Whisky Review: Benriach Limited Release 1978 #1596

Style: Spicy and Fruity

Nose:
Begins with some powerful dry spice, leading to almond oil and salted caramel. Hazelnut puree, soft peanut butter touches, a bit dry, but luscious. Cornflakes, pineapples and passion fruits slowly reveal themselves at the core. More icy spices giving off multiple sparks, pencil shavings, apricots in a damp, earthy and smoky jacket.

Palate:
Opened up reasonably well on the palate. Soft, stewed tropical fruits are more on the forefront and gliding on top of the robust spirit spice. Apricots, peach skins and hazelnuts immersed in sunflower oil. Nectarines building some formidable sweetness at the core. Floral honey lightly drizzled on crunchy malt biscuits. Red chilli flaring up towards the back, while cornflakes and barley pouring over cinnamon sticks, finish with dark chocolate and some delicate, damp mineralic peat.

Finish:
Hazelnuts, butterscotch and reminiscence of tropical and stone fruits.

Thoughts:
Interestingly, the more I drink this, the more it grows on me. My original impression on this Benriach during the 70s session was not great, because it was very spicy and the expression was quite tight, even by Benriach’s standards. But after a few drams down and some extra breathing time, you are able to explore the nuances and appreciate the structure and texture of this dram which has been mostly hiding behind the spirit hotness. Shy, more on the drier, nutty side, and not as sweet as its counterparts, but with some love and patience, the journey can be surprisingly rewarding.

☆+ [Recommended]

[54%| Original Bottling| 1978 Distilled| 2006 Bottled| Single Cask| Natural Cask Strength| 134 of 201 Bottles| Hogshead| Non Chill Filtered| Non Coloured| *+]

Esmond

Whisky Review: Benriach Limited Release 1976 Aged 30 Years Bottled Exclusively for La Maison du Whisky #3557

Style: Fruity and Spicy

Nose:
Aroma of light coconut and dry spice. Roasted melon seeds, cinnamon sticks, gradually opens to some immensely fragrant apricot jam. More sweet stone fruits, fresh green apples with a good sprinkle of red chilli shreds. Spicy, but the mellow, stewed tropical fruits are giving a beautiful glow here. Going slightly waxy at the tail. Honeycomb and sparkling white oak. A little bit dry, but quite vibrant and elegant.

Palate:
Wow, first sip down and you know this is going to be something special. A gentle coconut interlude leading the way to an incredible combination of peaches and passionfruits, graceful and very delicious. Some grapefruits, apricot jam and floral honey concentrated at the core. A quick peppermint spike, orchard fruits, sunflower seeds and oil, five spices and shichimi dust suspending in mid-air. The sweetness amplifies over time. Just a touch of vanilla sugar on a dry barley tail to finish.

Finish:
Tropical fruits whispers growing louder, silky coconut and hazelnut notes linger on. Honeyed white fruits and fresh apricots shining till the end. Amazing.

Thoughts:
Rumors has it 1976 Benriach is something special, today, as a latecomer whisky enthusiast, I am privileged to be able to sample and review this bottle. Benriach tends to have a dry and spicy backbone (and somehow at this vintage/era, Benriach does remind me of Longmorn in many ways), but when the fruits are properly assembled and built upon it, man, it can be absolutely magical. Love it. Low three stars.

☆☆☆ [Most Recommended]

[53%| Original Bottling| 1976 Distilled| 2006 Bottled| Single Cask| Cask Strength| Cask Number: 3557| 13 of 222 Bottles| Hogshead ***-]

-Esmond

Whisky Review: Benriach Limited Release 1977 Aged 33 Years Pedro Ximenez Sherry Finish #1033

Style: Sherried and Complex

Nose:
Razor-sharp, cool as ice spearmint slices through and carves out a path. A moment of silence before the sherry juggernaut rams in. Incredible burst of assorted red-almost-dark fruits, cranberries, black currants coulis and some Toblerone chocolate. Wood varnish goes high while there are some umami touches below. Tangerine candies forming a brittle crust while overripe white peaches look very blurry in the midst of overwhelming sherry. Cloves, white pepper and cinnamon at the tail. Quite nice.

