Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Review / Benriach Smoke Season

This whisky is a limited edition single malt that celebrates the 50-year heritage of producing peated spirit at the innovative Speyside distillery of Benriach. The Benriach Smoke Season is a small batch release designed to showcase the spirit that uses malt peated using Highland peat, which has been distilled for a short period each year since the early 1970s and remains a rare practice for a Speyside distillery. It has been created by Dr. Rachel Barrie, the Master Blender for Benriach, and features peated spirit matured in toasted virgin American oak casks and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. It is said to be the most intensely peated Benriach ever released. 

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 early 1970s and has been maintained each year since. In addition to double distillation, triple distillation is also practiced. This first occured in the late 1990s. The current owners are Brown-Forman and the annual capacity is just over one million litres. 
"Smoke Season is a special time of year in the distillery calendar and this new addition gives the opportunity to discover the sweet and smoky character of Benriach from Speyside, a whisky-making region rarely associated with peated malt." 
Dr. Rachel Barrie. 
The Benriach Smoke Season is bottled at the cask strength of 52.8% ABV and is both non chill-filtered and of natural colour. It will be available in worldwide markets from early March and then the USA in June. A bottle will cost £53/ $75 US. 
Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose is immediately sweet, peaty and malty. Fresh aromas of crisp green apple are surrounded by heather honey, vanilla and lemon drizzle cake, plus distinct earthy malted cereals and sweet, gentle peat smoke. This has an earthy, ashy and slightly floral fragrance to it. There is also a crack of pepper and hint of marshmallow.

On the palate this whisky has an initial tang of lemon zest and crisp apple (and maybe a pinch of white pepper) before the sweetness that was so prominent on the nose begins to kick in. This sweetness is driven by sumptuous heather honey and a blob of golden syrup, followed by notes of white chocolate and that hint of marshmallow again. 
Then the cereals and smoky elements really get to work - the earthy malt has a distinct and mouthwatering bittersweetness, and this gives a lovely balance. This has an element of oat cookies or malted breakfast cereal to it. The peat smoke is soft, gentle and licks its way around all of the other characteristics. It seems to accentuate each one as it does so. The smoke has an ashy, mossy and slightly fern-like quality to it, almost vegetal and sweet.

The finish is long and warming. The tangy notes go quickly but the sweeter and cereal characteristics linger well before fading. This leaves the sweet peat smoke and a pinch of warming wood spices mixed with white pepper to push the finish to even greater lengths. Very nice.
What's the verdict?
Benriach Smoke Season has elevated the peated offering from the Speyside distillery to a new and punchier level. The core range includes smoky whiskies alongside the more classic Speyside spirit, but here it is allowed to shine in its own right. This is a limited edition, although the exact number of bottles is not revealed, so we do not think the price is too bad either. 
This is especially true when you consider that peated single malts from Speyside are increasing in number, but still comparatively rare. What is even rarer is the fact that there were only a couple of distilleries producing it way back in the early 1970s - Benriach was one and the now-closed Caperdonich the only other to do it consistently. Delicious and a must-try for smoky whisky fans.

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