Jan 192016
 

BenRiach 18 y.o. Albariza129

46% abv

Score:  89/100

 

There are a few whisky profiles that really work for me: older bourbon-matured malts that bloom into bold tropical notes; young peat that explodes like pine knots in a bonfire; syrupy, almost overcooked sherry bombs in their third and fourth decades; and malts like this 18 year old Albariza, which marry the gooeyness of rich jammy fruits with the complex subtleties of mature peat.

Put simply, BenRiach absolutely nailed it with the Albariza.  This is one of the sexiest and steamiest marriages of sweet and peat I’ve met so far.  These two alpha whisky styles can either be uncompromising sparring partners or intimate bedfellows.  Fortunately in this case it is the latter.  The peat profile is not quite Islay, in terms of style and make-up, but when rubbing up and down against the rich trappings of sweet PX sherry it manages to emerge in a new guise not dissimilar to Bowmore’s current king-o’-the-hill, Laimrig.

‘Albariza’, for those interested in linguistic marketing origins, is the name of the white soil used for the cultivation of grapes in Andalucía.  A gimmicky name, of course, but so be it, so long as the distillery keeps putting those age statements front and center on the bottles.  It’s when we see the latter disappear in favour of the former that we start to worry.  Moot point here.  As I said…BenRiach really aced this one.  Great malt from one of the most consistently excellent distilleries around.

Nose:  Smoked fruit.  A ‘gooey’, jammy nose.  Damp, peaty notes.  Somewhat farmy, with notes of iodine, pepper and chilis.  Wet leather.  Raspberry and blackberry.  Dried figs and prunes.  Quite ashy.

Palate:  Head-on collision of jammy fruits and ash.  Plums and berry compote.  Threads of smoke and medicinal notes.  Mincemeat.  Very rich.  Damp wood.  Maybe moist tobacco.  Not too, too far off an Islay malt, surprisingly.

Thoughts:  This is like a mainland version of Bowmore Laimrig.  Of course that means I love it.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:48 am
Dec 032015
 

BenRiach 1999 Cask #57669 Dram Initiative Exclusive127

57.6% abv

Score:  90/100

 

This one has ‘bias’ written all over it.  And stubbornly I refuse to back down from the score I’m giving it.

Full disclosure: I (along with a couple other gents, including the nefarious MaltMonster) picked this cask to bottle for our local whisky club, The Dram Initiative.  After going through a couple runs of cask samples, this 16 y.o. bourbon barrel jumped out as a stellar example of what happens when a distillery’s best cut goes into a flawless cask for a few seasons.  What we ended up with is the epitome of ‘universal appeal’.  Quite simply, this is a beautiful, creamy fruitbomb of a malt, with just the right dashes and sprinkles of spice.

For those not local or ‘in the know’ regarding The Dram Initiative, this is a 100 member strong club we launched more than two and half years back.  We do things big – with sprawling ranges and high end malts – and try to combine the sublime with the ridiculous.  There are always great drams, lots of laughs and a flair for individuality.  An endeavour like bottling our own barrel seemed like a brilliant unifying factor for members.  And indeed it has been.  This BenRiach cask will certainly be the first of many DI-exclusive bottlings.

Anyway…when I say ‘bias’ let’s not forget that we, of course, had nothing to do with actually making this whisky or anything; It’s more for transparency and an acknowledgment of the fantastic work the team at BenRiach has done.  Mashmen, Stillmen, Warehousemen, all the way up the ladder.  To end up with a malt this clean is a true testament to craft and passion.  And I guess maybe we did have some say in what this whisky ultimately ended up being.  Our role in the end product came about by way of saying ‘stop the maturation, and bottle it’ when we recognized the intrinsic quality of the malt.

This is a great whisky.  Proud to have been a part of seeing it come to fruition.

Nose:  Sweet and syrupy.  Almost jammy in some ways.  Oh, man, this is like the ultimate dessert.  Caramel apples.  Soft vanilla.  Toasted coconut and grilled pineapple.  Roman nougat.  Some tart and tangy moist dried fruits (maybe fruit leather).  All rich in sweet heavy cream.  Such a great mix of rich fruit and softer vanilla-heavy baking notes.  Harmonious and universally appealing.  LOVE it.

