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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Single Malt Report: BenRiach Taste Off, Part 2 (Peated)

(click here for Part 1)

Benriach distillery opened in 1898, then was promptly mothballed in 1900.  Though the distillery did not reopen for 65 years, barley malting continued on site.  The malt was then transported to the neighboring Longmorn Distillery via a quarter-mile track.  After The Glenlivet Distillers reopened the stills in 1965, an interesting experiment began in 1972.  While the majority of Speyside distilleries were swapping their old peat smoke drying methods for coal smoke, in order to cater to export countries' palates, Benriach started peat smoke drying a small portion of their malt in 1972.  This peating (at a Laphroaig-like level of 35-38pm) continued until the maltings were closed in 1999.

After The BenRiach Distillery Company bought the distillery in 2004, they promptly started bottling some of the large quantities of stock within the same year.  Among the first releases was the 10 year old Curiositas, a peated single malt.  In 2005, they added the 21 year old Authenticus to the range.

Curiositas was bottled more regularly and in greater numbers due to the available mature whisky on hand.  Authenticus had a more limited release, 4800 bottles per year.  In 2012, the 21 year was replaced by a 25 year.

The 21yr Authenticus bottles are still available throughout the US, but I doubt they'll be around for much more than another year or two.  The 25yr doesn't appear to have reached our shores yet, but looks to be only $40 more.  And by "only", I mean this 25-year peated official bottling sells for about the same as Glenfiddich 21yr, Glenlivet 21yr, or Macallan 18yr.
BOOM! Bottle shot.
Financials aside, the old 21yr Authenticus was in my Classic and Peated BenRiach 4-pack, along with the Curiositas.  The actual maturation info for these two have been harder to come by than the unpeated BenRiachs, so I'm going to guess that part of their data below.

Ownership: The BenRiach Distillery Company
Age: minimum 10 years
Bottled in: 2008
Maturation: possibly ex-bourbon casks (some first-fill)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The color is a light amber, thus light on fancy oak and light on caramel colorant.  The nose leads with considerable menthol, followed by light peat smoke.  A bit of hamminess too.  Mint.  Lots of vanilla.  Getting oakier with time.  Actually, it smells a lot like a bag of Halloween candy -- you know: corn syrup, milk chocolate, Red 5, plastic wrappers and all -- yet peated.  Wood smoke on the palate.  Sweets first, then peat, then heat.  Vanilla, cigar tobacco, cinnamon candy, honey, California Chardonnay.  Nice lengthy finish, mostly peat and that cigar tobacco note.  Some sweetness edges in along with a bit of cinnamon.

On the nose, fresh baked bread, manure, and apple skins (what a combo!).  The palate and finish are earthy but also very sweet.  Lots of sugar, vanilla, and veggie peat.

Ownership: The BenRiach Distillery Company
Age: minimum 21 years
Bottled in: 2008
Maturation: possibly ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (likely some first-fill sherry)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Okay, I'm going to spoil it here.  THIS was the highlight of the pack.  Not because it's the oldest.  Not because it's no longer in the regular rotation.  It's because.  Well, you'll see.

The color is much darker, like penny copper.  The nose carries that hint of menthol.  The peat is more mossy than smoky.  There's both a pool note and a ocean note.  It's a little spicy.  Some stone fruits (both fresh and dried).  And......is that weed?  Let's take a sip and test that palate......SO MUCH WEED! I almost choked on the first sip.  It's all TCP and THC.  Okay and probably some fruit juices, a little sherry, grass (as in lawn), and mint.  The finish: weed, peat, sugar.  Gets sweeter with time.

The nose: a joint and a glass of sherry.  The palate is mostly gentle peat smoke, along with some highlights of hay, soil, bandages, and very sweet chocolate.  It finishes oceanic and much drier on the tongue.  Cotton-mouth, perhaps?

The Winner???
NOSE -- 21yr, by a nose
PALATE -- 21yr
FINISH -- 21yr, though it's close
OVERALL -- 21yr

The 10yr Curiositas is good alternative to Laphroaig 10.  The iodine and medicinal characteristics are dialed down, so the peat experience feels a little softer, but there's still a lot of body and oompf thanks to the higher ABV.  It won't beat every Islay out there but can play on the same field.  Tim at Scotch and Ice Cream had a lot of nice things to say about it a couple weeks ago.  Sku of Recent Eats is a fan of it as well.

The 21yr Authenticus wins the day, for me, because it is so, shall we say, unique?  It has garnered great reviews, though I appear to be alone in finding a dime bag in every sip.  Well, to each his own.  And to my own, this ain't schwag.  Though, I wouldn't know anything about that.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $50-$60 (US)
Rating - 82

Availability - Fewer and fewer liquor specialists
Pricing - $120-$150 (US)
Rating - 89