After two unsuccessful attempts to enjoy The BenRiach, I decided to give it another go when I saw that the company had repackaged its flagship malt with a 46% ABV bottling for the US market (it’s 43% ABV in the UK market). My previous review of this bottling (40%) showed it to be ultra-light to the point of blandness, eliciting a comparison to Auchentoshan. Turns out, all this malt needed was a beefier bottling strength and (presumably) a little more care in barrel selection.
I’m often asked for examples of each of the main types of single-malt scotch. It’s easy to rattle off Macallan or GlenDronach as prime examples of the full sherry treatment, and Laphroaig or Ardbeg as models of fully-peated malt. Now, at last, I have something other than Glenlivet or Auchentoshan to hold up as an object lesson in malt aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks.
BenRiach and sister distillery GlenDronach made news in April of 2016 when it was announced that bourbon giant Brown-Foreman (of Jack Daniels fame) had purchased The BenRiach Distillery Company and its brands and holdings, including distilleries BenRiach, GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh. Join me in raising a glass to another lost independent voice in the continuously-conglomerating whisky industry. Here’s hoping that GlenDronach and BenRiach are able to continue their dedication to craft and quality under the new leadership.
Nose: Bready, with distinct notes of honeyed scones, buttery shortbread cookies, vanilla beans, and banana cream pie. A faint lemony tartness hangs over the rest, giving a good balance of tart and sweet.
Palate: Full body. Malty sweetness rushes to the fore, dredging up memories of childhood bowls of sugary cereal, but without the fake corn-syrup flavor. Freshly-mown hay, buttered toast, and lemon curd. Bakery sweets crusted in crystallized sugar.
Finish: A reprise of the palate, but with toasty oak and the faintest peat, like wisps of smoke from a fruitwood campfire just starting to catch. Ends with hazelnut butter which fades into just-slightly bitter oak tannins and charcoal.
With Water: A few drops of water amp up the lemon and banana notes, and introducing a decadent sugary glaze. These persist to the tongue. If you like your malt dessert-like and sweet, definitely experiment with a little water in this.
Overall: This is an exemplar of the category of unpeated single malts aged exclusively in ex-bourbon. Unlike some other Speyside ex-bourbon malts, which are more like blank canvases that need a little sherry to bring them to their full potential, The BenRiach 12 showcases the twin effects of good ex-bourbon aging: clarity of grain and sweetness of oak. It does this with flawless whiskymaking and precise aging. If you can find it for under $50, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better ex-bourbon malt for the price. For what it’s worth, BenRiach also shines with sherry. Or sherry AND peat.