Palate:  Oh yeah!  What an arrival!  Lots of vibrant fruits with a creamy sweet undernote to balance it out.  Delivers what the nose promises, by way of those borderline tropical coconut/pineapple notes.  Viscous and mouthwatering.  Great, but subtle spices from the bourbon influence.  This malt had a beautiful 16 year long nap in a gorgeous comfy, cozy bourbon barrel.  It’s awake again now and infinitely charming in all its subtle complexities.

Thoughts:  Not sure what more to say.  Love this whisky.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:25 am
Sep 182015
 

BenRiach 1997 Madeira Finish Cask #7591043

54.6% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

The tasting notes on the tube for this one used the word ‘tropical’.  If you know me, you’ll know that is somewhat like offering free porn to a lonely teenage boy.  A good mate of mine is largely responsible for drawing me into the hunt for those malts that bear the hallmarks of exotic fruits and the sour / sweet tang of tropicalia.  I tend to think of them as ‘Five Alive’ whiskies.  They’re elusive, no doubt about it, but they’re also knee-bucklingly good.

The thing is, these tropical notes are typically found on much older whiskies, primarily of bourbon cask influence (but occasionally immaculate sherry butts too), so I was skeptical of this one to say the least.  The stated vintage and the suggested profile made as much sense to me as Trump leading the primaries heading into this 2016 election.  In other words…does not compute.

And yeah…sure enough, the closest this one comes to ‘tropical’ is that single word on the packaging.  Oh well.  I paid about a third of what I should have for this one.  Can’t complain.  And additionally it’s a pretty damn decent malt in its own right.

Nose:  Definitely not tropical, but fruity enough.  A surprisingly savoury note on top.  Banana.  Almond.  Lots of spice, probably primarily cinnamon.  Vanilla pudding or creamy custard.  Moist tobacco.  Salty pastry dough.

Palate:  A little too much wine.  Syrup-soaked fruits.  Some apple and nutty notes.  Still a little banana, but not as prevalent as on the nose.  Quite dessert-like in some ways.  Strong oaky backbone and a lot of spicy nip.  A little bit of orange zest.  Definitely a tannic malt.  Leaves a dry woodiness.

Thoughts:  The nose is much softer (and better, let’s face it) than the palate.  The BenRiach character is hidden behind the Madeira unfortunately, but it’s still a more than decent malt.  Glad I scooped up a couple at a great price.

 

 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:05 am
Jul 092015
 

BenRiach 12 y.o. Sherry Matured085

46% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Single cask releases from BenRiach will always be the heartsblood of this distillery in my eyes, but it’s truly impressive how consistently enjoyable even the standard expressions are.  This 12 year old – an age that generally doesn’t excite me beyond the realms of Islay malts – performs like a budding rock star.  Yes, it’s a little shy when held up against some of the other BenRiach expressions we’ve tried to date (dozens), but still puts on a hell of a show.

I’m a huge fan of naked BenRiach – there’s just something about the distillery’s fruity spirit matured in bourbon barrels that works for me – but trying it all wrapped up in a clean sherry blanket is a real treat.  Interestingly enough, this one bears all the hallmarks of one of our favorite NAS malts, a’bunadh.  But, shhhhhh…we’ll not deign to discuss NAS here for now.  Instead, suffice it to say that this one ticks all the flavour boxes, if not necessarily the desire for the pure, unadulterated whomp! of cask strength offerings.  So be it.  Still a tasty drink in an approachable tax bracket.

Nose:  Jammy and sweet.  Almost a red licorice.  Spicy.  Very spicy.  Like sharp cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Great berry and stone fruit aromas.  Lavender and white chocolate.  Soft and smells infinitely sippable.  Something about this one hearkens back to gramma’s kitchen.

Palate:  Cinnamon sticks and big juicy sherry notes.  Jams and jellies.  Candies and dried fruits.  Crunchy MacIntosh apples and a squeeze of very fresh orange.  Juicy and tangy.

Thoughts:  Very clean sherry.  Nice barrels in this one.  Not far off an a’bunadh, as I said, but obviously about 15% less punching power.  Maybe like an a’bunadh meets a Balvenie, if you can wrap your head around that one.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:47 am
Apr 222015
 

BenRiach Curiositas204

46% abv

Score:  79/100

 

Pretty sure this will be no less than my third go at reviewing this expression. I’ve literally seen a ten point swing in the scores I’ve levied at this one over the past six or seven years. Some of that can be laid at the feet of batch variance, no doubt, but some of it has to come back to the fact that I simply can’t wrap my head around this whisky. A circle I can’t square, if you will.

