Speyside distillery BenRiach has had periods of boom and periods of closure. Then owners Pernod Ricard closed the site in 2001, but, two years later a modern revival of the distillery began in earnest, with Billy Walker (former Production Director for Burn Stewart) leading the reopening of BenRiach. Fast-forward a few years, and the BenRiach Distillery Company (which is now part of Brown-Forman) owns both Glendronach and Glenglassaugh as well as their namesake distillery.
It was not long after BenRiach’s renewal in 2003 that the distillery started producing annual single cask releases. The first batch was released in 2004 – four bottlings which covered 1966, 1970, 1978 and 1984. Each year since, the distillery has released a new batch, showcasing not just vintage years of production, but also peated and non-peated styles as well as different cask maturation. Seven bottlings were produced for BenRiach’s 14th single cask batch which was released in the latter half of 2007. We’re taking a look at cask #105 from this 14th batch – a 10 year old peated whisky that has been matured in a 1st fill oloroso sherry butt. It’s bottled at 62.2% ABV and was a release of 451 bottles.
Nose: Burnt sugars and medicinal smoke. Starting with treacle tarts, golden syrup and burnt caramel stuck to the bottom of a pan, this moves steadily into a more smoky realm – dusty, sooty engine oil and smouldering tobacco mixed with a hearty dose of Dettol. Rich sherry notes come through nicely – figs dates and some heavily sugared bread pudding. Everything is very well integrated, and quite pronounced at full strength. The addition of water brings out some nuttiness (walnuts) and adds some pungency to the peating – both rubberiness and also meatiness – a joint of roasted ham.
Taste: Viscous, smoky and slightly mineral. The arrival is quite thick and syrupy – there’s more fruit here than on the nose – red fruits and pears. Sugars still feature heavily – toffee, honey and burnt sugar syrup on the way to making a caramel brittle. Smoking is still dusty – coal dusty and soot, but at the same time, is slightly sharper, and more pungent and a touch chalky at the back of the palate. This takes water very well indeed, and in doing so, it offers juicy red berries, tobacco leaf and some light earthiness.
Finish: Long and delivering pepperiness, wood and sooty smoke.
Cask #105 of BenRiach’s Batch 14 has had an extremely fortuitous maturation – whilst at 62.2% it is powerful and assertive, at the same time it shows excellent depth and integration with the sherry adding complexity to the smoky heart of the whisky, rather than taking over and becoming the lead act itself. Water is quite transformative in this instance, and with the high ABV you have a lot of scope for manipulating to your own personal preference. This sold out quickly, but is well worth keeping an eye out for at auction.