Palate:
The sherry parade continues, summer berries, full-spectrum red fruits and dark chocolate carried by a powerful spirit spice. Tassie cherries with silky texture, while white peaches gleaming positively in the middle. Cedar wood, incense ashes, cloves and lit cinnamon sticks setting in quite deeply at the back, the oak is more prominent on the palate than the nose has suggested. Kumquat peels, nashi pears, panna cotta and barley emerge towards the end.

Finish:
A long sherry tail, bright red fruits gradually sinking lower to a profound chocolate notes with a citrus and summer berries twist. Red dates take over eventually.

Thoughts:
Label says this is a PX finish but man, this Benriach looks and tastes “darker” than many first-fill sherry bottlings, which is quite unexpected. Virtually a sherry bomb on the surface, however, what lies under is surprisingly convoluted, the oak, the (vague) distillate manage to squeeze through, build beneath the red fruits and made their presence felt. The profile is a bit challenging, but it is complex, fun and delicious. Low two stars for me.

☆☆- [Highly Recommended]

[52.2%| Original Bottling| 1977 Distilled| 2010 Bottled| 299 of 331 Bottles| Cask Strength| Single Cask| Cask Number: 1033| Non Chill Filtered| Non Coloured| **-]

Whisky Review: Benriach Limited Release Batch 13 1975 Aged 40 Years #7028

Style: Fruity and Dunnage Sherry

Nose:
A sharp peppermint arrow pierces through from the front, lemon aloe vera flies high, red dates and longan lightly soaked in honey mead. Blue berries highlighted by shades of green grass, then on ground level we have some serious, subtle, time-chiseled dunnage sherry shrouded by silky smoke, taking the form of assorted dark fruits, cherries, raspberries, marzipan and some built-in orange confectionaries. Fizzling cream soda with a few mineral strokes at the end.

Palate:
The subtle sherry has now taken over the stage and surfing on top of strong peppermint waves. Cranberries, waxy honeycomb, red currants, other assorted sherry fruits dipped in vanilla cream. Very Springbank-esque (a lighter but more matured version) radiating from the core. Stewed tropical fruits, more oranges and lemon citrus overtone, extremely gentle liquroice-kelp smoke. Sugar-coated barley unfolding slowly over time. Cinnamon sticks and shichimi sprinkles. Very nice.

Finish:
Rolling on some citrus-tropical sweetness. Damp, earthy sherry fruits and dark chocolate lingering till the end.

Thoughts:
Honestly I was a bit worried if I can finish this review in time as the level is running dangerously low by the time of writing. Definitely a personal favourite, perhaps it has lost some magic over time, but if you ask me, it is still pretty amazing. The dunnage (peated) sherry is so gentle yet so alluring, which then latches on and fuses beautifully with the citrus-stone fruits core. Absolutely delicious, this is another fantastic bottling to this legendary era of Benriach.

☆☆[Highly Recommended]

[53%| Original Bottling| 1975 Distilled| 2016 Bottled| Single Cask| Cask Strength| Cask Number: 7028| 362 of 511 Bottles| Sherry Butt **]

-Esmond

Dram Review: The BenRiach Single Cask 1971 for Shinanoya and BBI Japan

[45.1%・40 Years Old・Distilled in 1971・Bottled in 2012・Official Bottling for Shinanoya and BBI Japan・Cask No. 330・Single Cask Release of 216 Bottles]

Nose:

I think this may just carry the sweetest, fruitiest nose I have encountered, truly captivating and brilliant; can pineapples, apricots and tropical fruits, vanilla custard blended with the fruity nectar and dusted with icing sugar.

Palate & Finish:

Again, brilliant sweetness on the palate, sugar cured watermelon slices stacked with crumble made with ripe green apples and spiced up with some vanilla grain. Banana essence, citrus marmalade and some delicate cinnamon dust are later added slowly into the mix.

A velvet-y finish with the banana custard and French vanilla leading traces of shortbread, a joyous moment stretched satisfyingly..

Thoughts:

Such endearing characters, I have not had a lovelier BenRiach.. a brilliance that seemingly developed from the spirit evolving in the cask for more than 4 decades.. I have felt something similar after the White Bowmore..

