Thursday, May 1, 2014

Whisky Review: Duncan Taylor Benriach 34 Year 1968/2003

Benriach was closed from 1900 to 1965, which means that this whisky was distilled only a few years after its reopening by the owners of Glenlivet. They would have been using their own floor maltings, which had been operating through the closure to supply the nearby Longmorn distillery.

This one is from an ex-bourbon cask, and likely a relatively inactive one at that, which has allowed the spirit to retain a shocking amount of freshness after more than three decades in oak. It was bottled at its cask strength of 48.0% with an outturn of 125 bottles. Somehow I managed to get my hands on bottle #1.

I opened this bottle on my birthday last summer as the start of a tradition of drinking whiskies that are older than I am each year. I was lucky enough to obtain this bottle, and a startling number of others, from the Oregon state liquor system. It appears that they bought a very large clutch of Duncan Taylor whiskies over the last ten years, which then languished on shelves until they were systematically reduced to close-out prices over the last twelve months or so. It's been quite a bit of fun hunting them down (though there were a number that I missed and regret not picking up when they were available) and I look forward to drinking and sharing them over the next dozen years or so.

Notes have been taken at various times since it was opened, as the bottle oxidized and evolved.

Duncan Taylor Benriach 34 Year 1968/2003 Cask #2592

Initial impressions (7/23-31/2013)

Nose: green fruit (apples/pears), pineapple, intertwined malt and vanilla, floral, lightly jammy (berries), a hint of oak, grass/hay, a bit of salty bacon and caramel, fruit leather/sherry. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes more grain-focused with some corn popping out, grape/floral notes, and the apples become more cooked.

Taste: surprisingly hot up front with sweet caramel and malt, rather green throughout, some muddled oak notes at the back. After dilution, there is more chocolate and oak, some vague fruitiness emerges, the sweetness becomes fructose, and there is noticeably less burn.

Finish: light but lingering sharp notes of green malt, chocolate, and slightly tired oak, pineapple and floral notes, with a lot of alcohol

Initially this whisky seemed downright immature, with a shocking amount of alcohol heat for its strength and almost new-make levels of vegetal notes. It was something of a let-down, as the reviews I had read gave me a lot of hope that this would be a rather good whisky.

Mid-Bottle (9/29/2013 & 2/7/2014)

Nose: lots of green and lightly toasted malted barley, pine, very light oak, floral notes, green and stone fruit (apples & pears especially), sweet vanilla tucked inside, musky/sweaty, caramel, brine, a touch of coal/wood smoke, grassy, bacon, berries

Taste: very sweet throughout, lots of vanilla, light malt and oak, vegetal

Finish: peaches, peaches, and more peaches, hints of oak, strange herbal/vegetal tinge, malty, graham crackers

Especially in the finish, this was the whisky at its fruitiest. The peach notes in the finish were nigh overwhelming, to the point of being almost unsettling. The palate still felt rather immature, which made me leave it alone for months at a time between nips at the bottle.

Most recent (4/22/2014)

Nose: caramel, vanilla marshmallows, graham crackers, dry malt, light and well-integrated oak, a touch of barrel char, musky perfume, a vegetal edge, overtones of apples and pears, peaches, berries. After adding a few drops of water, the oak becomes more prominent.

Taste: caramel and malt sweetness with peach overtones throughout with a slight citrus-sour edge, well-aged oak and dry black pepper in the middle, near the back there is a huge bump of floral violets and moderately aggressive/sharp grassy/vegetal notes. After dilution, the sucrose sweetness and oak become more assertive, while the floral notes start to integrate with the oak in the middle to produce a sense of tropical fruits, then take an odd swing into something vaguely peppery at the end in combination with the vegetal notes.

Finish: sweet malt with a floral/vegetal edge and almost sour peach notes

This whisky is definitely more drinkable now. The palate is finally starting to show a bit of complexity, though the nose has lost a bit. The vegetal character hasn't totally disappeared, but the initial heat has receded significantly. Goes to show that sometimes these old whiskies really do just need to sit open for a long time before they really hit their stride. I do think I'm interpreting the flavors differently than the reviews from LAWS and Malt Nuts - while we're all getting the esters, I read them primarily as floral and vegetal with a side of peaches, while others seem to get a lot more tropical fruits. Once again, people can interpret the same chemical compounds very differently.

Now I'm kind of sad that the bottle is almost finished, though I'll get to try it again in another couple of years as I also own bottle #21 (when the price dropped to $99 I couldn't resist grabbing a second one). It'll be interesting to see both how the whisky changes and my own tastes change in that time.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jordan,

    Great review. Just found your blog from SKU and I'm really digging it. I recently picked up an 18 year CS bottle of Benriach and reading your review I see some similar flavor profiles, which is expected, but as you'd imagine your 34 sounds more rounded and robust. Going to have to keep my eye out for some of the older ones.