BenRiach 16-Year-Old (Ex-Bourbon Cask) Review
BenRiach 16-Year-Old, 43% abv. NIS 369 from “Yeinot VeTaamim” (“Wine & Flavors”) Whisky shop, Ramat Gan.
BenRiach Speyside distillery is found in the north of the Speyside region 3.7 miles south of the town of Elgin along the beautifully scenic A941.
|BenRiach to Elgin Road|
Had I written this review a few months ago I could have told you a wonderful fairy-tale story of a group of whisky enthusiast businessmen who together saw a vision and following their dreams to buy the dilapidated and mothballed BenRiach Speyside distillery, forming an independent Scotch whisky company called the BenRiach Whisky company in 2002 and backed by the Royal Bank of Scotland. In 2004 they succeeded in purchasing the distillery and the project began.
Previous to this the distillery had been handed around various multinational spirits companies and before that, had actually been closed for an unbelievable 65 years between 1900 and 1965. The locals could not believe when this ruin of a distillery reopened and continued tottering on the edge of final closure and inevitable demolition for decades, until that fateful year in 2004.
After their miracle like “mechayei HaMeitiv” (resurrection from the dead) revival of BenRiach they bought up a further two mothballed distilleries in 2013, namely Glendronach Eastern Highlands distillery and Glenglassaugh Aberdeenshire distillery, proceeding to turn them along with their first child, BenRiach, into iconic super premium brands, staunchly independent and producing fantastic and varied Scotch Single Malt whisky as it is supposed to be without the pressure of interfering multinational brand marketing breathing down their necks. Employing directly over 200 Scottish workers as well as using resources from many Scottish businesses they were a true success story to be proud of.
|Yeeha! Knock them shots back.|
Alas, I come to write this review too late as the latest news is that the owners have just sold the three brands to the US giant Kentucky-based Brown-Forman, better known by their major brand “Jack Daniel’s”. Such is life!
We don’t know what the new owners will do with these distilleries and their wonderful whisky but for now, there are still plenty of expressions from the previous owners to enjoy with the full range of peat PPM levels and every oak cask type under the sun to choose from. This 16 Year Old slightly peated, Ex-Bourbon matured is but one of them.
Almost all BenRiach expressions come in a standard cardboard and tin canister with minimalist artwork and graphics and unfortunately, little information.
The expression I am reviewing here is the older 16-Year-Old bottling from 2015 with the white background and mauve graphics and artwork. This came in two versions. The 40% abv and the slightly higher 43% abv. I have the 43% version. There is a new bottling out now with all mauve background and silver graphics. It is also bottled at 43% abv and I am led to believe that it is of the same quality as this slightly older bottling.
The front tells you that the whisky was matured for 16 years. The back tells you it is made from lightly peated malted barley. There is a round stamp on the side saying “BenRiach Floor Maltings” which implies the barley was malted at their own distillery malting floors using the pre-Industrial traditional floor malting methods instead of in malting factories using modern drum machines.
The water source is the Burnside springs.
It describes the whisky as “This smooth single malt has an elegant full taste and aroma that captures fruity floral notes, with fascinating overtones of honey, vanilla, spices, toffee and apples”.
It is bottled at 43% abv with no mention of chill filtering, E150a colouring or cask type used.
The pale golden yellow colour clearly indicates a predominance of Ex-Bourbon casks but I can’t help noticing a slight orangy tinge indicating that perhaps they added a touch of E150a caramel colouring?
Putting the BenRiach 16 to my nose brought an immediate alcohol heat punch. Being that it is bottled at only 43% abv this was quite remarkable.
I added a few drops of water and waited a few minutes and tried again. Wow! Wow and Wow again! Those few drops of H2O had completely transformed the whisky. What I was getting was a luscious, multi-layered robust body of aromas with a firm solid base to it. How was this achieved?
Almost all Speyside whiskies are not peated at all as has been the Speyside and Highlands style since the 1820s. The barley is dried using gas or electric dryers producing the classic gentle fruity sweet and floral Speyside characteristics we all recognise. The exceptions are the novelty expressions where the Speyside distilleries produce a limited amount of spirit every year which has been distilled with barley, peated with mainland peat to exaggerated high levels of 50 PPM plus in order that comparisons will be made with the Islay peat monsters. Very lightly peated Speysides are virtually unheard of so why have BenRiach gone to the trouble to do this when most casual drinkers will never know?