I will remember to look for other 1971 vintages to see if they are also some of the best fruit bombs I have had..

☆☆☆ [Most Recommended]

-Nicholas

Dram Review: Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice BenRiach 1969 12 Years Old

[40%・Distilled in 1969・12 Years Old・Gordon & MacPhail Bottling]

Nose:

It’s astounding that for a young malt the nose carries such a musky perfume tone, rather alluring indeed. Still, there are traces of coarseness that sip out in time.. hay straws, burnt toast and dried flowers. Rounded with notes of cafe later and milk chocolate, the dram attains a fine fragrant balance gradually.

Palate & Finish:

Black Forest cake with cured cherries, the style is very G&M-esque. An extravaganza from Seville oranges with a subsequent introduction of rawer notes of hay straws and grain toast on the back end.

The finishing is rather subdued, the focus is slightly tilted towards the soft poached pears.

Thoughts:

Bottles like this make you wonder if it’s just a case of whiskies being made in an entirely different era or if there was something else happening that made this 12 year old so sophisticated, so pleasing.

-Nicholas

Interview: Share a dram with Mr. Stewart Buchanan of BenRiach

Just a few weeks ago I have the pleasure to sit down and share a few drams with Mr. Stewart Buchanan, the global brand ambassador of The BenRiach Distillery Company recently acquired by Brown-Forman at Pocket Bar in Darlinghurst. During his travel to Australia, Stewart attended a few major whisky events including Whisky Live Sydney and the Whisky Show. We have a few casual drinks and a relaxed discussion about almost anything about BenRiach, Glenglassaugh and GlenDronach Distillery.

Many ponder about the prospects of the trio after the acquisition by Brown-Forman, one of the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies which has brands including the famous Jack Daniel’s from the talented hands of Mr. Billy Walker and BenRiach Distillery Company. In this one hour session, Stewart has discussed at length about the three distilleries and their future plans under the wings of Brown-Forman. This article is a pretty long read, so I will dice it up into three major sections and discuss the distilleries one by one as we did during the sit-down session.

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Photo credit to Mr. Matthew Wooler from Dramnation, a very dedicated whisky education and appreciation group active in Sydney

Glenglassaugh Distillery

“Quirky”… is the word

So let’s start with Glenglassaugh, maybe the less-known and a bit mythical among the three distilleries. Interestingly, Stewart uses the term “quirky” to characterize the distillery. “It is something that I cannot wrap my head around it. Maybe it is the unique location – bordering Speyside and Highland, 15 minutes from Sandend Bay, Glassaugh Spring (the spring water source they use) has such a high mineral content and we have one of the most unique fauna landscapes here… This place is meant to be making the sweetest and floral new make and above that, there is something so special that I just can’t put into words to describe it, somehow that has engraved into the DNA to produce such a distinct spirit.” He also says the newly-appointed whisky maker for the distilleries, Ms. Rachel Barrie resonates his view when she visited Glenglassaugh earlier this year. Back then, Glenglassaugh was regarded as a highly individual malt which deemed to be hard to accommodate in blends, while the single malt market was mostly undeveloped at that point, that might have contributed to its demise in 1986. As a result, the distillery was closed and remained silent until 2008, leaving a 22-year gap in stock supply.

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Stewart talking about Glenglassaugh

Coming Releases from Glenglassaugh

The current releases from Glenglassaugh feature a few non-aged works in progress, as well as occasional vintage bottlings from the previous era. Stewart indicated that the distillery will be continue to be experimental (on casks), there will be a small scale of port cask and virgin oak cask releases rolling out soon. Any plans to bring back the age statements? Stewart says, “Yes, when we reach 2018 some of the stock will be maturing for 10 years since the reopening of the distillery from 2008. We are looking to do a 10 years old version of Evolution and Revival next year.” For fans who love a taste of vintage Glenglassaugh, good news! The third batch of single cask bottlings are confirmed to be on the way, the tasting notes have just been completed so we can expect an official announcement soon.

