There’s a heck of a lot of new BenRiach whiskies about of late, don’t you think? In December I tasted a couple of new ones. At the recent Midlands Whisky Festival, I tasted another brace of new ones (can’t remember which). Mind you, it’s always been the case for many variant whiskies from this distillery.
Anyone who thought BenRiach would slow down their rate of release under the new ownership of Brown-Forman has probably been proven wrong. And the prices are sensible too, which is again uncommon after a change of ownership where the new owners need to get a return on their investment.
You don’t get much exciting stuff for under £60 these days, which is why I was very interested to see BenRiach’s Cask Strength Batch 2. But I was also interested to see more being made of BenRiach’s triple-distilled spirit. The distillery began making this style of spirit many years ago, back when it was under the ownership of Seagrams in the 1990s. Now with a couple of exceptions, most Scotch whisky is double distilled. It’s generally been the domain of Ireland where triple-distilled whisky became a thing. This was, as the excellent blog Andrew’s Share points out, for not-so-obvious reasons today:
“It was the introduction of the malt tax to Ireland in 1785 which gave birth to the quintessentially Irish style of single pot still whisky, utilising unmalted barley (and occasionally other grains such as oats) in order to reduce tax liability. The trouble with this mash bill is that distillation becomes rather inefficient and in order to increase yield to acceptable levels a third trip through a pot still is necessary – hence the practice of triple distillation was established.”
Which is somewhat more robust than the old gag that they had to distill three times because they couldn’t get it right in two attempts. It’s usually been the domain of Lowland-based distilleries – the likes of Auchentoshan – that have created triple-distilled Scotch. So one can only wonder what drive the folks at BenRiach back in the 1990s to give it ago – not least of all because the place would be mothballed just a few years later in 2002 (back when no one could have predicted the coming boom in whisky). Was it some last-gasp attempt to create a unique spirit style to help preserve BenRiach?
It must cost slightly more to whack the spirit once again through the spirit still – to create a much higher ABV and a much, much lighter spirit. Today one could put such a move down easily to marketing, to create a USP that marks the distillery out as something different (and another number on the bottle – like the race to have as many cask types mentioned as possible), but the move to triple-distillation for a short period of time was done way before the days where bottles started to get caked in insincere marketing bullshit.
Anyway, great to see an age statement on this triple-distilled variant of BenRiach, which was released for travel retail. It was matured for a minimum of 10 years in first-fill US Bourbon barrels and first-fill Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks. But firstly, onto the BenRiach Cask Strength Batch 2, which was double distilled, and matured in bourbon, Oloroso and virgin oak casks.
BenRiach Cask Strength – Batch 2 – Review
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: aw, now that’s lovely. A hefty mix of maltiness, honey and fruit. Blackcurrants, redcurrants, some prickliness in there – a little woody. Coffee and dark chocolate. Orange zest. Turkish Delight. Sandalwood. Raisins. Just lovely.
In the mouth: nice and chewy; mealy, stuff, with tart, aggressively tannic red fruits, cranberries, and coffee, and spicy AF. Heather honey, with black pepper, cloves, Assam tea. Citrus and bitter dark chocolate. Stem ginger. The finish is a little oaky, a little too tangy, but I think it works well.
BenRiach Triple Distilled Aged 10 Years – Review
Colour: pale gold, not especially active wood.
On the nose: very much a top-note affair. Pears, lychees, vanilla, coconut. Tropical: pineapple, mango. A little grassy and straw-like, with some new-make spirit undertones. Hay barns. Apple skin. The vanilla becomes more potent with time.
In the mouth: light and oily texture, with green apples, vanilla, floral honey and slightly mealy. Very straw-like and vegetative. Green tea. Kiwi. Watermelon. Strawberries. Fresh fruit salad with cream. Falls to green apples, grass and vanilla. Cashews. Twist of black pepper.
Two very, very different whiskies here. The Cask Strength Batch 2 just a cracker of a dram – buy it. The price is excellent. Well done. Move on.
But the Triple Distilled for me wasn’t working too well. Normally I’d put these kind of weak, too-light flavours down to bad wood, but I am told in the marketing materials that this uses first-fill wood. Yet everything was too light, the flavours were massively absent.
Either way, I think its problem for me is that there is an incredible amount of whiskies right now that inhabit that light, vanilla, grassy end of the flavour spectrum. I’m sure each brand may feel they want something like that in their stable; for them, it’s unique, perhaps; maybe they think it’s great for new drinkers.
But I’m just not moved by it.