Honestly, I should just stop buying BenRiach. Maybe it’s like some people and cilantro: some flavor compound that just triggers previously-unexercised taste bud receptors that scream “you’re eating soap!” in primordial caveman-speak. I started out by disliking Curiositas, and then proceeded to be unimpressed by the old bottlings of the 12-year. Things started looking up when I began tasting sherry-finished versions, and I’m even willing to not hold a particular NAS release against them but now here we are at the current flagship, and… guys and girls it’s just not good.
BenRiach is the sister distillery of one of my favorite single malt producers of all time: GlenDronach. In my eyes, the ‘Dronach can do (almost) no wrong. Still, the flavor profiles could not be more different. BenRiach tends to be austere, thin, abrasive, and incorporates varying levels of peat in its Speyside malts. GlenDronach excels at the “sherry bomb”, where in most cases you’re not really tasting the malt, you’re tasting the barrel and its sherry residues. The fact that the only BenRiachs that I enjoy are the ones finished in fortified wine casks probably reveals my bias… but what is this blog except an outward expression of all of my biases?
So enter BenRiach’s newly repackaged 10-year called “Original”, which the label claims has been “three cask matured” using bourbon, sherry, and virgin oak casks. The website is devoid of useful information (Brands, take heed! Inform thy customers!) but suffice it to say these casks are then vatted together and bottled at 43% ABV without any added color (or, probably, chill filtration, although it doesn’t say). At $39 – $50, this is being sold right at the standard price range for 12 year official bottlings, which would be acceptable if it were good…
Nose: A hint of muddy peat (unexpected), hits the nose first, along with hay bales, rolled oats, and vanilla. A rest in the glass dispels the peat and reveals some fruit, mostly light tropicals like kiwi and key lime.
Palate: Again – peat! Earthy and almost fungal, with flecks of charcoal and dry cereal. A mild tongue burn is followed by more cereal (oatmeal again), bitter horseradish, and dry dusty oak.
Finish: On the short side. Drying but not warming, with some barrel char tannins, meat with grill marks, cork board, and more bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water release a vegetal (grassy) note. The palate seems heavier, and the peat almost has an element of smoke to it now. Take or leave water with this one.
Overall: I… I just don’t like it. The faintest hints of fruit are tropical and likely come from the ex-bourbon casks, so there’s basically no sherry influence here at all. If the virgin oak contributed anything, it was in the form of bitterness and dry charcoal. The finish is short, the palate is unpleasant, and the peat is unexpected and unwelcome. There’s just very little to recommend this dram. I’m giving it a rare “Avoid” not because it’s so very bad, but rather because it is likely to disappoint customers expecting quality given the name on the bottle.
Warning: Take all of the above with a grain of salt. As mentioned, something about BenRiach’s house character just doesn’t jive with me. A quick perusal of peer blogs suggests that I’m alone in that. If you already know you like BenRiach then completely disregard my review and carry on. If you’ve never had it, consider my review a single dissenting opinion. Everyone else seems to like it.