...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Single Malt Report: BenRiach 12 year old

Distillery: BenRiach
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: American Oak and ex-bourbon barrels (?)
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

BenRiach has been an ongoing curiosity to me.  They currently have twenty-seven releases out in the market right now (and that doesn't include another twelve single cask releases), each with a different combination of aging, maturing, peating, and finishing.  For instance, Arumaticus Fumosus (heavily peated then finished in dark rum barrels) or a 16 year Claret Finish or 17 yr Solstice (peated, triple distilled, ex-bourbon barrel aged, and finished in Tawny Port casks).

That strikes me as being the result of one of three situations: 1.) They have no confidence in their regular malt so they're actively trying to dress it in pretty things in order to find a successful product; or 2.) They're banking that future of the whisky market will be these wine-skis; or 3.) They have expert blenders who are really good at fashioning these products.

They're owned by the same folks who took over the Glendronach distillery and subsequently revived that old gem.  BenRiach also is one of the last few distilleries to do their own floor maltings.  So those are two elements in their favor.

I bought a bottle of their now-out-of-circulation 16yr Sauternes Finish from a prominent UK vendor, then subsequently regretted my purchase.  It's not that the whisky was entirely bad.  The palate just didn't appeal to me.  The ultra-sweet dessert wine entirely overpowered the malt.  I should have found a way to taste it before getting an entire bottle.  I will never repeat that error; only under extreme circumstances will I blind buy a bottle.  There are so many whisky opportunities out there to try before I buy.

But that whisky wasn't an entire throwaway.  It turns out that ultrasweet whiskies make for good highballs.  Expensive highballs, that is.  Anyway, here were my two reviews of that whisky:  First and Second.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to try out their Flagship Range that was in the "Classic Speyside Style".  I wanted to taste the malt beneath the wine finishes, without the peating.  Happily, the opportunity arose this weekend while I was with my brother at The Bowery (thanks again, J!) as I'd noted in yesterday's post.  As usual, the price wasn't low, but the pour was generous.  Some of my senses may have been compromised by the nearby frying of potatoes and fish, but I did my best to focus...

The color is an orangey amber.
The nose has a lot going on.  Something halfway between honey and sherry.  Brightly sweet and a little salty.  Toffee with nuts.  Trader Joes "Super Premium" vanilla ice cream.  Fruity sherbet.  And lots of roses.  (I spent a long time with my nose in the glass, as Jason can confirm.)
The palate was a little more simple, but very silky.  Again the sweet element that was somewhere between honey and sherry.  Perhaps this is the malt shining through?  Sugar cookies and a lot of citrus.
It had a medium-length finish, a little spicy with more citrus.

Out comes that citrus in the nose.  Especially oranges.  A little less sugary overall.
The palate becomes nuttier.  Very creamy texture.  A little spicy.  And some bubble gum.
The finish becomes smooth, mild, and a little honeyed.

All of my Internet-snooping can't seem to unearth what barrels were used on this, but I like whatever they were.  The whisky feels less doctored than the Sauternes Finish and I enjoyed it even more than I had expected.  It compares very favorably with other simple (in the good way!) malts in its age range.  It's more layered than Glenlivet while less sherried than Glenfarclas and Macallan.

Perhaps I'll have a little more patience with BenRiach and their craftings going forward.

Pricing - Good at $40-$45
Rating - 85