The Bartender Viewpoint On Auchentoshan’s The Bartender’s Malt

Beam-Suntory-owned Lowland whisky distillery Auchentoshan last year held a cocktail competition in which bartenders were chosen from around the world for their winning submissions. This so-called “New Malt Order,” consisting of twelve members from five countries, were then brought to the distillery to help in the creation of a new whisky now known as The Bartender’s Malt.

Whiskies chosen at the time by the bartenders included those spanning five decades (the youngest of which were 6 years old) that were matured in ex-Laphroaig casks, rum casks, red wine barriques, German oak casks and American oak casks. Those involved took part in the entire creative process, ranging from the cask selection to the packaging design and branding.

To get one of the bartenders’ perspectives on how this went down, we caught up recently with Tommy Klus out of Portland, Oregon. Note this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Auchentoshan The Bartender's Malt

bartender Tommy Klus and Auchentoshan The Bartender’s Malt (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

The Whiskey Wash: So we are here with Tommy Klus, who is a bartender in Portland, Oregon. And we’re here to talk a little bit about Auchentoshan Bartender’s Malt and his involvement in it. Thanks for taking some time, Tommy.

Tommy Klus:  Thanks for your interest.

TWW: Definitely. So, let’s talk a little bit about this product. You got involved with this whiskey, which is a collaboration of bartenders from around the world, how?

Klus: It was a cocktail competition, where the idea was to incorporate bitters into one of the Auchentoshan single malts. There were competitions in Germany, Canada, US, and the UK. And for the US one, we were tasked with creating … bitters … that pair with one of the Auchentoshans.

So you’d come up with a cocktail to showcase bitters and how well they pair with the Auchentoshan. I used the American oak, and I did more or less a play on the Old Fashioned. It’s called the Rosie Lee, and I served it in a tea cup. And it had green tea and orange bitters and there was tea in the bitters, some sugar, and stirred it, put it in a tea cup, garnished it with flowers and made it look pretty. Being the breakfast malt and the idea of drinking out of a tea cup doesn’t really raise suspicion if you’re drinking it in the morning, so that was just a fun little tie in. And that was selected, so I got to go to Glasgow with 11 other bartenders, three from Germany and one from Canada and three from the US and two from the UK.

So we met there November 6 through the 11 of 2016, and Rachel Barrie, the master blender at the time, introduced us to Auchentoshan. We toured the distillery, we got to know the ins and outs and we toured the city. And we spent a lot of time in the blending lab talking about whiskey and blending exercises and flavor exercises. We did a bitters class there, too, just to better understand flavors and subtleties.

And at the end, we put together our whiskey and blended it, and now it’s here in the US.

TWW: Talk a little bit about the whiskey itself. What is the blend?

Klus: There are different casks that represented us, and that’s a little bit more of a fun tie in that Rachel had us do where we were looking for whiskies that spoke to us in ways. That’s something she wanted to communicate to us, take parts of our personality and reflect them in whiskey and show that there’s more magic than there is science, or at least tie that in. So we do have some casks. You have to keep in mind, this is a bartender’s whiskey.

TWW: Did each bartender pick their own cask?

Klus: We were given a selection of casks to choose from, so we did have some parameters. And then our exercise in the lab was to take this entire selection and then go through them individually blind and then come up with, as a group, our favorites and how we wanted to incorporate them into the whiskey. And then we learned how you take the volumes of those casks and blend them together to make a single final product.

We all blended our own in that exercise, so we had access to 16 different barrels and we came up with our own blends individually as an exercise, and then we did one as a group, after we went through and talked about our experiences.

TWW: Talk a little bit about what you did while you were at the distillery. You said you did some blending time in the lab, what else did you do?

Klus: Yeah. I mean, definitely being in the lab was the highlight. Beyond that, we did do a lot of stuff outside the lab. It’s important to get a good understanding for Auchentoshan and it being the backyard whiskey of Glasgow. So to understand the culture, I think, was part of their ambition for us. So we were courted around to a variety of restaurants, and we got to go to Ben Nevis and some proper pubs and have pints. We went to a brew pub and saw a bunch of murals and art.

We also didn’t just blend the whiskey, we were tasked to come up with package design, the label. We did several artwork shops, working on the way we wanted it to look.

TWW: Why a whiskey for a bartender?

Klus: Well, a lot of bartenders serve whiskey in their bars. And this being a more ambitious and innovative idea, was to connect bartenders closer to their product. So it was a chance for us to go through the process of making the whiskey that we’re going to serve. As bartenders, that’s not an opportunity we often get.

We made cocktails with it, just to see how everything came together and if it worked in that way. We didn’t want it to be too aggressive of a flavor profile so that it would be very versatile with other ingredients. But it was important that it stood out on its own, and you could sip it and enjoy it without throwing anything at it.

About the author

Nino Marchetti

As the founder of The Whiskey Wash, I'm crazy about whiskey, I can tell you, and I aim to share this passion with you through this site. As for my professional background, I’m a writer and journalist by trade and an Internet dot-com veteran prior to that. My most recent venture prior to this was as the founder and editor-in-chief of EarthTechling, a leading consumer focused green technology news website. I also have an extensive collection of whiskies from both start up distilleries and centuries old operations in Scotland alike, sprinkled with some other odds and ends from around the world, that have provided me with a unique picture of what’s going on with this wonderful spirit.