BenRiach has been on my radar for quite some time. I feel it has been overshadowed by other “famous” brands but offers much more in terms of value ‒ that lovely intersection between the quality of the spirit offered, and its price. I am a firm believer in the fact that there are quality bottles out there without parting ways from one of your kidneys.
And so, my penchant for peated whiskies (Islay mostly) saw me take a gamble at a peated quarter cask I came across at – gasp – Changi DFS (thatʼs Duty Free Shop for you whisky nerds who donʼt travel often). It was at a price I was willing to pay, and it provided a glimpse of what the distillery had to offer. Donʼt get me wrong; it wasnʼt great, but there was enough quality in the bottle to entice me into seeking something better later to further satisfy my curiosity. As fate would have it, I attended a tasting by Brown-Forman, and part of the whisky flight was a pair of BenRiach 10 and a 25, which I liked a lot. Subsequent encounters with other expressions like the BenRiach 1999 Oloroso Sherry Finish made a very good impression so I hunted for a bottle or two of single cask expressions theyʼve released.
The distillery has had a revival of sorts when Brown-Forman took over in 2016, relaunching its core range in 2018 to much fanfare—on the web, at least. With Rachel Barrie at the Master Blender helm, BenRiach sees itself as unique (well, the capitalised R in the middle is quite something) in Speyside, and is said to have some of the most “experimental casks” for whisky maturation and finishing that side of the whisky universe. Take that statement with a grain of salt, but if you like to believe the marketing line, then thatʼs certainly eye-catching, and it brings me to the expression at hand: a peated Port cask whisky. Hardly revolutionary or experimental, but it has got me piqued. And I have to admit, Iʼm a sucker for Port cask whiskies. There, Iʼve said it. Donʼt judge me.
The BenRiach 2008 Peated/Port Cask #2047 is a nine-year old single cask whisky bottled at a substantial 63.2% ABV, with no chill filtration and natural colouring—an excellent start! It was distilled on March 2008, bottled on June 2017, and is part of BenRiachʼs single cask Batch 14 selection, released back in August of 2017. Itʼs quite an important release, as Rachel Barrie joined on March 1 of that year and said that this Batch shows “an exciting and bold choice of casks”. This expression is one of two in the whole range (seven total) to be aged in a Port pipe and it has the highest ABV of the lot. I have bottle #144 of 838 bottles, which is in line with bigger Port pipes of up to 600 liters. I do like the muted blue and tan scheme with the handwritten numbers. Classy and distinctive. Well done, marketing team.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: am I sure about such a young whisky? Well, you know what, I actually prefer young (below 10 years old) peated whiskies like Caol Ila. I find them lively, exciting and full of flavour—oomph, if you will. Ahhh, the exuberance of youth! If that doesnʼt convince you, this review might:
BenRiach Peated Port Cask 2008 – Review
Color: Deep, matte bronze.
On the nose: Sweet campfire smoke, orchard fruits, rich bitter marmalade (the one with the fruit skin included) on burnt toast, barbequed meats, very faint, rusted tin roof/iron smell on first nosing at times. A whiff of alcohol and varnish at the end—thick and a tad imposing—certainly fills the nasal senses, which tells the brain that this is a substantial spirit and might be a winner;
On the palate: Sweet, bitter fruit jam, cough syrup (the herb-y, organic kind), dark berries, a layer of smoke and peat encircling the flavours, grilled gamey meat, a tad hot (like a new make spirit) in the beginning, paint thinner and sweet brown sugar syrup at the end. A medley of citrus fruits emerges with a splash of water and tames the heat somewhat (personally preferred neat, though I also tried it with a dash). Finish: Medium to long. Sweet, smoke and peat (gentle, not overpowering), cooked meats like in an outdoor barbeque, overripe orchard fruits, those dark berries and that new make spirit/alcohol at the tail end to coat your tongue ‒ not the best but certainly fine if you ask me. And did I say sweet already?
I love this. No, I adore it! I like that the sweetness of the Port cask and peat is fighting for my attention, but in the end, they just embrace and blend harmoniously. It has those thick, oily flavours that draw you in but are not cloying in any ʻsherriedʼ way (sorry, Iʼm not a sherry bomb fan). It hits the spot for me in terms of the balance of sweetness, smoke, peat and other flavours; however, I do sometimes find that, depending on my mood or the time of day, itʼs different flavours that dominate. The taste is best in mid-afternoon (between 2-4pm) and late night (10pm to midnight). These are my “happy hours,” and itʼs different for everyone. Try it out with your favourite dram and find out your own happy hours! Itʼs a quite fun experiment and gives us another reason to imbibe ‒ as if we need one with good whiskies!
This BenRiach has had a few weeks of oxygenation in the bottle. I generally donʼt like to draw conclusions on the first few drams but let the spirit settle. Sometimes, it doesnʼt do much, but often, I find that the results are favourable, especially for young peated whiskies. And it does a bit of magic, especially for cask-strength whiskies like this one.
I honestly prefer BenRiach more than its more famous sister distillery ‒ yes, the one that starts with a G. If, like me, you like port cask peated whiskies, then I would urge you to try this. There should still be a bottle or two available from your favourite online retailer. Will it be worth it? Only you can answer that. It certainly was for me, though I canʼt remember now how much I paid for it. Damn you, middle age.