Natural beauty isn't always the best way to go. Some things are so mousy that they're actually improved when they're paved over with a thick coat of lacquer, handfuls of sequins, gold accents, and/or a lot of chrome.
The Auchentoshan Three Wood is, to me, the scotch equivalent of an extreme makeover. Auchentoshan is one of only about two Lowland distilleries currently producing single malts in any quantity worth talking about, and experts generally describe their new-make spirit as being light and a little bit grassy. It's been a long time since I've had the standard 12-year age statement, but my memory of it was pretty consistent with the word on the street: it's not really a stunner. Maybe I'd appreciate something more subtle now that I'm older and wiser, but I'm not going to sprint to the nearest bottle shop for "light and grassy."
The general public seems to agree, and currently it seems that the two most popular Auchentoshan offerings are the two gussied-up NAS products: the American Oak, which we'll talk about another day, and the Three Wood, which is matured in ex-Bourbon barrels for 10 years, then Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels for a year each. You like wood? Good: they're giving you three types of 'em.
Basically, whatever meekness was present in the base Auchentoshan spirit is shoved out of the way to make room for the wood and sherry. To be blunt, "finishing" whisky doesn't come more heavy-handed than this. If you're a purist, this won't be the scotch for you. However, I think the full-bore approach to giving a chameleon-like spirit some extra flavor is a good thing.
And the Three Wood ain't short on flavor! The gripping oak tannins here are a treat for people who like wood. It's is a little mouth-puckering at first, but as your tastebuds begin to wake up there's a huge swell of dark chocolate, fig, clove, and walnut. It's all balanced out by a little bit of candied orange and a little bit of grassiness that I'd attribute to the base spirit, but on the whole it's deeply rich and satisfying.
The finish is interesting, though a little at odds with the buildup. Here, the richness takes a step back to make room for some leather and lemon oil along with (again) a bit of grass. As a whole, the combination adds a bit of a medicinal, astringent quality to the overall experience, but it's easy enough to take another sip and get back on the flavor roller coaster.
All in all, the Three Wood is a pretty characterful bottle that may justify its price tag to those willing to hand-wave away a few faults and concerns over authenticity.