By Jacqueline Monahan
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Auchentoshan Switch Mixes It Up at Mandalay Bay's House of Blues

It all started with 20 contestants and one brand of extra-smooth, triple distilled scotch.  By the end of the evening, one lucky winner would be crossing the pond to London in 2012.


The Star of the Show - Auchentoshan Three Wood Scotch
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin

On Wednesday, October 26, the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay hosted a trans-continental bartender challenge with the intriguing name of Auchentoshan (Ock-un-tosh-un) Switch.  The switch comes into it when a winning bartender is traded to another continent (Europe/North America) for two weeks.  In this case, it’s a London/New York City switch for U.S. and UK bartenders.  Auchentoshan is the brand of scotch used in the competition, in a variety known as Three Wood.


The Judges:  David Clelland, Andrew Pollard, and Camper English
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

The rich, golden bronze color of the Lowland Single Malt Whisky has a bouquet of blackcurrant, brown sugar, orange, plum, and raisin.  That’s just for the nose; when the tongue gets involved, there’s hazelnut with hints of cinnamon and lemon, with a butterscotch sweetness.  It’s named Three Wood for having been matured in three different cask types (American Bourbon, Spanish Oloroso Sherry, and Pedro Ximenez Sherry).  These impart toffee and sherry oak flavors into the scotch, making it an excellent choice for cocktails.

Abigail Gullo Shakes It Up
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

Scotch aficionados will tell you that single malt varieties rule with complex notes of wood (bourbon oak, Spanish sherry) with 81% alcohol by volume.  Flavor variations can include citrus, chocolate and honey, among others.  

Along with Auchentoshan, the event was sponsored by the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG).  Contestants were selected from submitted videos showing their skill at making two drinks, a lemonade (sweet/sour mix) and an Old Fashioned (sugar/water/bitters/alcohol) and on to Las Vegas they flew…


The Contestants
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

They came, they mixed, and they created.  The challenge started with all of the contestants (a sudden withdrawal left 19 competing for the trip) fashioning Auchentoshan Three Wood cocktails with names like…Everybody’s Girl, Ron Burgundy, Order of the Thistle, Headless Horseman, Mary, Queen of Scotch, Sea Serpent, Farmer’s Daughter, Brewer’s Breakfast, Player Hater Ale, Common Sense, and No One Puts Baby in a Corner.


The Cocktails
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

A pantry was provided with an ingredient list of possible mix-ins and modifiers that included bitters, sherry, lemon juice and zest, egg whites, agave nectar, malt extract, maple syrup, liquid nitrogen dots, muddled ginger, sage leaves and grapefruit tincture.

Bartending equipment covered whole tables and included ice crushing mallets, strainers, stirrers, micro-planes, cocktail shakers, and mini blow torches to heat, swirl, grind, chop liquids and solids into a spirited potion.

Glasses made of Ice
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

After a five-minute speed round each contestant mixed, shook, and stirred a signature cocktail, then brought their creation up to the judges for a tasting.  There would be five semi-finalists chosen from the group.

Semi-finalist Michael Flannery
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

Guests got to sample the cocktails as well, along with food offerings of mini quiche, pulled pork sliders, burgers, Reuben sandwiches, tortellini, and a large variety of petit fours and tarts.  Classic rock music played all during the competition, bringing the likes of Bob Dylan and the Eagles into the room.

Sweet Treats
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

A quintet was selected by the judges to enthusiastic fanfare. 
Charles Joly, (Chicago)
Clinton Terry, (Alexandria)
Michael Flannery, (NYC)
Abigail Gullo, (NYC)
Steve Schneider (NYC)

The five advanced to a 10-minute “mystery ingredient” round.  A pantry made available milk, mint, club soda, ginger ale, and simple syrup to the semi-finalists.  They were required to use two mystery ingredients that were revealed to be figs, lavender, unfiltered apple juice, cinnamon, cardamom, and Earl Grey tea.  Three of the five opted for figs, with apple juice, cinnamon and cardamom all making an appearance in the resulting cocktails.


The Pantry
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

Sporting names like The Patter (Charles Joly) Sex Panther (Clinton Terry) Untitled with Figs (Michael Flannery) Adam and Eve (Abigail Gullo) and Old Fashioned (Steve Schneider) the five cocktails made their way to the three judges, led by emcee David Clelland (International Auchentoshan Specialist and Glasgow native).  Also judging the event were Andrew Pollard (VP of United States Bartender’s Guild (USBG), Las Vegas Chapter) and Camper English (author, writer –


Mystery Ingredients
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

A 15-minute deliberation led to the announcement of the two finalists:  Charles Joly and Clinton Terry of Chicago and Alexandria respectively, shut out the NYC crowd with their Auchentoshan Three Wood creations.

Manning the Drink Stations
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

The third and final round featured the two finalists giving a master class talk about Auchentoshan Three Wood, scotch, Scotland and any other mixologist wisdom they wished to impart to the enthusiastic crowd of their peers and guests.  Charles Joly took the stage first, with Clinton Terry escorted out of the room and out of earshot.  When Joy finished, it was Terry’s turn to command the room while Joly stepped out.

Finalists Clinton Terry and Charles Joly
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

The judges reconvened and made the final announcement – in Clelland’s musical brogue – that Chicago native Charles Joly was the winner of the Auchentoshan Switch.

Joly will travel to London to work with Tony Conigliaro, one of the UK’s pioneering drink creators at the famed 69 Colebrooke Row, a 40-person space identifiable only by lantern.  It has no name at all and entry is via video entry-phone, or by text, email, or phone reservation only. 

Auchentoshan Switch U.S. Winner Charles Joly
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 
With the competition over, it was time to party back at the hotel where all of the bartenders were housed (at the Cosmopolitan, naturally).  A tremendously supportive group, the bartenders packed up the tools of their very creative trade and prepared to mix it up.

Semi-finalist Steve Schneider Plays with Fire
Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin 

Your humble correspondent, who had sipped more scotch this evening than in all of her previous years on this earth combined, bid a fond farewell to the proceedings armed with the following information to share:
  • The Auchentoshan Switch is open to all licensed bartenders in the U.S. and UK.
  • Auchentoshan means “corner of the field” in Gaelic.
  • The Auchentoshan Distillery (located just outside of Glasgow, Scotland) dates back to 1823, survived a WWII bombing in 1941 but lost million liters of whisky; a bomb crater behind the distillery now forms the pond for the cooling water.
  • In addition to Three Wood, Auchentoshan varieties include classic, 12 year, 18 year, and 21 year (aged) varieties.
  • Every drop of Auchentoshan is triple distilled.
  • The UK winner of the competition will get to spend two weeks at a noted NYC bar (as yet undetermined).

The Auchentoshan Switch was like a distillation itself, starting with a large quantity of hopefuls and gradually producing an excellent U.S. representative to show off the spirits of America abroad.

We can all drink to that.


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Photo Credit:  JoHn Hardin