The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
Welcome back! We're making our way through our journal of discontinued casks from the independent bottler Single Cask Nation. Some of you may have asked me about my favorite independent bottler last year, but were disappointed to hear that the membership fee was a little steep (even if it included a complementary bottle of your choice). I don't get paid to shill for these guys (let's be kind, it's hardly "shilling" given the quality of their whiskies), but they have a new "White Lite" level of membership that is just a basic entry fee, giving you access to all of their member whiskies. It's worth it if you're itching to get your hands on the things I'm writing about.
It's worth mentioning that independent bottlers (IB's) are not just for the uber nerds of the whisky underground. Most IB's have a definite mission or vision behind their work. I am of the mind that SCN whiskies stand out because they don't just buy old casks or rare casks (the unique provenance of many IB's), but they specially curate their cask selection for unique whiskies that stand out from the pack. They are the Pandora Radio / Zite App of IB's, taking input from their members (usually straight from their members-only Facebook page) and bottling what they know we'll enjoy. Best of all, despite their affiliation with the Jewish Whisky Society, you don't have to be Jewish or a whisky expert to join. I am neither.
Don't take my word for it though. Before you deep dive into this Benriach, it's worth hopping over to The Coopered Tot to see what he thought of the whiskies a few weeks ago. Pay special attention to the differences in how he approached each bottling. Where I saw deodorant and pickles, he saw vidalia onion and dark, toothy oak. That's the joy of whisky, friends. We each approach it in our own way.
17 years old - I love how so many SCN whiskies defy the arbitrary 10, 12 ,16, 18, 21 year age statements that you find in the core ranges. This Benriach was distilled in 1995 (bottled in 2012), three years before the distillery gave up their own floor maltings for a decade and half. Any Benriach this old today would have been distilled from barley malted offsite by a large malting corporation. Thankfully, the distillery fully resumed the floor malting process in 2013, making it one of only a handful of Scottish distilleries that continue this time-honored tradition (most of them Hebridean). Look at the names of the distilleries who still do their own floor malting: Laphroaig, Bowmore, Kilchoman (Islay represents!), Highland Park, Springbank, the Balvenie, and Benriach. You'll notice that these names are among the short list of those I esteem as the absolute best of Scotch whisky. I don't necessarily think that's because of the floor malting process. I think it's because the floor malting shows these distilleries care.
What strikes you after the age statement is the color of this particular Benriach: such a rich, lustrous gold, like a Yukon stream adorned with bright gold nuggets, heralding the rush you're about to experience. For the longest time I thought this whisky was among the most complex I ever tasted. It's certainly a tough bone to pick, but that's largely because of the way it assaults your senses. At its heart, I think its beauty is really a product of its simplicity. We have here a representative of the rare, heavily-peated Speyside, full of bright floral peat, rich tropical fruits, and classic oak. These elements come together in a way so beautiful you want to cry. Maybe it's the ash from this fire I'm sitting next to...
So much lemon on this nose, backed up by earthy sensations (a product of the peat smoke) like the tea in an Arnold Palmer. It's a country club, genteel sort of fellow. There's a note of old Coca Cola Classic left open for a long time in your grandfather's garage, along with a prickly sort of sensation on the nose from the carbonation (the Coke, not the whisky) - it's still fizzy! At the end I'm getting birthday candles, not blown out yet, with a hint of icing. The execution is flawless, and the smoke truly doesn't overwhelm. Instead, it eeks its way into all of the other elements and imbues them with flavor and personality. Inland peat is different from maritime peat, so there's little of the "boggy" sensation you get with most Hebridean malts.
Well, you can't come all this way and not taste it. I've been catching up with it for days now, and yet now that I'm outside (camping trip) this is showing its truest colors so far.
Lots happening here on the palate. The mouthfeel starts oily but finishes long and dry. You've got a big mouthful of sour Starburst lemon chew at the beginning, backed up by the dry, powdery sweetness of the highland peat. Pez for peat, yay! As the sour, oily sensations fade you're left with bittersweet chocolate morsels left out to in the air too long. Someone spilled some oregano and 7up here. Near the end there's a Tobasco sensation at the back of the throat. Finish is dry. This is from a 2nd fill bourbon cask, so there's not as much bourbon dominating this whisky as in the Glen Moray we covered. The barrel's presence is a whisper, passing on the best of itself in the form of oaken maturity and peat sweetening. I'm a solid fan - this has long been my crown favorite of the SCN bottlings. So far ;-)
Tasting is a synesthetic experience. In this blog, every whisky gets a song - one that describes, suits, and evokes. I review any whisky that suits my fancy, and some that don't. I don't give scores. You'll know whether it's a winner or loser when we peel back its mysteries and start putting pen to paper.