In my last review, of the Balblair 99 Vintage, I said that that was going to be my ‘summer dram’ for 2017, but this is certainly a contender for the top spot! I will be reviewing a delightful little dram from Speyside this time, from the BenRiach Distillery, the 16yo.
BenRiach is a Speyside distillery, located just south of Elgin, and was founded like so many in the 1890’s with the whisky boom at that time. Sadly though BenRiach has had somewhat of a sad past, only 2 years after it was completed it was mothballed, the result of the Pattison crash. When the whisky industry collapsed so did the fortunes of many whisky companies and distilleries and BenRiach was one of that number. It would remain closed for the next 65 years. Most distilleries in this situation would have been demolished but fortunately BenRiach’s sister distillery and neighbour, Longmorn, had a hungry requirement for malt, and so BenRiach was saved as a result of its malting floor! It has changed hands several times since it recommenced production, including a very successful spell under Billy Walker’s stewardship, and is now owned by Brown Foreman. Hopefully this means this distillery will remain open from now on, and going by the quality of what it is producing that is almost a certainty! Anyway, let’s get on with the tasting. Today we are having a look at the BenRiach 16yo, presented at 43% it comes in at around £55 per 70cl bottle generally, which is pretty reasonable. I couldn’t find much in the way of maturation information, if anyone knows then please do let me know, but I would have to guess a combination of refill casks, manly bourbon barrels but with a few refill sherry butts thrown in for good measure. Let’s see what we get.
To me on the nose this represents what I would consider to be a classic Speyside; sweet, floral and fruity. Upfront there are apples, red apple peel and sticky apple sauce, bruised conference pears and a suggestion of stewed fruits in the background. Toffee, honey and powdered sugar begin moving the fruitiness of the nose to more earthy and rich notes of dunnage warehousing with aged oak, a slight dusty/pencil shaving/sawdust type aroma and that smell of the angels share you get when you are in the bonded warehouse, and a slightly peppermint-like menthol aroma too. It’s quite sharp on the nose with the alcohol showing itself, not too overpowering, but it’s definitely there, and is joined by notes of pear drops and cumin.
This has a fizzy and sweet arrival with again apples, and a good amount of citrus, orange peel, and maybe a touch of green banana. Sweet malt with a wisp of smoke leads the development through an array of spices with vanilla and a touch of nutmeg, and some alcohol prickle. Toffee apple and Scottish tablet keep the sweetness rolling as more woodiness takes hold making the palate more drying and astringent. All backed up by an earthy undertone with leather and tobacco leaf.
Quite a woody and spicy start to the finish with cumin again and a delicate clove-like spice. Drying malt and tannic woodiness dominate here with flashes of dried orange peels and raisins every now and again and a subtle lick of smoke at the last.
This is a big old toffee apple of a dram and I love it…well…a toffee apple that has been dropped in the dirt, but in a good way, the earthy, dunnage-like sense that comes with this adds a huge amount of depth and complexity, lifting it above a lot of similarly placed whiskies. If you haven’t tried this dram then I would highly recommend it, BenRiach is a whisky which maintains a consistently high level of standard and this is certainly no exception. Especially for £55.