Thursday, March 8, 2018

Review - BenRiach 21 years old

This whisky is a new 21 years old expression of the 'classic' unpeated single malt from the innovative Speyside distillery of BenRiach. The release sees an unconventional selection of four cask types - ex-bourbon, ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry, ex-red wine and ex-virgin oak - used to create the whisky. These have been selected and married by Rachel Barrie, the Master Blender at BenRiach, and is one of her first creations since joining in early 2017.

The BenRiach distillery is located two miles south of the city of Elgin and was founded by John Duff in 1898. He owned the Longmorn distillery and built BenRiach on the opposite side of a neighbouring field. The distillery has long been seen as experimental - it is affectionately nicknamed 'The Lab'. This is continued today with an innovative cask maturation programme and the production of three styles of single malt - classic double distillation, peated and rare triple distillation.

BenRiach is also one of only two Speyside distilleries to have an operational traditional floor maltings (Balvenie being the other) and they produce some of the malt used in production there, especially the peated malt. BenRiach is currently owned by Brown-Forman, who took over in mid-2016, and has an annual production capacity of 1.1 million litres.

"At BenRiach we have developed a reputation for innovative maturation using an eclectic mix of cask types. The 21 year old is the next step on this innovative journey, bringing together four eclectic casks in one single malt."
Rachel Barrie. 

The BenRiach 21 years old is bottled at 46% ABV, is non chill-filtered and of natural colour. It is available through selected specialist whisky retailers and a bottle will cost £125. A peated version of the 21 years old will also be released imminently to sit alongside this classic expression.

Our tasting notes
The colour is light golden yellow and the nose has an immediate freshness and vibrancy that belies its age. There are initial aromas of green apple, vanilla and stoned fruit such as peach and apricot. Then come further aromas of marshmallow, delicate wood spices, candied lemon and sultana. Hints of golden syrup, clove, menthol and gingerbread are also evident.

On the palate this whisky again has a freshness and vibrancy that instantly grips the tastebuds. The green apple and candied lemon show first, before being joined by bittersweet malted barley and vanilla notes. The mouth feel begins to soften and the sweetness begins to build - think of honey, over ripe peach, marshmallow and a hint of candyfloss also. Some traditional dried fruits (especially raisin and sultana) linger in the background and a warming note of earthy and woody spices increase. These are most reminiscent of cinnamon, all-spice, freshly sawn oak, ginger and the merest hint of dried tobacco.

The finish is of decent length and it is the warming and earthy wood spices that aid this length. The sweet and fruity notes fade to let them play amongst themselves. The finish becomes pleasantly dry as a result with the malt and ginger particularly coming to the fore.

What's the verdict?
The BenRiach 21 years old does not initially feel like a whisky the age that it is. Some may struggle as a result, but it then begins to grow on you with each sip and you begin to see the depth and quality. We had a similar feeling a couple of times when tasting light and fresh examples of older whiskies, such as the Glenfiddich 26 years old for example.

This 21 years old is a proper grown-up whisky that demands patience, persisitence and to be revisited. It is classy and shows how subtle, yet complex, an older whisky can be with sympathetic and creative casking. This whisky has it in abundance.