On the 18th of February, I had the pleasure of attending a very special occasion for New Zealand whisky drinkers.
Billy Walker from the Benriach distillery was here thanks to Michael Milne from Whisky Galore (http://www.whiskygalore.co.nz), and together they put on a tasting evening to showcase Billy's range.
This was my first whisky tasting event, so I was unsure what to expect, but when Michaels son piped us into the room, all my uncertainty fell away. After a thorough 30 minute or so discussion on the workings of the distillery, the processes involved, cask and wood selection, ratio of casks used in each bottling (12yo for example is 40% 12yo, 60% 14yo) and so on, we were invited to sample our first whisky of the evening.
I'm not really all that sharp on tasting notes, but I kept a little notebook full of scribblings as the evening went on, and here is a basic run-down of what I tasted, in order:
Benriach 12yo 43%:
Appearance: This was a light gold color with some a lime green type tinge to it.
Nose: A very creamy, buttery, warm milk smell to this whisky.
Taste: Quite light on the palate, hints of sherry, spice, light background of oak, buttery fudge, and the faintest hint of a citrus.
Finish: Long and dry, quite oaky. A strange curry like taste at the end?
I didn't particularly enjoy this one, the cream and butter smell was a little off-putting for my tastes.
Benriach 16yo 43%:
Appearance: Slightly richer gold than the 12, similar lime green hints again.
Nose: A more fruity, nutty number than the 12yo, the cream is still there but it has taken a back seat.
Taste: Lots of dried fruits, sweet malty cereal and oak.
Finish: Dry, a nice presence of sherry, malty and a little short.
This was alright, less cream/butter which was welcome, but a little forgettable in the end. This doesn't come across as just being an older 12yo, it has a certain quality of its own.
Benriach 20yo 43%:
Appearance: Bronzey Gold
Nose: Light cream again, gooseberries? a vague hint of peat, freshly cut.
Taste: Hmm! A subtle background of peat and smoke, goosberries coming through again, berries and a nice oaky profile.
Finish: Yeasty (beer), quite oaky, dry and smooth. The longest finish yet, the peat comes through again with a nice
This was very enjoyable, I remarked on this being "good->very good" in my notes.
Benriach 1988 17yo, Whisky Guild bottling. Cask 5237 54.6%: - This was given to us at the door and wasn't discussed by Billy. I drank mine here.
Appearance: Pale to medium gold.
Nose: Closed off, solventy. Sherry? What's going on here.
Taste: restrained sherry, apricot/dried fruits. Banana. A strong alcohol presence, hot!
Finish: Boiled sweets? vague sherryness, malty and jersey caramel.
This was disappointing after my initial taste of it in the shop a month or two ago. I gave it a good shake and it seemed to open up, and the flavours and nose intensified rapidly. I think this one needed more time than I had to give it, and it fell apart and became weak with water.
6/10 - I'd like to revisit this under different circumstances.
Benriach Curiositas 10yo 46%:
Appearance: Pale gold, lime greenish again.
Nose: Sourish peat, subtle smoke, wet peat.
Taste: This was a little oily, strong dry smoke, smoky fish/bacon. There was a sweetness in this I couldn't put my finger on. Quite watery on the palate?
Finish: Quite long, peaty yet soft and lingering.
This felt a bit weak for a peated expression. Having said that, it was actually quite nice.
Benriach Authenticus 21yo 46%:
Appearance: No notes, but I remember this carrying a similar color profile to the Curiositas.
Nose: Passionfruit, a rich peaty smell comes rolling in. Goosberries again. Amazing nose.
Taste: Strong, rich and full flavours here. Passionfruit again, bitter gooseberries, an oily peat comes romping in as it goes down my throat.
Finish: The longest finish of the night so far. Oily, rich and with a faint sweetness.
This was very enjoyable, I really like what Benriach have done with this.
This was the end of the range from Billy, and as the note on the place matt suggested, he would bring something special. We were in for such a treat. I've never experienced anything quite like this before.
Benriach 34yo 1970 Single Cask. Bottle ? of 254. Sherry Hogshead, Cask 4005. 51.2%
Appearance: The richest, most inviting whisky you could ever lay your eyes on. Dark violent reds and mahogany.
Nose: wow. This was absolutely, utterly stunning. A furor of summery fruits, mango, grapefruit, and a predominant passionfruit and pineapple nose. Amazingly strong aromas, with no suggestion that this was a high ABV malt.
Taste: The sweetest, juiciest fruits you could conjure up. Predominantly passionfruit, pineapple. A strong, yet well focused oaky presence that became more and more apparent the longer I kept it in my mouth.
Finish: This malt took me out the back and pummelled me near to death with its finish. A spicy, raisin flavour comes through to give support to the aforementioned summer fruits. A strong, balanced oakyness was gripping onto my throat.
Every single approach of the glass, be it from my mouth or from my nose was rewarded with the most alluring aroma and taste i've ever had in a whisky. This is it. I cannot praise this malt enough, my notes do it absolutely no justice at all.
9¾/10 - Amazing. The best whisky I have ever had.
Benriach 29yo 1975 Single Cask. Bottle 148/216. