The Benriach 18yo “Albariza” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Pedro Ximénez Finish. 3886 bottles, 2015)

2015 saw the release of the first of a trio of a brand new limited production series, “Albariza”, which was finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. I missed out on that one at first, so I started with the second one called “Dunder“, a Dark Rum Finish, which I got upon its release. After buying the final release of the trio, “Latada”, finished in Madeira casks, Master Quill got busy and bought himself Albariza at a well-known German Whisky-auction, to complete the trio. So after the second one, it is now time to get back to the beginning and try this Albariza before finishing off this series with the Latada in the near future. I still have the Dunder around for comparison, but sadly there is not much left. What to do when the time comes to review Latada?

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Nice clean peat. Different from fatty Islay peated Whiskies, but very nice aromatics nevertheless. Breaths of fresh air and warm glue, with peat, peat and peat. Where is the PX? Just like Dunder this seems to be a bottling that has heaps of peat. It’s more about the peat than the particular finish. Maybe this has to breathe a bit more in my glass. Easy does it, be patient. After cleaning MQ’s lectern, and reorganizing the bottles a bit, I came back after some breathing. Well, it changed. Christmas spices, red fruits and black coal fire. More deep and brooding. Hints of sweetness and syrup have been added. So, fruit seems to wiggle its way in, how cute. Very strong aromatics, with sharp (peat) smoke right up my nose, opening it up for easier breathing. Nice fatty, big and dirty. Nice complexity, with a borderline classic peat-smell. Nice syrupy sweetness en fruitiness, but like Dunder this is primarily a Peated Whisky, yet, finished with taste. More than excellent nose if you ask me. Let it breathe.

Taste: I can feel the (sweet) PX when I sip this, the (thin) syrupy texture is there, but before you can taste it, the tarry peat slams it down with a vengeance. Well, almost. Maybe the words are a bit strong. This is definitely a Peated Whisky for sure! Second sip, again PX tries, but more like an engine that won’t start. For these three Whiskies I feel the focus of the naming and the labels, and the text written on it, is wrongly on the cask the Whisky was finished in, but should have been on the peat. Never mind that. Sure its peaty, but the finishes do add something to the whole, and good for us, they merely add, not overpower it. As I said before, finishing done with taste. If you let it breathe for a while, the Whisky gains more balance and the finish shows itself a bit more. Less peat, more smoke that way. More coal, licorice and a taste that brings images to my mind of crushed beetle. This is finishing done right. Excellent stuff and an example that it doesn’t have to be Oloroso alone, considering dark Sherries. PX has something to bring to the tabel as well. Just don’t over do it! Finish is great and of medium length. Aftertaste is short, and a bit too sweet, seems dissonant from the whole experience. If this sweetness would have been replaced by black fruits, this could have been one of the best bottlings from this decade.

Albariza is a very chalky soil, so how to taste this terroir, when the peat overpowers it all? Even in the taste it’s hard to find the PX directly. Again some more breathing is necessary. Dark chocolate and after a while a more sweeter note comes around, together with some ashes. Flint and a slightly burnt Sherry cask note with a hint of christmas again. liquorice in the finish and the sweetness manages to stay around for longer. Here the PX finally emerges.

When entering a shop, I never had a lot of interest in “newer” Benriachs. Some of the standard bottlings were ok, but not more than that and the rest were almost all finishes of some kind with labels in strange colours, looking like a bunch of skittles. However peated Benriach tastefully finished seemed something different, so this series sold very well, and sold out quickly as well. This year (2018) saw the release of the 22yo versions of “Albariza”, “Dunder” and “Latada” at what looks at first quite a hefty price, but then again, not a terrible lot more than these three 18yo’s fetch at auction today. I was already quite impressed with “Dunder” and this “Albariza” is in the same league as well, so I’m sure the 22yo’s will be pretty good as well. If only they would be higher in ABV and less expensive…

Points: 89

“Albariza” is darker and warmer and definitely different from “Dunder”, which is nutty, sweetish and funky. Where the peat subdued, making it more elegant, and the smoke is now more prevailing. I’m assuming since all three Benriachs matured in Bourbon casks first that they were pretty similar before entering the casks they were finished in. What’s similar as well is the peat part. The peat smells the same in both, so that corroborates my assumption. “Albariza” is bigger as well  “Dunder” is lighter and easily recognizable as a Rum cask finish. Rum casks gives off very specific aroma’s, both in the nose and on the palate. “Dunder” is now finished, so it tells you the bottle had plenty of time to breathe. Oxygen did bring out the aroma’s over time, so I’m guessing “Albariza” will change over time as well.

