Virgin Oak or New Oak is not a common choice for Scotch whisky and certainly not for a full maturation of 31 years! Could this BenRiach 1977 / 2009 Virgin American Oak be the oldest whisky that has been fully matured in a new cask?
Quercus Alba (American white oak) is normally used for maturing bourbon. It’s close-grained timber, very resistent to leakage or evaporation and low in tannins. There is a general agreement that new oak rarely produces whisky of an acceptable quality, but recently there has been quite a lot of wood research and results are getting very interesting.
BenRiach 31 yo 1977 (43,2%, OB 2009, Virgin oak cask #3798, 292 btl.)
Nose: lots of orange peel and fresh orange juice. Whiffs of green banana and vanilla. Also a little nutmeg and freshly sawn wood. After a while there are a few notes of pineapple. Orange infused tea and a little moist cardboard. Not very complex but very drinkable. I was afraid it would be too oaky but it isn’t. Mouth: rich and contemporary I would say. Starting sweet with the oranges that go on and on. Hints of sweet almonds. Growing bigger with some garden herbs and more nutmeg. Spicy vanilla cream. Finish: even more spicy now, with plain oak coming through. Nice development. Chewed pencils in the aftertaste.
If you don’t mind obvious oak in your whisky and you like the recent Glenmorangie oak experiments (Artisan / Astar / Signet), then this should get your attention. Very good although I expected a bit more complexity after so many years of ageing. Around € 165.
This concludes my review of this year’s BenRiach single casks. Overall very high quality with a couple of truly exceptional releases.
Another Pedro Ximenez finish, but unpeated this time. The BenRiach 1970 cask 1035 is over 38 years old and boasts a wonderful colour.
BenRiach 38 yo 1970 (49,1%, OB 2009, Pedro Ximenez finish, cask #1035, 250 btl.)
Nose: Dried fruits (raisins, dates) but lush fruits at the same time (blackcurrants, blueberries). It’s much fresher than you would expect. There are even the wonderful hints of exotic fruits (tangerines, pineapple) that you find in other 1970’s BenRiach and which makes this the perfect fruit basket. Some bourbon-like elements as well: pine resin with a hint of mint. Lovely wood polish. Cocoa and espresso in the background. Now this is what I call complexity! Mouth: roasted coffee beans and milk chocolate. Dried figs. Hints of tobacco. Rather smokey for an unpeated bottling. The sherry is not the usual nutty or syrupy type. It’s rather winey, like a Shiraz or some Tempranillo but it works very well. A little toffee. Hints of redcurrant marmalade in the aftertaste. Finish: dark chocolate with spices. Very long.
This is head-shaking stuff. It’s different from all other sherry bottlings and simply excellent. I would buy cases if not for the price: around € 280.
As you may know, peat and sherry can be a wonderful combo (although sometimes they eliminate each other’s strength). Personally I think some of the best results are achieved with Pedro Ximenez sherry. This 24 years old BenRiach 1984 cask 1048 is a peated whisky with a PX sherry finish.
BenRiach 24 yo 1984 (49,2%, OB 2009, Pedro Ximenez finish, cask #1048, 279 btl.)
Nose: there’s indeed a good deal of peat. A dry, chalky kind of peat, not the “oceanic” Islay type. It’s nicely integrated with the sherry notes of dark chocolate and dry fruits. Nutty. Some sweet liquorice. There’s also an earthy, vegetal odour to it that I associate with liquid brown soap (not sure if that’s known in other countries). Hemp maybe? Or latex? A bit strange but not unpleasant. Mouth: very peaty and smokey. Again some fruity elements from the sherry, but I guess the balance is 65% peat, 35% sherry now. Hints of pine needles and moss. Hints of caramel, cocoa and even dark ale beer (a peated Chimay Blue?). Interesting but not easy to pin down. Finish: long, smokey and even slightly tarry.
I can’t think of other PX sherry bottlings that have this style. Very different. I can’t say that I adore it, but it’s quite unique. A curiosum.
Around € 125.
This 33 years old BenRiach 1975 cask 4450 is a peated whisky finished in a Tawny Port pipe. This type of port wine is aged in wooden barrels and has a characteristic brown colour with nutty flavours. It’s more or less the amontillado version of port wine. Port pipes are huge and contain around 520 litres of spirit, hence the big outturn of this single cask bottling.
