BenRiach 16yo

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.

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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.

Nose

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.

Palate

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.

Finish

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.

Sláinte

Gary

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Balblair 99 Vintage (2nd Release)

Today’s dram is one that I haven’t enjoyed in quite a while, I had a bottle but sadly reached the bottom of it last year and didn’t get round to replacing it, but finally I have and my goodness I have no idea why it took me so long to do so! It’s another vintage release from my favourite distillery, it is the Balblair 99 (2nd release).

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Ever since I first tried Balblair at an Inverhouse tasting, in the Royal Mile Whisky shop, I have always had at least one bottle on my shelf – usually more (I currently have 5 I believe!) – and I have yet to find a vintage that I didn’t enjoy. It pains me to say that despite Balblair being my favourite distillery I still haven’t been up to see the distillery itself, but I am making it my mission for 2017 that I will get up there! I reviewed the 05 vintage a few months ago which you can see here, where I also talk about the distillery, but let’s get straight into the good bit.

First released mid 2014 the 99 vintage replaced the 97, and uses a combination of both American and Spanish oak, unlike the 05 release which is solely American, and there is a huge difference coming through as a result. The bottle I am tasting here is the 2nd release of this vintage, the second batch to be bottled so it is slightly different to the first, bottled in 2016, so let’s see what we get.

Nose

Classic Balblair sweetness with butterscotch and apples upfront the on the nose, with a lot more alcohol than I remember, this subsides quite quickly though as the dram settles in the glass. There is quite a lot of citrus too, grapefruit rind and lemon oil. It’s quite light and youthful but there are heavier notes which give away its age with leather, cedar wood and a rich earthiness too, all of those notes that remind me of being in a dunnage warehouse. Sweetness begins to cut through the earthiness bringing manuka honey and again that butterscotch note forward as well as a hint of sherried fruits. Then at the last a delicate peppery spice which is joined by an array of summery smells with sweet malt, red berries, hay and a summers meadow (fresh and floral with lots of pollen, wild flowers and grass).

Palate

A big and powerful arrival, wow, there is just a big smack of flavour. Fizzy citrus dances along the edges of the tongue as cinder toffee, slightly burnt caramel and warming spice fill the mouth. Through the development the fizzy character dies off and there is just wave after wave of flavour, citrus, sherry, honey in an ever sweetening palate. It has a big cereal character too with sweet malt, toasted oats and freshly baked Rye bread. The rye spice is accompanied by black pepper and a mustard seed ‘hotness’, then a curl of wood smoke at the last which is intertwined with a hint if cinnamon. Delicious.

Finish

Rich, dark chocolate coated raisins and milky coffee start the finish. It is silky and smooth yet intensely flavourful. Sweet dried apple rings and an earthy sweetness just goes on and on for what seems like an age. The finish gets increasingly grassy and hay-like as time goes on, and is joined by a slight copper/metallic note.

I really don’t know why it took me so long to replace this bottle; it is a simply awesome dram and is incredible value for money, usually coming in at around the £55-60 mark. I think this is going to be my ‘summer dram’ this year. I feel that the 99 is a great middle ground for Balblair, not only pricewise but flavourwise within their range too. The 05 is fresh, light and youth, with lots of American oak sweetness, while the 90 is a sherried delight. What a well-balanced and elegant dram this is!

Sláinte

Gary