If you’re interested, here is some background on what Albariza actually is by Whisky’s (and Sherry’s) own, Ruben.

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The Benriach 10yo “Curiositas” (46%, OB, Peated, Circa 2006)

After all those very special expressions of “The” Benriach, it’s finally time to have a look at a more mundane Benriach. The standard 10yo, with peat, carrying the less mundane name of “Curiositas”, since it must have been very, very strange for Benriach to use peat? One just has to love the names they give their Whiskies. Curiositas was released in 2004. The expression I’m about to review was bottled in 2006 or earlier, so this is one of the firsts. Today the Curiositas is still a part of Benriachs core range, so it has proven itself to be quite a success.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fat peat, creamy and fruity. It’s peat alright, but elegant peat, if there is such a thing. Sounds a bit like an elegant Hummer or like claiming a pair of muddy Wellington’s can ever be called elegant. Compared to scruffy and iodine laden peated Whiskies from Islay, this is peated alright, but also very different. Crushed bugs (you had to be there), dabs of mud and gentle smoke. Big aroma at first, and also soft. However, the “bigness” gets less with breathing. Floral and soapy notes emerge. Cold dish water with a plethora of spices. Not really “farmy” but definitely a vegetable garden, Were Rabbit style.

Taste: Wow, this wasn’t what I expected. This starts out fruity and sugary. Very fruity in fact. One might ask, where is the peat? Cardboard and paper, soft wood and even more fruit turn up. A tiny smoky prickling sensation comes next, quickly followed by nice licorice notes. Creamy vanilla pudding with hints of coffee candy. Not a big body though, and to be frank, (not Dave), this has quite a short finish as well. This peated Whisky isn’t about power at all (alas), but more about the Speyside fruitiness, maybe rightly so. Ain’t that curious, yet logical too, when you think about it for a while. You gotta love the name now.

Peated Whiskies are very interesting, since especially “young” peated Whiskies can be very good without long ageing. Although I understand the Whisky, it’s not an expression I like best within the peated category. It’s nice, but from the body onwards. I feel, lacks too much oomph. I would have liked it much better if it would build more on the groundwork laid out by the nose., which seemed more peaty and smoky, but also more complex. Maybe it got better with the later batches.

Points: 82

Benriach 36yo 1976/2013 (40.1%, OB, for Whiskysite.nl, Refill Hogshead #3012, 118 bottles)

After reviewing the Arran, a more recent Whiskysite bottling, I remembered I have already reviewed some other Whiskysite bottlings, like this Bushmills and this Port Ellen, but there are still more out there, even a Karuizawa! However, I have yet another one up my sleeve to review, and since I found out in the previous review I’m getting old, there is no better time than now for yet another Whiskysite bottling. Not just any other bottling I might add. Nope this time a 1976 Benriach. This was bottled for the boys from Leiden way back in 2013, and even then, sold out quite fast. Why? Because Benriach from 1976 have some sort of reputation, just like Tomatin’s from the same year. When we talked to Douglas Campbell (Master Distiller at Tomatin), he told us there was nothing special going on at the time, just a lot of distilling being done, as in the years before and after 1976. Any cask they could get a hold of was filled and later, when money was needed, a lot of that particular vintage was sold off, which might explain why a lot of 1976 Tomatin’s exist. However we also heard some compelling stories about fruity yeast strains and an exceptional summer making for super fruity barley.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Ahhh funky, old Whisky funkiness. Heaps of fruit with and edge of vanilla, more than an edge actually, giving it a creamy texture you can smell. You’ll never get this out of a NAS or otherwise young distillate. Sugared pineapple, dried and sugared papaya, lychee combined with refined creamy vanilla. Definitely a Hoggie remade with (mostly) American oak staves. Back then they didn’t care about 100% correctness, so when remaking the Hogshead, and if it would fit, the occasional European oak stave would find its way into a cask like this very easily. The wood note in this is very soft, not spicy. More about nuttiness than the wood-notes themselves. Uber-fruity with nice vegetal notes. Some less obvious notes emerge as well, hints of cardboard, lavas, coffee with lots of milk, mocha and latex-paint come to mind, but mind you, they only add to the complexity and do no harm to the whole. So don’t be alarmed. By the way, for all it’s fruitiness, this is not the most fruity smelling 1976 single cask Benriach, by far.

