Review: Benriach Is Challenging Your Ideas of Peated Whisky
Time and cask selection reshape the smoke in these three new expressions
What we’re drinking: Benriach Twenty One, Twenty Five and Thirty Year Old single malts
Where it’s from: Benriach is a Speyside distillery founded in 1898 that went dormant for a while, came back strong and has now been thriving under the leadership of Master Distiller Rachel Barrie. Most of their expressions are released in both peated and unpeated variations. That said, while all three of these releases are joining Benriach’s core range, they all feature an element of smoke.
Why we’re drinking this: Benriach’s Rachel Barrie was our Distiller/Blender of the Year and the brand’s The Smoky Ten release was our favorite Scotch of 2020, so we weren’t going to pass up a chance to test out some ultra-premium offerings. Plus, as Benriach global brand ambassador Stewart Buchanan reminded us, “You don’t often get peated whiskies this old.”
Benriach describes the new releases as “matured in a diverse selection of highly distinctive oak casks and combined with complex layers of refined and mellow smoke.” All of the expressions feature an ABV of 46%.
The 21 Year is a new release; the 25 and 30 Year expressions feature a new bottle look and revised cask maturations. Essentially, you’ll recognize the flavor profile of Benriach here, but it’s this something “new.”
Some more background on those maturations:
The Twenty One – Matured in ex-bourbon, Sherry, virgin oak and red wine casks
The Twenty Five – Matured in ex-bourbon, Sherry, virgin oak and Madeira wine casks
The Thirty – Matured in ex-bourbon, Sherry, virgin oak and Port casks
How they taste: The combination of fruitiness and a gentle smoke, along with the character of the unique barrel maturations, makes these three all outstanding and yet very distinct. If you like Benriach and you like peat (but not in an overpowering sense), these are a gold standard for the brand.
Interestingly, the Twenty One was my favorite. Buchanan described this as elegant, sophisticated and playful. I learn toward the third adjective here: This is an ideal balance of smoky (more pine/forest smoke than Islay peat) yet fruity, with the red wine casks really bringing out a sweet berry/jammy element. On repeated sips, the smoke comes out a bit more … or add a drop of water to bring that to the forefront.
The Twenty Five featured notes of apricot, cinnamon, orange and a bit of pepper. It’s a bit more fruit than spice, and it lingers a little more on the palate. And The Thirty offers stewed plums, chocolate and a definite cherry note. The smoke and spice is a little more forthcoming here.
Fun fact: Over 120 years since it was established, Benriach is expected to unveil its first official visitor center to the public later this year.
Where to buy it: The bottles, at $200, $360 and $740 respectively, are just rolling out nationwide now, but you can use Benriach’s search tool to see if it’s being stocked near you.
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