Finally, cooler temps are here, which for me means fewer cocktails and more single malt scotch. Lucky for me, August’s article ended up in the hands of the PR company for BenRiach. They kindly emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in a virtual tasting of their lineup. Well, of course I would!
The BenRiach distillery opened in 1898, and BenRiach made whisky for just a few years before falling victim to the Pattison crash around the turn of the 20th century. A rather unscrupulous merchant group overextended themselves and caused a crash that took the industry decades to recover from. BenRiach was shuttered for 60 years, finally reopening in 1965. In 1994, it finally released scotch under its own name, for the first time! Amazing that it took almost 100 years.
In 2016, BenRiach was purchased by Brown-Forman, owner of (among others) Jack Daniel's. So there is a steady supply of quality ex-bourbon barrels in which to age scotch. I also need to mention the expertise of master blender Rachel Barrie, who has led the whisky program since 2017 and has presided over the retool and relaunch of the BenRiach lineup.
For this tasting, I was able to try the 10, peated 10 Curiositas, Peated Cask Strength batch 2, and the 21 year. I was pleasantly surprised by the 10 year, as they can often be a bit rough around the edges for me. But it had some amazing honey and fruit flavors. It’s aged in virgin oak, sherry and the aforementioned Jack Daniel's barrels.
A friend who is also a lover of American whiskey immediately noticed those telltale Jack Daniel’s flavors. The tasting was conducted via Zoom with BenRiach’s brand ambassador based in Chicago, Kayla Borton. She was incredibly knowledgeable and did a wonderful job sharing her passion for scotch.
I also want to mention the 21 year. It was my favorite of the whole tasting. I’d never had any of these before, but the 21 (matured in bourbon, PX sherry, red wine casks and virgin oak) was really good. Beautiful cinnamon apple flavors -- a real treat if you can find it. It retails for around $155. Early Christmas gift idea, maybe?
The Curiositas uses ex-bourbon, virgin oak and ex-rum barrels in aging. And it's a bit of an oddity as a peated Speyside, of which there are only a handful. BenRiach is the only one I can think of that produces more than just one peated variety. It has just a wisp of smoke, so it’s easily approachable for those non peat-heads. There are also some really nice brown sugar notes that come from the ex-rum casks. Bottled at 46%, there’s plenty of flavor there.
It’s available locally at The Still and the Hy-Vees at 70th and Pioneers Boulevard and 50th and O streets for under $60 a bottle.
Whisky news and notes: There’s a new release coming from Smokehead called Rum Rebel. It's an undisclosed non-age-statement heavily-peated Islay whisky aged in rum barrels.
Until next time, as they toast in Scotland, sláinte!
The author, Mark Feit, is a Certified Whisky Ambassador and has visited 57 distilleries in Scotland with his father, Bob. You can reach Mark at email@example.com.
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