Once in awhile a deal falls in your lap that, (if you happen to know what you’re looking at), can net you top-shelf scotch for the kinds of prices that people “in the know” paid a decade ago. Back in August (2017), K&L Wines snagged a parcel of BenRiachs for insane prices due to some kind of kerfuffle with the distributor. I’d not had great experiences with peated BenRiachs in the past so this deal took a bit of a leap of faith for me. Still, a bottle of $150 (ish) 19 year-old distillery official single malt for $80 is a deal worth jumping on.
This bottle (which I would never pay $150 or even $130 for, FYI) is a single-cask limited release from the distillery (Cask 7352) which was distilled in 1994 from peated malt and then aged for 19 years (bottled in 2013). It was recasked into an oloroso sherry butt at some point (not mentioned on the label). The liquid was bottled at cask strength without added color or chill filtration, yielding a supple 53.2% ABV, which is (in my opinion) near the perfect strength for an undiluted expression – hot enough to be fully concentrated and flavorful, but not in the tongue-numbing range of the high 50s and low 60s.
I paid a fantastic $80 at K&L for bottle 99 out of a total 563. I now wish I’d bought three more…
Nose: Delectable, tumbling aromas of dates, chocolate-covered cherries, vanilla latte, spicy Spanish oak, and a lingering but diffuse Highland peat (no seaweed or brine, just heather and gorse – brushfire smoke).
Palate: More peat than on the aroma – definitely BenRiach peat, austere and full of grasses and flowers while also smoky and almost acrid. A robust numbing tongue burn, interrupted by flashes of dried fruit, jams, and roasting coffee beans.
Finish: Very long. A grab-bag of dried fruits, now dusty. The same peat elements persist. This becomes muddy as it fades.
With Water: A few drops of water do a nice job of adding sweetness to the aroma, bringing out oak on the palate, and brightening up the finish. I highly recommend a very little bit of water with this one.
Overall: This is what I was missing when I dissed BenRiach’s peated Curiositas: That Highland peat is very limited in scope and mostly consists of bland grasses producing bland smoke. If you mix that with a very active sherry cask, you get FIREWORKS. Smoke and fruit in alignment and balance exceeding the few good sherried Islay malts that I’ve had, which usually have seaweed or brine ruining the balance. Excellent, and the fire sale that I lucked into made for an excellent price. If you can find a bottle for approximately what I paid (under $100, at least), and you like fruit and peat in concert, you will not be disappointed.