BenRiach’s chameleon malt has, in this case begun life unpeated and spent an undisclosed amount of time (probably more than 12 years) in ex-bourbon before being transitioned into a Pedro Ximénez sherry butt to mature for additional time, totaling 15 years. The whisky is bottled at 46% ABV without chill filtration or added coloring (a practice collectively known as ‘Craft Presentation’).
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…
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.
The palate is even and crisp, with clear flavors of barley and light oak. It seems to me, however, to be a bit of a blank canvas, and the vinegar on the nose is a bit more sour than I’d like. In fact, the leanness of the malt is such that I’d wonder if it was a lowlander – it bears a lot of resemblance to younger Auchentoshan.
The palate is crisp and focused, with a little minerality, very little sugar, and an equal helping of peat and a cereal quality like Mexican beer. Some lime and limestone develops on the tongue, along with a medicinal bitterness. I also taste grape skins or seeds – reminiscent of Grappa.