Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Review / Benriach Malting Season (First Edition)

This whisky is a very special new limited edition from the innovative Speyside distillery of Benriach. The Benriach Malting Season is the first in over a century that uses barley malted exclusively at the distillery using the traditional floor maltings that were restored in 2012. This First Edition has seen the spirit produced from the floor malted barley then matured in ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks. There are 23 casks in total and they were married together by Dr. Rachel Barrie, the Master Blender for Benriach, to create the final product. This inaugural release used a variety of barley called concerto. Benriach is one of only two distilleries in Speyside to have an operational floor malting. Balvenie is the other.

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. 
"Benriach is one of only seven distilleries in Scotland to continue the traditional practice of floor malting. Distilling spirit from barley malted here on site is a true labour of love and something we are passionate about as an ode to our creative whisky making heritage." 
Stewart Buchanan - Global Brand Ambassador at Benriach.
The Benriach Malting Season First Edition is bottled at 48.7% ABV and is both natural colour and non chill-filtered. There are just 6,672 bottles, all of which were distilled and filled to cask in November 2012. It is available in selected specialist retailers in selected global markets and will cost £99/ $138 US per bottle. 
Our tasting notes
The colour is pale gold and the nose is fragrant with an immediate fruity and sweet aroma. Rising first are green apple and vanilla with a hint of brown sugar and baking spice. The combination made us think of tarte tatin and apple based patisserie. Then come further aromas of milk chocolate, honey, breakfast cereal bars and a hint of almond.

On the palate this whisky has a creamy and almost velvety feel with the fruity and sweet notes again to the fore. The green apple has evolved to become baked apple and the brown sugar and baking spice a spiced caramel sauce over the top. The marriage is delicious. Then comes notes of custard infused with vanilla pod/seeds, cocoa powder and malted cereal biscuit. This biscuit-like quality becomes more nutty and influential with time (think of toasted almond and walnut). Further depth, compexity and structure is added with some notes of honey, milk chocolate and pears poached in white wine. Late oak and another pinch of baking spice (especially cinnamon with a a suggestion of white pepper) accentuate these. One last hit of earthy cereals send you onwards.

The finish is of decent length and again begins with the prominent green fruit and sweet confected characteristics. These begin to fade and this allows the oak and baking spices through. But it is the earthy and gripping cereal notes that really shine through superbly now to give everything a lovely bittersweet edge.

What's the verdict?

This is a delicious new whisky from Benriach, an innovative yet seemingly underrated distillery. We have always liked what they do there and the way they manage their controlled experimentation. This floor malting aspect is now yet another aspect to add into the mix. It will be interesting to see how these Malting Season whiskies develop over the coming years as their own floor malted stock increases in age. 
This First Edition shows huge promise and has plenty going on considering its relatively young age. The only negative is that it may be a touch expensive for what it is, but then you are paying for the fact that it is a rarity amongst Scotch whiskies. Somewhere around the £70-75 mark would seem about right to us.

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