Curiositas is another peated Speyside malt from BenRiach.  This time served up at a young and rambunctious decade of maturity.  I’ve said many times before that peated Islay malts work well in youth, but it seems to be somewhat up-in-the-air as to whether or not mainland whiskies can carry off the toddler chic that the big guns from the Hebrides do so well.

I’ve invested in three or four bottles of Curiositas over the years, driven back time and again to suss out whether or not I’ll appreciate the malt more with the passage of time.  Occasionally I’ll come ‘round a little to it and think ‘hmmm…not so bad’, but the next time I pour it I shut right down and lean towards something else, much as I do with the Ardmore Traditional Cask (now relegated to history, in favour of yet another NAS fleecing).  I think this much time and effort (and money!) invested in Curiositas will finally afford me the will to simply state that this one is not for me.  I’m finding too many off notes and an overall lack of charm and cohesion.  We’ll stick with others in the BenRiach family, as they have incredible volumes of great whisky and generally at really good prices too.

Nose:  A decent amount of smoke.  Some farmy, grainy barnyard notes.  Iodine.  Tar and rubber (grows stronger as it opens).  Musty and dusty. Grape juice.  Leather, old wood and dunnage warehouses.  Might be a hint of sunflower seeds.  Not a lot of fruit to speak of.  …And just a touch feinty, I find.

Palate:  Quite aggressive.  Big, bold youthful peat.  Smoke.  A little nutty (wal-nut?)…a little bitter.  Licorice.  Rubber.  There are some sweet notes, but not sure I’d suggest they were ‘fruity’ sweet.

Thoughts:  Meh.  Just ok.  A decent alternative, I suppose, but if you’re looking for quality peat, maybe go Islay instead.  Or spend a little more and reach for one of the older peated BenRiachs.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:12 am
Apr 222015
 

BenRiach Authenticus 25 y.o.108

46% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Over the next couple of days I think we’ll hit up a couple of peated Speysiders from one of my favorite distilleries: BenRiach.  We’ll start with the 25 year old Authenticus, before moving into something a little younger.  Authenticus was previously marketed as a 21 year old, which I notched at a respectable 88.5 a couple years back.  They’ve bumped the age (and the price) a bit and nixed the old expression in favour of this 25 year variant.  Trading up, it would seem.

Before getting into tasting notes, let me just say this is a helluva variant on peated whisky.  I typically tend to reach for the wee Hebridean island malts when I want my fix of bog juice, but it’s neat to see what happens to the whisky when the smoky organic influence is composed of more landlocked decay as opposed to the oceanic saltwater-doused island peat.  Less briny and medicinal, as a rule, and often more farmy and floral.

After spending ample time with both of these expressions – the 21 and 25 – I’ll unequivocally state that they’re both special whiskies.  Variations on a theme well worth exploring.  Almost like good modal jazz.  It’s the subtleties and nuance that make the malt rewarding.  Enough pretentious natter.  Notes…

Nose:  Immediately appealing.  Sweet old peat, turning to fruits.  A beautiful restrained smokiness.  A slightly sweet and salty dough note…almost like marzipan actually.  Red Dino-saur candies and almost a bubblegum sweetness.  Berry scones.  Peach, poached pear and soft melon.  Faintly floral.  A touch of fennel.

Palate:  Nice, big delivery.  Slightly bittering.  Not as soft on the fruits right off, as I’d imagine, but a nice heft of bolder, darker fruit juice instead.  Smoke.  Tart candy.  Maybe cinnamon stick and just really dry wood.  A little less than I hoped for, but good.

Thoughts:  Better nose than palate, but a treat nevertheless.  Would have scored higher if the palate could live up to the olfactory promise.  Either way…delightful.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:38 am
Feb 242015
 

BenRiach 1977 Dark Rum Finish (Cask #1892) 102

49.2% abv

Score:  91/100

 

A vanity project whisky in some senses, and one I concede a personal bias to right up front.  This cask was chosen by one of my best mates, J Wheelock, for our local market here in Alberta (and beyond maybe…?).  Having made my concessions, I’ll now admit that I don’t feel the least bit guilty for scoring this one highly or touting it as a great dram.  It comes down to knowing that J has a great nose and palate, and that the malt itself lives up to all I’m looking for in the glass.  Those that know J (most of Canada) will likely concede that first point right up front too.

