...where distraction is the main attraction.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Single Malt Report: BenRiach 16yr Sauternes Finish

This is part of a three-post series on Sauternes-finished single malts:
Day 1: Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or
Day 2: BenRiach 16yr Sauternes Finish
Day 3: Taste Off!
Distillery: BenRiach
Age: minimum 16 years
Maturation: Sauternes wine casks
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Normally, I focus my Reports on affordable, U.S.-accessible whiskies and try to stay away from ultra-premium or rare or UK-only malts.  But I'm making an exception here since this BenRiach 16 year old Sauternes-finished whisky sits in my cabinet.  It's not available to purchase in the US, but can easily be found for sale online by UK sellers (my favorites: Royal Mile Whiskies, Master of Malt, and The Whisky Exchange).

So, why did I buy it from Master of Malt without ever having tasted it?

It was a limited release by the distillery, only 1650 bottles worth (probably four casks).  The distillery was well-regarded.  The price was comparatively reasonable for a limited release.  It was meant to counter thevery smoky other purchase (which will remain unnamed until its own Report) I had made at the same time.  And like the GlenMo Nectar d'Or, I was very intrigued by a Burgundy-type finish.

We don't hear much about BenRiach in the States, so here's a little bit of their ping-pong history:

The Benriach distillery opened in 1898 right near the Longmorn distillery.  Longmorn bought them out then closed them in 1900.  Between 1900 and 1965, Benriach continued to do their barley maltings which were then used by their owners.  Glenlivet bought them in '65 and reopened the distillery.  Seagrams bought them in '77 and released their first single malt in 1994.  Chivas bought them in 2001, then immediately shut them down again.  A small independent consortium bought them in 2004, renamed them BenRiach, and immediately started their bottlings.  BenRiach's Classic range is well regarded, but they've become more known for their dozen or so special-finished whiskies, of which this Sauternes Finish is one.

I sampled this neat and then with two teaspoons of water.  The whisky has a 46% ABV, is unchillfiltered, and has its natural color.  All good things.

So first, I tried it neat.  Its color was a rose-tinted honey.  The nose, very fragrant, was toffee, caramel, and lemon zest.  The palate...

It was with this first sip, a couple months ago, that I immediately realized that I didn't know what Sauternes actually was.  I'm an idiot.  The whisky was candy sweet, syrupy, room-temperature-dessert-winey, with butter and little bit of salt.  The finish was very long, strong with drier red wine.  Enjoyed the finish the most.

Now with the water.  No clouding.  The nose changed subtly but nicely -- butterscotch and dried apricots.  The taste had changed as well.  Now it was full of creams, brown sugar, butterscotch candies, and amaretto.  It's finish was still big on red wine, a little sour, sticky, but with a final moment of clean linen.  That was a nice surprise!

My notes put it succinctly: Dessert, better with water, maybe MORE water next time

Like the Nectar d'Or, this is not an aperitif.  It's a candied appetite negator.  Its finish is always the highlight.  I was a little worried with that first drink, as the stuff in the glass seemed to be more wine than whisky.  But adding water transforms it.  Though I begin to wonder, shouldn't BenRiach have worked that out that balance before bottling it?

Pricing - Acceptable at $70-$80 (includes int'l shipping)