Taste: Oh my God this is good! Starts out with short bursts of the sugared and/or the dried yellow fruits I mentioned in the nose. When the body moves, rather quickly, through the cavity of your mouth it starts to develop black fruits in large amounts. Wonderful. This is what you look for in a 1960’s or 70’s Malt. The holy grail, at least for me it is! Also quite unexpected, since the blackcurrant and super-ripe blackberries are nowhere to be found in the nose. What a wonderful surprise.

I mentioned that the body moves rather quickly, What I mean is that it seems to have a start and a finish, but the body itself is very short-lived. It’s a bit thin and fragile, which can be attributed to the low ABV, but not only. The fragility of this malt has something to do with this specific single cask offering, since it is not always like this with older Malts or even sister casks. Luckily the black fruit thing is what makes up the finish, which is of medium length at best and should have lasted forever. Excellent! In the end a wonderful Malt, with alas a weak side. It should have had a little more oomph and staying power. It could have done with a bigger body, but in the end it is a remarkable, yet thin, Whisky. The aroma’s are wonderful and that also is worth the price of admission, although there are obviously better examples to be found. Don’t take too long since otherwise most of these Whiskies will end up in collections only, and therefore will cost more by the day.

Sure Whiskies like this will cost you a pretty penny (at auction), but its history in a bottle. More recent Whiskies will never smell and taste like this, it simply cannot be achieved, and if something like this would be marketed today in today’s market, it will be over 40yo old, and it will cost you 40 cars at least, and I don’t mean Dinky Toys! You have to taste something like this to be whole I guess.

Points: 92

The Benriach 17yo “Septendecim” (46%, OB, Peated, 2013)

Last summer I already reviewed The 18yo Benriach “Dunder”. A peated Benriach finished in high ester Rum casks. This “Septendecim” is a 17 year old peated Whisky. Well, I may be wrong, but maybe this “Septendecim” is the basis for all those 18yo Limited production’s of late? Up untill now there are already three releases in this series. It started with “Albariza” which was finished in PX Sherry casks, the second was the aforementioned “Dunder” and last month the Benriach “Latada” was released. Again a peated Whisky finished this time in Madeira casks.

The Benriach SeptendecimColor: Gold.

Nose: Fatty, fatty, thick peat. The peat is instantly recognizable from the Dunder I reviewed earlier. Bonfire in the woods. Tiny hints of electrical fire and molten plastic. Sounds terrible, but it doesn’t harm the overall smell, so easy yourself back into your chair. Quite clean and smoky. Kippers, salty and tarry. But it’s not Islay I’m getting. I still get a secondary feeling of a forest. Clairvoyant? Who knows. After some air, the whole gets even more cleaner, smokier and shows hints of citrus. Lemon, not lime. Quite nice. I would have never given this 17 years if I had tasted it blind. Hints of coffee, but not dark roasted stuff, more Cappuccino. Last one to show itself is the wood. Fresh oak.

Taste: Sure, fatty, a bit fruity and obviously peaty, but also much lighter on aromatics. Cold chocolate milk and coffee again. It has some sweetness too, but that is more hidden. Just like the nose, I wouldn’t have given this 17 years. Even at 46% ABV. it doesn’t seem to be heavy on the alcohol, I’m actually amazed how light this actually is. The lightness (and the coffee with milk) makes this dangerously drinkable for a richly peated Malt. I keep wanting more, and want to sip it more. Having said that, It would have been nice to try this one at 50% ABV and see a bit more complexity at this age. Medium finish with a buttery, vanilla and smoky aftertaste.

The “lightness” in the taste made me believe this is the Whisky they use as a basis for the “Limited Production Series”, especially when its 17 years old and that leaves some room for finishing.

Points: 85

The Benriach 18yo “Dunder” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Dark Rum Finish. 1888 bottles, 2015)

After the Irish Teeling Blend and the Old Malt Cask Clynelish, why not make it a trio and try this new release from Benriach, wich was also finished in Rum casks. Out of the closet it came and onto my lectern, where I popped the cork of this Benriach “Dunder”. Dunder is the name of the residue left behind in the still after distilling Rum in Jamaica. The Dark Rum finish was done in casks that once held Jamaican Rum. I love Jamaican Rum, so I’m very interested what the Rum casks did for this peated Whisky! Yes you’ve read this right, peated Benriach, finished in dark Rum.

This is the second release in Benriachs new series called “Limited Production”. The first release was another peated 18yo, finished in PX casks, which was called “Albariza”.