BenRiach 33 yo 1975 (52,2%, OB 2009, Tawny port finish, cask #4450, 648 btl.)
Nose: full of pink grapefruit. Some more exotic fruits as well, I would say mango and cherries. Raisins. Hardly any peat… A bit of flower potpourri as well (old roses seem to be a common thread in the wine finished single casks so far), maybe even some soapy hints but still very attractive. Mouth: sweet and fruity. Dried fruits as well as more fresh, citrusy notes. Grapefruit again. Some banana. Apples with cinnamon towards the finish. Quite some oak influence and winey notes. Finish: medium long, on berry fruits and grapefruit.
On the one hand this is clearly the same family as the famous 1976 BenRiachs, with notes of exotic fruits and grapefruit. On the other hand, there’s the added layer of port wine notes. I’m sure this will even appeal to people who normally don’t like wine finishes. Don’t expect heavy peat though. Available at around € 200.
Barolo wine finishes are not very common. Edradour, Bruichladdich and Longrow had some (with varying success), but interestingly enough, BenRiach released two Barolo casks at once this year. We’ve already had the BenRiach 1988 Gaja Barolo cask 4424 and now the 31 years old Benriach 1978 cask #4414.
BenRiach 31 yo 1978 (51,2%, OB 2009, Gaja Barolo finish, cask #4414, 245 btl.)
Nose: starts on bags of nutmeg. The red fruits (raspberry jam), the tangerines, the figs, the (dark) chocolate… from the 1988 Gaja Barolo are still here, but there’s more weight to it. Delicious fruit cake with cinnamon. Rose water. There’s also a distinct toasted aspect and a hint of fresh matchsticks which disappears after some airing. Very good. Mouth: full on. Grapes, all sorts of marmalades and a hint of smoke (tar even?). Very spicy, with pepper, ginger and nutmeg. Finish: long and coating. There’s an oaky dryness to it, but perfectly acceptable for its age.
Very good. Like a spicy sherry bottling, although the Barolo brings typical red fruits and floral elements as well. Available at around € 160.
The Benriach 1988 cask #4424 had a Gaja Barolo finish. Barolo is an Italian wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, one of many to claim the title “Wine of the Kings”. Gaja is a family of Spanish immigrants who revolutionized winemaking in Italy.
BenRiach 20 yo 1988 (54,3%, OB 2009, Gaja Barolo finish, cask #4424, 322 btl.)
Nose: red fruit marmalade. Nice hints of tangerine. Milk chocolate and toffee. Figs. Hints of old roses and honeysuckle. Very fragrant and fresh. The finish works surprisingly well here. Mouth: the fruits and the chocolate keep lingering. Toffee and natural caramel. Underneath, there’s a slightly sweet / sour vinosity and a toasted edge. Slightly drying finish. Not very long. The grapes stay strong.
The nose was a positive surprise with a successful wine treatment. On the palate, it’s a little too straightforward and slightly vinous. Still available at around € 85.
The Benriach 1990 cask #970 is 19 years old and matured in a bourbon barrel without an extra finish. It’s made in “classic Speyside” style which means it’s unpeated.
BenRiach 19 yo 1990
(57,1%, OB 2009, cask #970, 195 btl.)
Nose: indeed classic BenRiach style: pears, oranges and subtle honey. Clear notes of barley. Quite fruity and floral with hints of pinapples. Toffee. Vanilla as well. Reminds me of the Benriach 20 yo which is not a bad thing of course. Mouth: punchy attack, mostly the sawdusty oak that’s talking now. The creamy vanilla has grown bigger. Acacia honey. Lemon zest. Spicy notes: cinnamon, some ginger and liquorice. Slightly rummy aftertaste. Finish: not too long, on grapefruit and oak tannins.
A solid, classic BenRiach. No surprises here. Somewhat reminiscent of the 20yo but at cask strength with punchier oak spices. Still available at around € 80.
BenRiach 1994 14 yo – cask #105100 (Bourbon Barrel) – around € 60
(*) These are finishes. The others had a full maturation in their oak type.
They were launched in September, together with the GlenDronach single casks, but reviews are still very scarce. Let’s change that. I’ll be reviewing seven of these BenRiach single casks over the next 10 days.