Birnie Moss is a single malt whisky that is released by the Benriach distillery. Benriach is an innovative distillery based in the central Speyside region, to the south of the city of Elgin. It is one of Scotland's few independently owned whisky distilleries having been taken over by the Benriach Distillery Company in 2004. They have also acquired Glendronach, another Speyside distillery, in 2008. Benriach distillery was originally founded in 1897 and has a current production capacity of 2.5 million litres per year.
Benriach release a traditional Speyside style core range that are predominantly matured in ex-bourbon casks. However, they also release another ever expanding range of whiskies that are finished in different wine casks or are made with peated malt or, in some cases, both. These two practices, especially using peated malt, are unusual for a Speyside distillery. Other Speyside or Highland distilleries are starting to produce smoky whisky but Benriach's previous owners had the foresight to start doing this in the mid 1970s and now the Benriach Distillery Company are continuing the tradition. They distil peaty spirit for roughly one month of the year and then switch production to their regular non peated spirit.
Birnie Moss is part of this peaty tradition and represents the first peated whisky that has been produced and released by the Benriach Distillery Company. They release other peaty whiskies, namely the Curiositas 10 years old, the Authenticas 21 years old and the wine cask finished range, but these are all made up from old stock that they discovered in the warehouse when they took over. Birnie Moss was first released this Summer and is approximately four years of age, has a peating level of 35ppm (phenols per million, the scale for measuring the amount of peat absorbed into malted barley) and is bottled at 48% ABV. A bottle should cost £27-30 from specialist whisky retailers.
The colour is very pale and straw-like. The nose is potent with an initial hit of pungent sweet peat smoke (think of damp moss and earth) and then vanilla, some citrus (imagine lemon zest) and crisp fresh green fruit (pears, apples and perhaps a hint of melon). On the palate, the young alcohol is quite prickly although this soon dies away with the smoke becoming the predominant feature. The whisky feels light, spicy and vibrant - the smokiness seems a bit more like coal smoke here, rather than earthy or mossy. Through this smoke other elements battle to get noticed - that lovely vanilla is there again, as is the citrus and green fruits. There is also a distinct sweet malty cereal note and some more fruit, although this is more tropical in nature and is reminiscent of dried mango or apricot. The finish is sweet, smoky and a touch fiery (think of the heat from a red chilli). The addition of water tames the young alcohol and flattens the smokiness a little. This allows more sweet vanilla, cereals and fruit notes to come through. A decent dram that shows much potential while not being the finished article. Worth a try but it will be interesting to see how subsequent older versions of Birnie Moss will mature.