Alright.  Having established that, let’s dig into what makes this 35 year old BenRiach single cask release so special.

It’s not often you find whisky that has slept away a good chunk of its life in a former rum barrel.  Those few I have found that have done so have been sort of Franken-whiskies in some senses.  Not necessarily monsters, but not a real approximation of a cohesive dram either.  I went into this one expecting something similar, but with slightly more trepidation, as this is a 35 year old whisky we’re talking about.  And one from a personal favorite distillery.  Older BenRiach is stunning with simple bourbon barrel maturation, but rum?  Lowered expectations.

Happy to report that all cynicism was for naught.  This is a bloody good dram, and incredibly well integrated for such disparate spirits.  I’m not much of a rum guy, but these two flavours dance together here like long time partners, in lock step and with true grace.  The rum influence is real and it’s actually rather exciting.  Not overpowering; just bringing dark sugared notes to a sweet old malt.  As hinted at above, whiskies like this generally scare me, but this is the stuff of sweet dreams, not nightmares.  I’ve been fortunate enough to bang away at two bottles of this gem, but desperately need another to shelve for future days.

This dark rum barrel-matured BenRiach cask yielded a mere 220 bottles, so chances to grab one are very limited at this point.

Nose:  Deep, dark and complex.  Gorgeous light fruits in heavy, heavy syrup.  Marzipan.  Brown sugar.  Dusty grain and pressed flowers.  Rather spicy with a fleeting savoury note.  Toasted coconut.  Baked apple with caramelized sugars and spice.  Plenty of those ‘old whisky nuances’.  I LOVE this nose.  More and more, in fact, the longer I spend with it.

Palate:  Toasted oak top note meets dark caramel and old spices.  Strong oily vanilla notes.  A mishmash of dark fruits and dried tropical fruits.  Tastes very mature, without being over the top.  A fine balancing act that dries a little towards the back end.

Thoughts:  Softens the longer its left in the glass, and makes for a very meditative dram.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 

 Posted by at 8:03 am
Nov 072014
 

BenRiach 1999 Cask #40043269

55.6% abv

Score:  90.5/100

 

These are the drams I spend my time hunting for.  Whiskies that defy the number on the bottle, somehow fall under what I consider an acceptable budget threshold and manage to bring sexy back to the taste buds.  Unfortunately, in this age of so-called ‘mature malt shortages’, these types of drams are becoming more and more scarce.  The reality is that the premium levied on every additional year of maturity seems to be increasing exponentially faster than my salary is rising.

Much like playing out the grasshopper and the ant scenario (stashing away bottles now for the tough seasons ahead), the distilleries seen to be embracing an old adage themselves: make hay while the sun shines.  They are wringing every drop of profit out of each grain of barley.  It’s up to the discerning consumer to do their homework and suss out the gems.  Caveat emptor, and all that.

You can only imagine then, how much of a treat it is to discover a malt like this one.  A 13 year old single cask of BenRiach bottled at 55.6%, not colored and non chill-filtered.  And to make it even more of a homerun…it came home with me for about $75 Canadian. 

This is an absolute showcase of just what is possible when good spirit goes into an alpha bourbon barrel.  Proof positive that BenRiach, as we’ve long trumpeted, puts out great single casks.  Especially those of clean, mature bourbon barrels.  This is a great whisky at a very ripe age.  Credit to all involved.

Nose:  Touch of toasted coconut.  Touch of pineapple.  Vanilla cream.  Ginger and cinnamon.  Chewy red candy.  Danish pastries.  Toasted meringue.  Cranberry and white chocolate.  Clean warm suede.  Lightly toasted oak.

Palate:  Bold, but soft arrival explodes into flavours.  Grilled pineapple on wooden skewers.  Lemon bars.  Pepper.  Big bourbon notes.  Eucalyptus.  Dark vanilla.  White chocolate over apple slices.

Thoughts:   13 year old whisky has no business having notes like this.  The pseudo tropicals of pineapple and coconut are nuances that belong in much older whiskies from similar casking.  One of my absolute favorite sub-fifteen year old malts.  Glad I have one more bottle put aside for the future.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:13 am
Nov 212013
 

BenRiach 15 y.o. Tawny Port FinishBenRiach_15YO_Tawny_Port_Finish

46% abv

Score:  85/100

 

So…having just shared a few thoughts on what could almost be considered a ‘sister bottling’ to this release (a GlenDronach similarly finished in tawny port and also dished up at a respectable 15 years old), let’s take a peek at how BenRiach holds up when afforded the same treatment.

