B

BenRiach 12 Year Old Sherry Wood

Benriach 12

Contrary to popular belief – or to how it may seem – we do like to think of interesting approaches to reviewing whiskies. I won’t go as far as saying each article is an exquisitely crafted “hand-picked” gem, to borrow some casual laziness from industry marketers, but we like to find something interesting to say about it. So when something like this crosses the sample desk, it’s not easy to think of something interesting to say.

And that’s kind of my point – if indeed I have a point – to this review. Which is to say: isn’t whisky getting boring? Considering how many distilleries are operational, and how many things one can do in the industry if they were inclined to do so, aren’t things just a bit dull?

Don’t get me wrong – if you wanted to skip to the bottom and save yourself a couple of minutes, this is a good – and good value – whisky, and you should most certainly buy it. Well done, BenRiach.

But this is… a 12 year old whisky. Fine. It’s ‘sherry wood’ which is bog standard for the industry, but not really a headliner. Fine. And all I have to say is… this whisky’s spent 12 years in sherry wood. That’s literally it. That’s the name, that’s the selling point. This whisky’s USP. And to my knowledge, it’s another revival of something previously quite popular.

I don’t mean to pick on BenRiach here. At least we have some indication of what’s gone on with the age and the maturation.

So, let’s zone in on the details themselves.

This whisky has been matured in sherry casks, and then… wait for it… finished in a combo of Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks. So matured in sherry, then finished in more sherry? Reracked from one sherry cask into another. That prompts the following question: what was wrong with those initial casks? I’m guessing they were probably old hat, been around the block etc. i.e. cheap. Someone tell me if they weren’t well-used – because if the casks were good, why finish them in the same wood?

Or perhaps I’m being harsh: perhaps this is so that they can call it ‘sherry wood’, by faffing around with more sherry casks. Sherry Plus. Sherry Max. SHERRY.

BenRiach global brand ambassador, Stewart Buchanan, said this whisky is “more Sherried than the previous edition, and has a richer note to it. It’s not overloaded with Sherry though…”

Quite.

But do you see my real point here? There’s nothing really interesting about sherry wood. This quote tells us nothing at all. This is just an age-old maturation vessel that we’re trying to communicate as a headline. It’s like saying ‘this is WHISKY whisky’. And this sort of thing isn’t a BenRiach problem, it’s an industry problem. We see bourbon wood mentioned everywhere as if that’s special. Maybe there will be a short-term spike of interest, but in the long run? It means no one will care. The fetishisation of very ordinary things will leave Scotch distilleries with nothing to say. We’re seeing so many terms being over-used these days, like premium – which is meaningless; and “hand-picked” which is stupid.

And my personal pet peeve with all with all this wood talk is this: we don’t see is any discussion on that initial spirit. Doesn’t anyone care about that distillate? (I bet the production guys do.) That’s the stuff that matters the most. That’s the stuff that interacts with the wood. That’s where the flavour starts. What about the factors that contribute to how the spirit tastes?

Because the annoying thing is, BenRiach is a really good distillery. The whiskies have been super tasty over recent years – as is this. And it’s good value, at £45.

 

BenRiach 12 Year Old Sherry Wood – Review

Colour: deep copper.

On the nose: very attractive: Seville Orange marmalade, dried apricots, raisins. Tiramisu. Mixed peel. Heather honey, a little waxy.  Just a hint of soap, wrapped up in floral notes. A few herbal notes, notably thyme and sage.

In the mouth: not many oils in the spirit, it doesn’t cling to your mouth, but the flavours expressed are excellent. It indeed echoes the nose – the orange marmalade and apricot note continues. Green tea and honey, with just a little sourness muting the overall pleasantness. Ginger, grapefruit, a hint of pineapple underneath those layers of sultanas, toffee and vanilla. I wouldn’t say it’s massively complex, but what’s here is very good indeed. A smouldering, ginger-y finish.

Conclusions

All in all, very good value for money, some lovely flavours. I only wish this had a little more oomph on the texture front. As for the value of an age statement whisky, this is like buying whisky in the old days – £45 is a splendid price. As I say – you should buy it.

