanish oak ex-sherry casks and American oak ex-bourbon barrels, and couldn’t be more different from the 12YO. There are more mellow dark fruit notes, with richer and more complex fruit and nuts flavours on the palate that lead into a rich, dark chocolatey finish. If the 12YO is an easy everyday session whisky, then this is a late night, kids-have-gone-sleep kind of whisky that one just sits and savour… slowly.
Then there’s the anCnoc 24YO (46% ABV). A combination of whiskies aged in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, there are surprisingly rich gula melaka and dark chocolate notes, with a faint bitterness that lingers on the palate, finishing with a rich caramel bittersweetness that is quite distinct. It’s a rich, heavy dram that needs either to breathe a little first, or a few drops of water for you to get the full extent of its flavours.
AnCnoc’s latest addition to the core range is the anCnoc Peatheart (46% ABV), which is Knockdhu’s peatiest whisky yet.
“We wanted it to be approachable and not too over the top with the peat. What’s interesting is that there is more oak in this whisky, and with that, you get more peat on the palate rather than on the nose,” he said.