Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New release - Benriach 17 years old Virgin American Oak Finish

The award winning Speyside distillery of Benriach (pronounced ben-ree-ack) has teamed up with The Whisky Shop, the UK's largest whisky retail chain, to release an exclusive bottling.  This 17 years old whisky has been crafted from just four single casks, which were all filled on the 4th May 1995. The four were married together exclusively for the chain.  Each cask was transferred to virgin American oak casks (ie - fresh oak casks which have not previously held whisky) for a short 'finishing' time before this marrying.

In a unique twist, the final whisky was chosen by a selected group of The Whisky Shop's customers in the form of a panel of W Club members (the W Club is The Whisky Shop's own private members club for customers). To join or for details on how to join, visit one of their 21 stores or  It has been at the natural cask strength of 53.1% ABV and is retailing in The Whisky Shop's stores or via for £73.99.

Benriach is a small independently owned distillery which is located in the Speyside region of Scotland, just to the south of the city of Elgin.  It was founded in 1897 by John Duff & Co, who built it to help with production at the adjacent Longmorn distillery.  They named it (rather unimaginatively) Longmorn 2. The distillery is currently owned by the Benriach Distillery Company, who took control from previous owners Pernod Ricard in 2004.  The distillery had been closed for a few years but the company invested heavily and the Benriach single malt brand has since gone from strength to strength, winning countless awards.  The annual production capacity is approximately 1.8 million litres.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a vibrant golden yellow and the nose is immediately intense and spicy.  There are powerful aromas of vanilla, freshly sawn oak, coconut oil, burnt brown sugar and plenty of wood spices (think of cinnamon bark, nutmeg and cedarwood).  Underneath are softer aromas of honey, stewed apple, toffee, toasted almonds and a whiff of spiced orange.  It is very oaky and has a bourbon-like quality.

On the palate, this whisky is equally as intense as on the nose. The drying wood spices instantly grip the taste buds and hang on - think again of coconut, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Other notes start to penetrate and add some sweetness and balance.  These include a lovely honey-like characteristic, which is joined by further notes of vanilla, crumbly brown sugar and a hint of tangy spiced orange zest.  With time the apple note from the nose can be detected, although now it is more reminiscent of dried apple. The finish is long, intense and drying with plenty of the woody notes and accompanying spices on show. This gives the whisky a mouth watering quality with some creamed coconut, honey and that hint of orange coming through right at the end.

With a few drops of water, the whisky instantly feels creamier, softer and rounder in the mouth.  The intense spices are dampened and the other notes are allowed to flourish, while maintaining their own intensity.  An interesting floral note is also detected - imagine something like honeysuckle.

What's the verdict?
This whisky is very interesting but throws up some challenges. The intensity is clearly driven by the combination of the virgin oak casks and the high alcohol strength.  This will mean that it may not be to everyone's taste.  However with water it becomes more approachable and has greater balance, as some of the subtle aromas and flavours are allowed to shine.  We would recommend adding water and it can take quite a lot, while still maintain its intensity and interest.

We also like the idea of allowing customers/whisky enthusiasts to select a whisky for release - naturally this is potentially fraught with danger or problems for the retailer, but the panel have not made a bad start with this Benriach.  We look forward to the next such release from them ...

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