Benriach DunderColor: Full gold with a slight green tint.

Nose: Nicely vegetal, soft and peat, reminding me of black coal. Niiiiice. Good peat. Lots of depth and quite juicy. Smoke, earthy and full of spices. Meaty smoke and a minty/menthol note. Not a lot of Dark Rum is noticeable though. The peat is simply the main marker here. If anything, the Rum brings balance to the nose. The peat aroma is quite strong without being hit in the face with it. Its strong and laid back at the same time. Balanced. Behind the peat is a sweeter, more creamy note that acts as a vehicle for the peat. Big peat, small vehicle. Like an elephant on the roof of a mini (the original mini, not the BMW giant mini). This needs a lot of air, and I just opened the bottle. This will get better over time. Over time the peat retreats a bit, letting through more smoke and a more buttery, creamy smell as well as some fruity acidity. Citrus (but not the skins). This is getting better and better (but still no high ester Jamaican dark Rum).

Taste: Estery sweetness, thick, you can cut it with a knife, but it’s not as sweet as those sugary Rums, since the overall taste is pretty dry and smoky. Spicy. Hints of paper. Lots of smoke, licorice and a not completely integrated acidity (like drops of lemon juice on fresh butter). All of this is combined with hints of banana. Intriguing. Extremely well-balanced. Warming. The right amount of time was used for finishing this, although it may have benefitted from a little bit more Jamaican Rum (and sweetness) in the mix. Maybe it should have aged a little while longer. Vanilla and Demerara sugar are present, still not very sweet. The Rum does show itself, especially in the finish, without it being typically Jamaican, apart from the high ester entry mentioned above. Hints of red berries with vanilla and smoked almonds (without the salt). What a nice surprise this is.

Points: 88

The Benriach 29yo 1976/2006 (56%, OB, Batch 3, Hogshead #8084, 194 bottles)

And yes another Benriach and another one from Batch 3. After the 1968 Hoggie that scored 89 points and the 1984 peated Butt that scored 88 Points, let’s see if this 1976 peated Hoggie can finally break the barrier and score (well) into the 90’s.

Color: Full Gold

Nose: Fruity and half waxy (it’s not Caperdonich 1972). The fruits would be Apricots, some peach again and strawberry jam. Creamy and spicy oak, malt and sawdust. A rather calm powdery nose. You know those hard candies made of compressed powder? Cold wet tea leaves. Distant sweets and very fruity. Again the yellow fruits. Apricots and peach minus the perfumy side of peach. There could be peat in this, but left in very minute amounts. After some time, smoke and banana. Peat?

Taste: Thick, spicy and waxy. Distant smoke and hints of black fruits. Sweet, nice balance. Work for it and you’ll be rewarded. Again a great sweet fruity malt. Peat maybe, but not as we know it. It’s not from Islay and this is not heavily peated. Just the right amount of wood (the 1968 had more wood).

Of the three I tried from this third batch, I like this best. Some would say the 1968, but for me this has more of everything. Rounder and better balance. OK, maybe simpler, but much bolder. This time the seventies over the sixties. It all just fits snugly, and the peat is so great in this!

Points: 91

The Benriach 21yo 1984/2006 (55%, OB, Batch 3, Oloroso Butt #1438, 658 bottles)

Earlier I tried a 1968 Hogshead from the next door neighbour of Longmorn. Here is another Benriach from Batch 3. The hoggie scored 89 points, so let’s see if this peated and sherried Benriach can match that score. This one being a lot younger and probably completely different. That’s a plus for Benriach anyway. They always tried out a lot, so there is a lot of variation going on…

Color: Orange Gold.

Nose: Smoke and licorice. Nice wood in the fireplace. Clean sea air and peat. Also a slight hint of soap. Black and white powder. Musty Sherry and salty tar. Deep down syrupy apricots and even deeper down a floral note. Given some time, the very dominant heavy wood fire notes luckily die down a little to show more of what’s underneath.

Taste: Sweet and prickly cannabis. Don’t do drugs, do a Benriach! Peat and spicy wood. Musty moss. Red fruits, fresh and candied. Toffee and nougat. Very big body that’s chewy with a little bit of hidden (soapy) banana in here. Finishes a bit like a Kriek Lambic, slightly bitter.

Quite nice big bodied malt. The peat and smoke are great here and there is just enough sweetness here to balance that out. If the fruityness would be able to show its face some more this would have been excellent. Still very good nonetheless. And yes, another great Benriach in batch 3.

Points: 88