Door Number 19 of the 2018 Boutique-y Advent calendar delivers Benriach 9 year old Batch 4 and a label that highlights the 2012 revitalisation of the distillery’s old malting equipment. Times are a changin’ for Benriach following the sale of the distillery in 2016 (alongside Glendronach and Glenglassaugh) from Billy Walkers’ consortium to industry powerhouse Brown-Forman for a cool £281 million.
With whisky being a long-term investment, changes take time to trickle down into products. When I visited both distilleries over the summer, Brown-Forman has already made modifications to production regimes - Glendronach is no longer producing spirit from peated malt (no bad thing in my book, it’s not really something the distillery ever did that well), whereas Benriach was gearing up to fill this smoky hole with additions to their new peated cask strength series - which looks like it’s going to run side-by-side with the unpeated variety – all conveyed without an age-statement in sight. Likewise, if you look across the Benriach portfolio, the distillery seems to be releasing less bottlings each year – a mere 30 this past year (which is still rather a lot in my book), but, back in 2016 there was closer to 70. Brown-Forman are clearly trying to focus on core products and the on-going single cask programme. I’m watching with interest.
Nevertheless, there’s still plenty of Benriach being bottled by indies – including Boutique-y who are now onto their fourth batch – the first to possess an age-statement. Batch 4 is a large one, consisting of 2,501 bottles delivered at 51.7% ABV and available from Master of Malt for £59.95. Let’s take a look…
Nose: Deep with maltiness, lively with orange. Oatmeal, porridge and popcorn are supported by zesty orange peels and syrupy marmalades. Running throughout is a vein of woodiness – part lacquered, part dusty and part charred (but pleasantly eschewing typical vanilla/toffee). In the background, white chocolate and a tingle of pepper. The addition of water introduces some hazelnut nuttiness, but seems to diminish the brightness across the other aromas. Better 'as is' IMO.
Taste: Great viscosity from this one and an arrival which replicates the nose – malts and orange. The mouthfeel continues with olive and sunflower oils, gradually softening in to walnut cake. The mid to back palates show an increasingly sour aspect with prominent astringent oak – it delivers pepper, ginger and burnt butter, but at the same time feels quite acerbic. Reduction proves more fruitful here than on the nose – softening the oak influence towards heavy char/toast and transforming the sourness into tartness with grapefruit – rather a shame it was so detrimental to the nose as here it’s a great leveller.
Finish: Medium, drying with bitter oak, burnt honeycomb and white pepper.
The mouthfeel on this Boutique-y Benriach is really splendid – fatty and mouth-coating. Likewise, the underlying spirit character is strongly presented – with the cask avoiding a monotonous delivery of vanilla and toffee. But, there’s still plenty of oak here, and to my taste it’s rather astringency and frustratingly difficult to tame without, at the same time, weakening the definition of the nose.
Review calendar provided by Boutique-y Whisky