BR2.jpg

Very beautiful set up by Mr. Wooler

The BenRiach Distillery

Experimental BenRiach 

I always see BenRiach is big on experimentation. The recent releases on the market have all sorts of funky variations – Peated vintage with full Tawny maturation and you can even see triple distillations bottling from time to time… “Yes, it is quite experimental, and it is a real fruit-bomb whisky.” This is how Mr. Buchanan characterizes BenRiach. Indeed, it does feel the robust fruit character lays a strong foundation for BenRiach to be versatile on its releases. “Although with so many different, sporadic expressions it can be confusing at times.” He admits. “Now we want to stabilize the range, trim it a bit and consolidate our special releases under the name of “Warehouse 13” to give it more structure.” “But we are very much experimental.” He continues, “Probably on the contrary, especially when Rachel discusses her interpretations of BenRiach, how she mentions about the sound of the distillery name. The pronunciation of the distillery “Ben-Riach” has such a strong ring, it leaves a bold and valiant impression and that is how it should be… Such an interesting take, it is one of the best things we get with Rachel joining our team, to approach things in a feminine perspective – this is something that guys will never think of.”

BR Cask Strength Peated Batch 1 bottle in front LR.jpgThe latest release from BenRiach, the Peated Cask Strength Batch 1

Discontinued Releases and Brown-Forman

Then we discuss the now-discontinued BenRiach 12 Years Old Sherry Wood, which is one of my favourite releases from BenRiach, it is a bit sad to see it go. “You know, BenRiach 12 was originally designed for the Taiwanese market, but after picking up a few awards it became a global sensation. The problem was, we did not expect that and there was not enough stock to sustain the worldwide market so we have no choice but to discontinue it. We had the same dilemma with GlenDronach Octarine, which was originally made for the French market, but the demand exploded and it was impossible to keep up with.” So are you keeping the age statements? “Absolutely, We will keep all of them, from 10, 15, 20, 25 and all the way to 35 years old releases will all stay for many years.” That is where the discussion about Brown-Forman pops in. “Honestly, we are really happy with Brown-Forman which has been very supportive with our projects. They think everyone is doing a great job and encourage us go on and do whatever we are doing. It is very reassuring for us.” He continues, “There is no interference at all and we have even drafted up a production plan for the future 20 years.” Talking about the advantages under Brown-Forman, he adds, “The quality of our casks, and also it takes much less time to travel from America to our distillery, the freshness of the casks is very important.”

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The BenRiach 10 in cocktail, very nice…

The GlenDronach Distillery

Sherry Cask Shortage (?)

With not much time left for the one-hour session, I did not beat around the bush and started with a rather difficult question – Is Glendronach running out of its sherry casks after years of single cask releases? Stewart clutched his face in disbelief and probably with a hint of exhaustion, as if too many people has been bombarding him with the same question already. He says, “Really, now I don’t know what I was looking at in the distillery the other day, all those casks! We are not running out of sherry casks!!” He continues, “When Billy took over the distillery, we made sure we have purchased all the casks from third party owners. So don’t worry, we have no shortages.” I just check on Malt Madness it states that when BenRiach Distillery Company bought the distillery in 2009, 9000 of whisky maturing casks were included as part of the deal. You can do the math from here.

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(From left to right) Matt, Stewart and Mr. Stuart Reeves, Brown-Forman Australia spirits brand ambassador

The Cult-Dronach

We also talk about the stellar rise of GlenDronach. In many countries, including Australia, GlenDronach has reached a cult-like status. Stewart contributes the success of GlenDronach to Billy Walker, how he is very persistent on the way of making his whiskies. “When we were tasting the archive whiskies in GlenDronach back in 2008, Billy was so certain that we should recreate that kind of style and so we went for it… Even though we do not have direct coal fire heating anymore but we are keen to emulate that rich caramel profile by dispersing the heat spots around the stills.” It seems long-term planning is also in place for GlenDronach as well, within a couple of years’ time (or less), they are planning to bring back the Revival which was a sensational hit and forced to discontinued for 3 years since 2015. “We are looking to stabilize our regular expressions for many years.” Stewart added.

