Monday, November 9, 2015

Whisky Review: Benriach 19 Year 1994/2014 for K&L

K&L is one of the few retailers in the US with a prolific single cask program. As part of that, they've been able to source casks directly from Benriach and its sister distillery Glendronach that were bottled by their respective distilleries rather than going through independent bottlers.

This particular cask is heavily peated spirit that was distilled in 1994, aged in an ex-bourbon barrel, then bottled in 2014 at 53% without coloring or chill filtration.

After it was discounted, I ended up splitting a bottle several ways with Michael Kravitz, Florin, and MAO, who should have their own reviews up at the same time.

Benriach 19 Year 1994/2014 Cask #7187 for K&L

Nose: lots of aromatic oak, cedar, dry malt with a salty edge, peat smoke, tar, fresh hay, berries, caramel. After adding a few drops of water, the berries become bigger and sweeter, but the oak expands to push the peat out of the way.

Taste: barrel sweetness throughout, big berries and stone fruit beginning around the middle and carrying through, rising tide of oak near the back, a bump of malt joins the peat that begins just before the finish. After dilution, the wood becomes more dominant and sweeter - pushing out a lot of the other character, some caramel comes out around the middle, while the oak is more tannic at the back.

Finish: oak, salty malt, lingering peat, seashore, marsh, hints of berries

This is a cask that I suspect was sold on partially due to the fact that it's right on the edge of being over-oaked. While less tannic than many other peated Benriachs I've tried, the wood is very present and almost overwhelms the other elements, especially on the nose. If you've tried Curiositas before I think the structure of this whisky will be familiar, though age has amped up the oak while reducing the peat. It's also hotter at 53% than I would have expected. Dilution softens it a bit, but reduces its complexity even further. Surprisingly for all the wood, there don't seem to be a lot of the other extractives one would expect from this kind of cask - the lack of vanilla keeps the overall experience somewhat sharp.

Ultimately, this one doesn't quite click for me. I like the elements, but not their balance. I far prefer the OB Septendecim - which I'll review later this week - which has more peat character despite the lower strength and has far better balance, while running at roughly half the price of what this single cask was going for originally. At $150, I expect a lot more nuance and complexity than this cask has to offer. Slightly further afield, the Chieftain's Bunnahabhain 16 Year that was picked for K&L rested on a similar foundation of peat and oak, but pulled off a kind of bombast that this Benriach doesn't manage. Ultimately it's irrelevant as both the Benriach and Bunnahabhain single casks have sold out after being reduced in price, but this has made me more skeptical of the value proposition represented by Benriach's single casks.

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