I refer to these releases as ‘sisters’ in that BenRiach and GlenDronach are both owned by The BenRiach company.  Having the distilleries elect to release such similarly engineered whiskies is actually quite a stroke of genius.  Particularly for those out there with a knowledge of, or affinity for, these two Speyside artisans.  It allows a rare opportunity to speculate on the merits of the finishing process (and choice of finishing casks) by direct contrast between a couple of familiar and high quality single malts.  Coincidentally or otherwise, these are actually two of my favorite distilleries, particularly in their more aged expressions.  (I find the ’70s were particularly good to both distilleries, with a bunch of great early to mid ’80s ‘Riachs also being rather exceptional).

Now that I’ve highlighted the relationship between distilleries, I should note that the whiskies produced therein are very much unique fingerprints.  BenRiach is a distillery with much less of a bent towards the heavily-sherried than GlenDronach, and possibly a more adventurous approach to single malt alchemy.  The backbone of the malt seems quite sweet and clean in all of the expressions I’ve tried, irrespective of how heavily ‘made up’ some of the individual releases may be (Curiositas, Authenticus, Solstice, etc).  Perhaps that’s what makes the spirit seem so malleable and succesful in so many of its guises. 

This dram was tasted side by side with the afore-mentioned GlenDronach Tawny and absolutely took the higher marks.  The profile is a little broader and more balanced.  Seems a touch sweet for my liking, but all of the individual notes are quite exceptional.  Neat whisky.

Nose:  Pepper and jam.  Chewy white nougat candy (Roman Nougat bars with fruit gums and all).  Chocolate fudge.  Toasted coconut with tangy pineapple.  Dusting of cinnamon.  Damp tobacco.  Notes much like a strawberry perfume.  A bit of grape.  Very sweet.  Great profile, but maybe the sweetness needs to be dialed back from 10 to 6.

Palate:  Grape skins.  Dark dried fruit tannins.  Oak notes.  A bit of chocolate orange and old ginger.  Much less on the palate than the nose.  Coffee and dark chocolate.  Even some milk chocolate.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  BenRiach

 Posted by at 6:58 am
Jul 302013
 

BenRiach 1983 Cask #298 (KWM Exclusive)166

44.2% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Oh, wow.  Here we go again.  Nice to see that some of the magic this distillery captured in the ’70s is spilling over into the ’80s.  As those older expressions become more and more scarce, seeing this transferrance of quality bodes well for future ‘well-aged’ malts to come from BenRiach.

This 1983, exclusive to Calgary’s Kensington Wine Market, is a prime example.  Closing in on 30 years old, this whisky is a fruit bomb in a bottle.  Quite frankly, I’m a little surprised to see such a bevy of tropical notes coming out of this decade.  This is a characteristic I’ve most closely associated with a past age culminating primarily in the 1970s.  Goes to show that good spirit in good wood = great whisky.

In a recent whisky club event, this one went head-to-head with eight other rather exceptional BenRiach single casks and, at the end, was one of the overwhelming favorites, beating out older whiskies and showing aruably the greatest cask influence.  Good cask selection from the fine folk at KWM.

In the photo above, this release is the fourth from the left.

Nose:  Orange is the primary fruit, followed by pineapple, but there’s a Carmen Miranda fruit hat worth of sweetness here.  Notes of Cinnzeo cinnamon buns.  Honeydew and cantaloupe.  The creamiest of high quality French vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel.  Touch of cherry too, much like a topping for the afore-mentioned sundae.  A mate mentioned maple syrup in his tasting notes, and I can see it.  A beautifully mature and balanced nose.

Palate:  Fruit salad in syrup.  The melons again.  A touch of cinnamon here too with a bit of oak (kinda like those cinnamon toothpicks).  Dulce de leche.  Coconut and pineapple with a little pepper.  Delicate, but still assertive.  DO NOT ADD WATER.

Closing thoughts…

Let me be crude for a moment:  This is a fucking great price for this whisky.  Go see Andrew down at Kensington Wine Market for one of these before they’re gone.  I know that at this point there are only a couple dozen left out of a total 233 bottles.  $200 for this bottle is an absolute steal.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:14 am