Friday, September 24, 2010

New releases ... Benriach 16 years old Claret finish

benriach 16 years old claret finishAn independent distillery
Benriach (pronounced ben-ree-ack) is a distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland and is located approximately 3 miles to the south of the city of Elgin. The distillery was founded in 1897 by John Duff & Co and its early history was very short lived – Benriach was closed in 1903 and not reopened until 1965. It was closed again in 2002 and mothballed (a procedure where a distillery is taken out of operation but left intact and ready to go, when required). In 2004, an independent group named the Benriach Distillery Company took over the distillery and all of its maturing stock. This group was headed by Billy Walker, a former director of Burn Stewart Distillers. This makes Benriach one of the few distilleries in Scotland that is currently independently owned. The distillery has a production capacity of 2.8 million litres per year, with most being released as single malts.

A centre for innovation
Benriach has one of the most innovative ranges of any Scottish distillery - the expansive regular range is matured in ex-bourbon casks, with an additional range of different casks finished whiskies and two smoky ones (they make peaty whisky at Benriach for roughly three weeks every year, which is an unusual practice for a Speyside distillery). This 16 years old Claret finish is part of a new trilogy of limited edition whiskies that have been finished in ex-wine casks. There will only be 4734 bottles available from specialist whisky retailers for between £40-50, depending on where you find it. This whisky has been maturing for most of the time in an ex-bourbon cask before transferring for just under a year to an ex-Claret red wine cask. The other two are both 17 years of age, with one finished in a Burgundy red wine cask and the other in a Rioja red wine cask. The three whiskies will all be released at 46% ABV.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this whisky is golden with a hint of amber and the nose is rich,expressive and fragrant. There is immediate obvious vanilla, oak and dried fruits (think of sultanas, raisins and apple), followed by rich caramel, honey and cereal grains. More subtle notes come through with time - oranges (the zest especially) and wood spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). The complexity of the nose carries through to the palate, which is buttery, silky and sweet to start with - think of dried fruit, caramel, vanilla, cereals, orange marmalade, wood spices and coconut - before becoming more spicy (think of the cinnamon and nutmeg again, with a hint of clove). The richness and sweetness is complimented by the spiciness and a hint of tannic red fruit (think of prunes and more raisins). The finish is long, spicy with a hint of white pepper and nutmeg becoming more prominent and vibrant, which combats a lovely buttery vanilla note. There is a distinct sweet brown sugary note that then becomes quite orange-like, before becoming dry, woody and tannic. The addition of water softens the spices with some honeyed sweetness and dried grass (think of hay) and oatcakes characters coming out.

What's the verdict?
Another lovely example of a cask finished Benriach. This one is reminiscent of the earlier Gaja Barolo finish that we sampled (and loved so much that we purchased one!), but not as spicy. This whisky also offers great value for money for its age and relative rarity. We can now not wait to try the others in the range, if we get the chance. If they are as good as many of Benriach's recent wine cask finished whiskies, then it will be worth the wait! A terrific dram with plenty of depth, balance and character.

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