When you put this whisky to your nose you immediately know the reason. It is those tiny amount of phenols that acts like a rapper giving this whisky such an impressively complex body able to contain and (with a drop of water) expose so many aroma notes.
This is a whisky where smelling is an integral and essential part of the whole experience. I advise you to take your time and please don’t rush to the drinking.
That perfectly balanced weight is absurdly enjoyable. A homemade crumble fruit desert. The crumble aromas come first which consists of roasted flour, melted butter and demerara sugar forming a gooey toffee glaze. Under this is the fruit. Definite fresh peaches and apples - Yellow and green apples. Perhaps some tart pears as well. Fresh Orchard smells. Inside the fruit is an unmistakable mixture of spices which include cinnamon and English cake mixed spice. The barley, fruit and spice notes are perfectly balanced with no one element dominating. As your nose becomes accustomed to the fruitiness you begin to discover subtler floral nectar notes hiding in the background with just a mere hint of smoke from a burning field a mile away being carried in the wind. Most delightful. This is all brought to you by the slightly earthy, sweet woody rapper which seems to illuminate everything.
A well-produced whisky is one where the aromas act as an enticement, leading you into the tasting experience. This is without doubt well-produced whisky from the quality of the malted barley, the distillation and obvious quality casks used.
No finishing or ACEing needed here folks!
This has been a steady balanced masterly maturation in American Ex-Bourbon white oak from year one up to year sixteen. The Ex-Bourbon influence is there but so is the wood as well as the malted barley mash together with the esters of the spirit.
There is a real full mouthful of chewy rich fruity sweet peaches and apples with lashings of heather honey and thick milk toffee custard. Underneath this is a thick layer of creamy buttery shortcake biscuits, chewy toffee bar with a sprinkling of various spices and roasted under a charcoal wood grill.
Continue sipping and you start to detect some bitter wood and also something slightly sour in the background. Glazed bitter orange peel covered in 80% cocoa bitter chocolate, thick white slightly bitter honey and creamy Horlicks drink served in a wooden mug?
After swallowing the liquid the after taste goes on for some time but leaves you strangely unsatisfied. Like mouth-watering tangy fruit chews I remember as a kid that leave a tingling in on the gums, you want to sip more of this whisky to experience all those flavours again and see if you can detect others. This is a complex whisky which behaves more like a 25-year-old rather than the not unimpressive 16 years in the cask which it actually is.
This BenRiach is unmistakably a Speyside with definite fruity floral characteristics that differentiate it from an Eastern Highland whisky like the excellent Glencadam 15-Year-Old which I would consider, its nearest rival for enjoyment levels. The Glencadam 15 has less floral notes but instead has heavier porridgy biscuity flavours. Ultimately though I believe that the BenRiach 16 has more in common with the full bodied glazed orange and creamy porridge Glencadam 15 than it does with the far lighter Glenlivet Nadurra 16 Years Old or the Glen Grant 16-Year-Old, both of which are of the same age and from the same Speyside region. However, they both lack the rich body of the BenRiach. This is not a bad thing however. Sometimes you like a lighter more delicate whisky experience like the delightful Tamnavulin 12 or Tomintoul 14 with its lemon grass fruity floral flavours. BenRiach is anything but delicate! If I had to be crude, I’d call it a Speyside on steroids yet it certainly does not have the heavier oily mouth fill of the Islays such as Kilchoman 100% Islay or Lagavulin 12.
If I had to choose the perfect Speyside list for a Speyside tasting evening, I’d start off with a Tamnavulin 12 or Tomintoul 14. I’d go onto The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 or Glen Grant 16 years old. Then for the main event I’d pour you all some BenRiach 16-year-old. At the end of the main talk I’d finish the evening with a heavyweight bruiser of a whisky, the delicious “Old Ballantruan” heavy Speyside peat monster from the Tomintoul distillery. 50% abv, 50 PPMs of peat, Non-Chilled-Filtered for maximum flavour! It has an aftertaste which will defy even the strongest mouthwash. Yummy!