...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, May 8, 2017

BenRiach 17 year old Solstice (2nd Edition)

As promised, there will be a few port cask whisky reviews this week. Though I did these tastings on my home turf, I wrote the posts while traveling. I hope they make at least a little bit of sense!

First up, is (SPOILER ALERT) one of the best port cask-finished whiskies in recent history. The fact that it's also peated is impressive since wine and phenolics rarely dance well together. Also, I usually don't like wine cask finished whiskies since the elements rarely merge well, making the flaws more obvious rather than silencing them. Billy Walker and his team seemed to know something most other blenders don't because Benriach's finished peated whiskies had (in my opinion) by far the highest success rate in the business.

Yes, you may have noticed my use of the past tense. Brown-Forman bought the Benriach Distillery Company last year—I just barfed in my mouth—so who knows what happens next.

Distillery: BenRiach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company (now owned by Brown-Forman)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: at least 17 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks first, then an extended finish in tawny port casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose leads with rich peat character: seaweed, tar, salty air and band-aids. There's a light grapiness (grape-y-ness?) around the edges. Then butterscotch, burlap and honey. The peat remains ever-present in the palate, alongside a dynamic milk chocolate note. Early notes include lemons, toffee, nougat and caramel. A hint of mango. It gets sweeter with time in the glass. There's an effervescent fizziness to it throughout. A toasty peatiness highlights the finish. There's also toffee, lemon and brine. Hints of grapes and fresh ginger. A surprising lack of heat.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose becomes quite farmy. And lots of band-aids. Some tobacco and apples. The calmer palate has more butterscotch and toffee. A nice coffee/mocha note. Hints of salt and peat. A little bit of chocolate in the finish, which is sweeter than before. Lots of lemons and limes. Caramel sauce and grape jam.

Solstice is a pleasure. I hope there's a third edition in the works and it hews to the formula of the second edition. The peat is pretty fab, the port casks aren't too aggressive, and there's a remarkable lack of heat. It all works (and swims) well. I'm going to assume this is due to very good casks and great cask management. Though I'm not in the market for buying any bottles right now, I'm very tempted to get one of these.

Availability - A few dozen retailers around the world
Pricing - $80-$125, on the lower end of the range in Asia, on the higher end in Europe
Rating - 89