The New Whisky Maker – Ms. Rachel Barrie

Rachel Barrie Image.jpg

Ms. Rachel Barrie, the Whisky Maker for BenRiach, GlenDronach & Glenglassaugh in action

Signifying a Change of Times

A couple of months ago Brown-Forman announced the appointment of Rachel as whisky maker for its Scotch whisky portfolio which includes the BenRiach, The GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries, effective March 1, 2017. She succeeds Billy Walker who grows The BenRiach Distillery Company into one which is recognized throughout the industry for innovative and exceptional quality single malt Scotch whiskies. Walker will continue to support the distilleries and share his whisky expertise throughout the transition.

Rachel has served as master blender of Morrison Bowmore Distillers for the last five years where she led whisky creation for Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch, most recently including Laphroaig and Ardmore. Prior to joining Morrison Bowmore Distillers, she worked with the Glenmorangie Company for 16 years, eight of which were spent as whisky creator and master blender for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg single malts as well as James Martin’s and Bailie Nicol Jarvie blended Scotch whiskies. During her time at Glenmorangie, Brown-Forman had a minority ownership in the distillery and this new role brings her back to some of her earlier distilling roots with the company.

Any Changes with Rachel?

Talking about the changes that are brought forward by Rachel, Stewart comments, “Nothing. Really, when she first come into the distillery for our first meeting, with my notebook opened and ready. After a few minutes I realize that I don’t need to and simply set it aside. She is in the same wavelength as we are and we are basically completing each other’s sentences. Nothing has changed production-wise. Of course she will have her prints on the new products, everyone has a different palate, her interpretations and the casks she chooses for each expressions will be quite different to what Billy did.

Finally, A big thanks to Matthew of Dramnation setting this up and it was a very informative session! Cheers!

-Esmond

 

Whisky Review: The BenRiach Aged 12 Years

 

Style: Sherry and Lively

Nose:

Rich red fruits whistling in a lively spirit. Plums, strawberry cake threaded with a thin string of wood spice, cinnamon dust and slightest ginger. Sherry notes meld beautifully with orange malt and massive vanilla custard (this is Spanish Oak, right?). Fresh, sweet, multi-layered aroma.

Palate:

Gentle, juicy flow of cherry lassoed by chilli flashing dangerously. Sweetness entrapped by a quick strike from the oak. Sultanas going under as wood spices, timber shavings, white pepper and milk chocolate taking over the field. Vanilla and oranges beaming at the back. A drying wood smoke touch to finish. Warm red fruits unlocked as time goes by.

Finish:

Cherry, red grape cake undertone liberated from the oak. Mocha, vanilla and cinnamon sticks to give a soft, soothing presence.

Thoughts:

This BenRiach has impressed me in many tasting sessions. Finally I can sit down and write a review of it. Such a complex and lively whisky which did not make a big hit in Australia (I heard it is very popular in some countries). There are less and less quality whiskies at this approachable price point. Maybe a tad oaky and spicy for some, but it is definitely worth grabbing a bottle when you see one. Too bad this is going to be discontinued.

☆ [Recommended]

[46% • 2015 • Original Bottling • Non Chill Filtered • Non Coloured • General Release • Discontinued]

-Esmond

 

 

Dram Review: The BenRiach Cask Strength Batch 1

[57.2%・NAS・Official Bottling・Limited Release]

Nose:

There is an elegant Speyside floral musk on the nose that puts the mind in ease. Pineapples and apricots with a appealing vanilla note. There is some youthful anise note but as a whole it doesn’t feel as young as some other cask strength offerings. There is a thin touch of maltiness with that mineral water note, a wee brush of menthol just on the very end.

Palate & Finish:

Lemony custard with a saucy chocolate note on the palate, and then there it is, the menthol note makes a chic entrance. A gentle delivery of maltiness then makes an entry with instances of vanilla and oak spices.

A couple serves of after eight in the finish with traces of maltiness delightfully preserved.

Thoughts:

A true speyside dram underneath the superb label, starring the malt.

☆☆ [Highly Recommended]

Cheers to Mr. Stewart Buchanan for bringing this whisky down under. A vat of a small batch at cask strength, the youngest being 10 years old, the oldest from 1986.

Nicholas