One of the few independents
Benriach (pronounced ben-ree-ack) is a distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland and is located approximately 3 miles to the south of the city of Elgin. The distillery was founded in 1897 by John Duff & Co and its early history was very short lived – Benriach was closed in 1903 and not reopened until 1965. It was closed again in 2002 and mothballed (a procedure where a distillery is taken out of operation but left intact and ready to go, when required). In 2004, an independent group named the Benriach Distillery Company took over the distillery and all of its maturing stock. This group was headed by Billy Walker, a former director of Burn Stewart Distillers. This makes Benriach one of the few distilleries in Scotland that is currently independently owned. The distillery has a production capacity of 2.8 million litres per year, with most being released as single malts.
A centre for innovation
Benriach has one of the most innovative ranges of any Scottish distillery - the expansive regular range is matured in ex-bourbon casks, with an additional range of different casks finished whiskies and two smoky ones (they make peaty whisky at Benriach for roughly three weeks every year, which is an unusual practice for a Speyside distillery). This 18 years old is one of two new limited edition whiskies that have just been released – this one has been matured for 15 years in a bourbon cask and then three years in a Moscatel wine cask. Moscatel is a sweet fortified wine that is most commonly produced in Portugal or Spain. The other new release has been matured for the same times but using a Gaja Barolo red wine cask in place of the Moscatel. Both releases are limited to just 3600 bottles, are 46% ABV in strength and should cost £50-55 each. To read our review of the Gaja Barolo cask version - click here.
Our tasting notes
The colour of this Benriach Moscatel finish is golden brown and the nose is vibrant, fresh and expressive. There is a lovely blend of aromas that are present - caramel, crumbly brown sugar, vanilla, cereals, stewed fruits (think of pears and apples), sultanas and cinnamon spice. The overall feeling is reminiscent of an apple/pear crumble dessert. On the palate, this whisky is velvety, buttery and soft with plenty of dried fruits prominent (imagine sultanas, prunes and dates). There is rich, sweet caramel and this again has that crumbly brown sugar element to it. Other notes include stewed fruit (especially apple), honey, wood spices (more prominent than on the nose - think of cinnamon and nutmeg), toasted almonds and a hint of cocoa. The finish is rich and elegant with the caramel/honeyed sweetness turning drier, woodier and spicier towards the end (imagine a combination of oak, cereal husks and those warm wood spices again). The addition of water flattens out the intensity of the sweetness and makes the whisky drier and more grain-like in flavour, with an interesting dried grass note appearing.
What's the verdict?
This is another lovely and well made whisky from the Benriach distillery. The sympathetic use of the Moscatel cask is demonstrated well as it adds interest and another, sweeter dimension to the whisky. It is rich, soft and balanced and would be ideal as a good after-dinner dram to sit, sip and linger with. One of the best new whiskies of the year to date and although we prefer the Gaja Barolo finish, it is a tough call. The finishing of whisky in wine casks is a current big trend in the trade and it is seems a pity that not all of them are of the quality of these two new Benriach's.