Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Review - Benriach The Twenty One

This whisky forms part of the newly revamped core range of single malts from the Speyside distillery of Benriach, which is designed to showcase Benriach's eclectic range of casks from around the world (these come from 20 different origins) and the three different spirit styles that are produced there - classic Speyside, peated Speyside (produced for only 5-6 weeks each year) and triple distilled (produced for just 1-2 weeks each year). The range has been entirely created by Dr. Rachel Barrie, the Master Blender for Benriach. The Twenty One combines both classic and peated malts together and features four cask types - ex-bourbon, ex-red wine, ex-sherry and virgin oak.

In addition to The Twenty One the range also features two entry level 10 year old expressions - The Original Ten and The Smoky Ten, of which one uses the classic Benriach spirit and the other their peated spirit. There are also two 12 years old bottlings - The Twelve and The Smoky Twelve, again one classic and one peated. Then at this higher end there are age statements released at 25 and 30 years of age. All feature a marriage of at least three cask types, and in some cases four. 

The Benriach distillery was founded in 1898 by John Duff and is located just south of Elgin. Following a long period of closure Benriach re-opened in the mid-1960s and became well known for producing high quality single malt to be used in blending. The practice of producing peated malt began in 1972 and has been maintained each year since. This short period is called the 'smoke season'. Triple distillation was first practiced in the late-1990s. The current owners are Brown-Forman and the annual capacity is just over one million litres. 

All the whiskies are released in new packaging and further limited editions are due to be announced later this year and early next. Benriach The Twenty One is bottled at 46% ABV and is both non chill-filtered and of natural colour. It will be available worldwide from specialist whisky and luxury retailers. A bottle will cost £145/ $189 US. 

Our tasting notes

The colour is deep gold with a hint of amber and the nose has a welcoming richness, spiciness and warmth. Aromas of caramel, toffee and a selection of dried fruits (think of raisin, sultana, apple, candied orange and apricot) drift out of the glass. These are backed up by cocoa, baking spices and a hint of toasted nuts and soft, elegant peat smoke.

On the palate this whisky continues the richness from the nose and feels viscous and mouth coating. Notes of caramel and heather honey kick things off and these are quickly joined by the various dried fruits from the nose - the green apple, raisin and apricot are particularly influential now. These are later accentuated by notes of hints of caramelised fresh fruit including pear and pineapple. Underlying wood and baking spices give plenty of structure and complexity - think of toasted oak, cinnamon and mace with a pinch of white pepper and clove. The layers keep on coming with the gentle sweet smoke appearing later and this seems to make the sweet elements sweeter and the spicy elements spicier. Further late hints of hay, cocoa powder and walnut round things off.

The finish is long and increasingly savoury, especially once the sweet and fruity notes begin to fade. This allows a distinct malty note and the wood spices to shine through. It also allows the elegant smoke to shine through and this wraps around the remaining notes with stunning effect. Delicious.

What's the verdict?

This is yet another lovely new whisky in the revamped range from Benriach. The distillery has always seemed somewhat under rated to us and this new range seems to be showing off the controlled innovation that has been going on there since the 1970s. 

This heritage is shown here, both with the selection of casks and the use of a percentage of peated malt in the final recipe. Both the use of unorthadox casks and production of peated whisky in Speyside were much rarer 21 years ago than they are now. The Twenty One is a delicious whisky that offeres plenty and has a particularly enjoyable and lingering finish.

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