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Monday, March 21, 2016

WTF is This? Benriach 26 year old 1987 Exclusive Casks

Though I have criticized his whiskies before (and will now again), I like David Stirk.  When I met him in person three years ago, he was friendly, very funny, and a great presenter.  He also jumps head first into discussions with whisky geeks online, more so than most (or any other?) independent bottler.  I just tend to find cask-related problems with many of the Exclusive Casks/Malts releases.

There were the Bowmore and Aberlour bottlings for K&L (both of which I probably scored too highly), which had odd goopy buttery layers of oak sitting on top of immature spirit.  And then found the same problem with two whiskies (Glen Spey and again Bowmore) from the first round of US Exclusive Casks.  The first Ardmore he brought to The States one of the only indie Ardmores I don't like.  But when the Exclusives DO work well, it's usually because the cask stays in the background, like with the K&L Fettercairn, K&L "Island Distillery", and the very first Bowmore he brought to The States.  But I will say I did like the cask influence (whatever sort of cask it was) on an Exclusive Casks Ben Nevis.

But then there's this Benriach.

photo courtesy of Steve H.

I split the bottle with whisky buddy Steve H., and I think we're both glad neither of us were stuck with a whole bottle.  There appears to be a 26yo Benriach sold as a single cask by Exclusive Casks in Texas.  That cask sounds good.  This is not that cask.

Distillery: Benriach
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co.
Exclusive to: Total Wine & More
Age: 26 years old (1987 - ???)
Maturation: Oak, lots of oak
Limited bottling: 629
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 48.7%

Nose -- Bitter wood, burnt bark, coal, and lots of burnt peanuts.  Ammonia, walnuts, soap.  Peach, perfume, peach perfume, and caramel.  The soap note grows with time.

Palate -- Burnt peanuts, burnt hair, and loads of sugar.  Underneath there's some malt, toffee, roots, and pepper spice.  With time an acidic citrus note develops and, along with the sweetness, takes over the entire palate.

Finish -- Very sweet and very burnt.  There's some malt and toffee.  Citrus, no, diet orange soda.  It pics up the soap and woody bitterness after some time.


WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Nose -- The burnt stuff turns into lead.  Orange Pixy Stix and vanilla perfume.  Hint of white vinegar.  Smaller note of burnt wood.  Nope, here comes the burnt peanuts.  And "orange chicken" glaze with a savory stock.

The palate is less burnt, but insanely aspartame sweet.  Burnt peanuts.  Maybe a hint of apricots.

Finish -- Peppery and cloying a.f. (as the kids say).  Lots of acid and caramel.  The burnt stuff gradually drifts back in.

Rarely have I found a whisky that's off-putting on so many levels.  The wood smells totally wrong, worse than an over-oaked old bourbon.  Then I'm not sure what's worse: the burnt peanuts or the overwhelming Nutrasweet.  Or the ammonia.  Or the soap.  Or the perfume.  Or the lead.

Time for conjecture!  What happened here?  Because there are 629 bottles, a lowish abv, and no cask number listed, I'm going to guess this was a batch of 3 or 4 casks.  Maybe even one that was underproof, thus the abv.  Perhaps the casks weren't larger than 200L due to so much apparent wood contact, specifically American oak contact.  Was this an attempt to bury (or blend out) a problem cask?  Possibly even that hypothetical underproof one?  Or because so many things are going haywire, were there multiple weak casks?

This whisky left me wondering "How?" and "Why?"  I've had only half of my bottle split and I don't foresee any reason to consume more of it.  As this is sold exclusively through Total Wine & Spirits (except in Minnesota), I truly hope unknowing customers aren't shilling out $150+ for this as a special occasion whisky.  And I hope this won't be someone's first experience with Benriach, because it would likely also be their last.  And I'm sure The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd would care for that about as much as I cared for this whisky.

Availability - Total Wine & Spirits exclusively (except in MN)
Pricing - $160
Rating - 56  (with water, high-40s without water)