Most of the Scottish whisky enjoyed around the world today is blended, which is to say whisky from different distilleries is brought together into a big batch then bottled to achieve a specific flavor – and it’s a lot more difficult than you think. Most of Scotland’s distilleries make most of their whisky for blending houses, but once in a while we get a taste of those ingredients. That’s the world BenRiach plays in.
One of my favorite TV shows is Bravo’s Top Chef. A group of accomplished-but-not-celebrity chefs is brought together and for several weeks is given a series of challenges. There are 2 challenges in each episode with the second ending in one of the chef’s being told to ‘pack their knives and go.’ They’re out, and they don’t get a chance at the big price of money and notoriety. The first challenge often gives the winning chef immunity – they can not be asked to leave that week. Usually earlier in the season, one of the first challenges they’re given is to don a blindfold and smell/taste a series of ingredients and say what they are. It’s a great test – we rely on our sight so much. Sure, you may guess citrus, but is it lime? Or lemon? Or orange? The color would be a good clue, but without that frame of reference it’s a serious test. Once we get into the restaurant, we’re given plates of food, maybe being told what some of the ingredients are, but we take for granted the lot of supplies that go into a dish and the special preparation that each dish receives.
When we taste a blended whisky, it’s tough to think of the distilleries that are represented and what each brings to the party. The specific components of a blend can change from batch to batch, as long as the final bottled blend gives the same aroma, color, flavor, finish and enjoyment that you’re used to. BenRiach is one of those ‘ingredient’ distilleries. While the BenRiach distillery was opened in the late 1800’s, it sat silent for more than half a century. The distillery is outside Elgin, in the heart of Speyside. Longmorn is just down the road with Linkwood and Glen Moray not far at all.
Linkwood reminds me a lot of BenRiach. Very bright, citrus, ester flavors. Tropical fruits and such. BenRiach has an interesting collection of whiskies that they separate into categories including “Classic Speyside”, “Wood Finishes” and “Limited Releases.” The Single Cask Nation has keyed into another offering from them – Peated. Peated malts are somewhat rare in Speyside. While they often have a touch of peat, it’s rare to find anything smokier than ‘lightly peated.’ While that used to be a function of what was around the distillery, using today’s transportation and technology we can create any sort of whisky we want, anywhere we want.
This bottle is marked as 1 of 225 and bottled at 53.2% – distilled in June 1995 and bottled in Sept. 2012. It’s spent the entire 17 years in a refill bourbon cask, and I’m guessing the cask had been well seasoned. It’s also unchill filtered with no spirit caramel added. The color is a pleasant-but-underwhelming pale yellow and the liquid clings to the glass nicely.
The aroma is great – the combination of Speyside flavors with the peat really brings the whisky together. Pineapples, allspice, cranberries, some smokey notes… remind you of anything? Thanksgiving table. It was all there. I may have talked myself into it, but once I got there I would have sworn I could smell turkey.
The flavor didn’t quite match up to the aroma, which I like. I like being surprised. The aroma had a lot more citrus. In Judiasm, there’s a holiday called Sukkot celebrating the harvest where you’re supposed to eat inside a temporary hut and shake some plants during prayers. Very specific plants. One is called an etrog and to the untrained eye you’d think it was a very thick-skinned, over-sized lemon. While it does have some of that citrus note, it’s quite different than a lemon. The aroma and flavor are way unique and this whisky – BenRiach 17 – reminded me of that.
The mouth feel was great – very creamy. The finish was long and spicy. At $145 it’s certainly not the most affordable bottle in the collection but for that age it’s not bad. Remember, it’s only available to members of the Single Cask Nation. It was full, and rich, and great – 4 out of 5 stars. Won’t you share a dram with me?
About the Author:
The Whisky Guy is an educator, host, blogger , habitual traveler and more, having worked in the whisk(e)y industry for over 10 years. He can be reached through the Contact page and you can find out more by visiting the About page. He always supports enjoying whisk(e)y responsibly.