Score: 7/10

Image from Abbey Whisky and there’s a commission link also that helps keep Malt shipshape.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Kian says:

    From what I read on EWB the whisky is made up of 3 different parts.1 is a full 12 year sherry maturation in mainly oloroso but some px as well.The other 2 are 6 years in bourbon followed by 6 years in PX and oloroso. I agree it is a really solid 12 Year Old with a nice harmonious mix of citrus spice and sherry and one which I will buy again for sure.

  2. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    Mark, several interesting points here, all well-made. I agree wholeheartedly with your “boring” comment; it’s almost gotten to the point where I’m willing to fling money at something – anything – novel, rather than buy another bottle of “Speyside malt matured for 12 years in Bourbon oak and finished in hand-picked Sherry casks” (this is not an actual quote, but it certainly could be).

    I wonder if this isn’t a Scotland-specific problem? Not that Caledonia has a monopoly on tosh, but: after several hundred years, has the industry said everything there is to say – or everything that can be said – about whisky making and maturation? As interest in other whiskies surges and the old standbys are left fighting for shelf space, the marketing departments must be reaching frantically for an ace up the sleeve. This can take the form of a bollocks narrative with the most tenuous of connections to the whisky (see: Vikings). In the case of the increasing prominence of “Bourbon casks,” I just assumed they’re trying to piggyback on the recent success of American whisky.

    All that said, good on you for giving this a fair shake. Sounds very pleasant, indeed.

    1. Mark says:

      Thanks, Taylor. I guess the dangerous part of this boringness is that it opens the doors for bizarre marketing stories, as you say with our Viking friends…

      It’s also a symptom of Scotch distilleries either not knowing enough about production or just a lack of transparency. They double-down on the old, meaningless stuff – because that’s all there is.

      And yes, re: Bourbon, my gut instinct is that some person in a marketing department thinks that bourbon = craft in people’s minds, therefore it’s a way of tapping into that mindset. More laziness, perhaps.

  3. WelshToro says:

    I’m pleased you reviewed this one Mark. There was such a small absence of time between this one and the previous 12 year sherry that I was nervously wondering what was going on. Couple of things it seems. I think the old one was aged for the duration in ex-oloroso and nothing else. Like you, my spider sense is activated when I hear that the latest version has been dipped into px and finished in yet more oloroso – WTF. I bang on about this a lot on whisky forums but most whisky folk no nothing at all about sherry or sherry barrels. I don’t think the price is particularly attractive either. You already touch on the quality of the casks involved. How can 12 year sherry matured whisky finished in a double dose of more sherry casks not be ‘overloaded with sherry’? It’s a 12 year old whisky at the end of the day and I think £40 should be the top end unless it’s bottled at a higher strength.

    I share your frustration with ‘the whisky business.’ I can only think it could be improved with greater transparency. Saying ‘sherry barrels’ and letting the public that is something special has been going on for far too long. When I bring it up with brand ambassadors they won’t touch it with a barge pole. Same can be said, to a lesser extent, with ex-bourbon or any other kind of cask. We hear far too little about distillery character. You have to be a whisky geek to go down that path though. I drink rum and mezcal where the distillate really shines through. Anyway, great to hear your thoughts; it sounds like a decent 12 year sherry whisky – Boom. Cheers. WT

    1. Mark says:

      Thanks, WT. Keep fighting the good fight – on forums and with ambassadors. If it wasn’t for people like you then they’d get away with it much more.

      Price-wise… I dunno. You don’t get much good for under £45 these days. Maybe if it was a 10 year old then that would be more appealing, but I still think it’s pretty decent for that.

      I do think time will show the whole cask thing to be pointless in the end. Brands will have to exhaust themselves – or rather, exhaust drinkers – and then they’ll move onto something else entirely.

  4. Kian says:

    Quote from Stuart Buchanan brand ambassador explaining the maturation process’ There are 3 parts to this whisky, one part has been fully matured in sherry casks, which in itself is approx 6 parts Oloroso to 1 part PX, while the other 2 parts have each spent 6 years in Bourbon Casks before spending another six years in either Oloroso or PX’. So a 3 way sherry maturation but not just a sherry overload by any means. Just a well crafted mix of probably 1st and 2nd fill sherry and bourbon casks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *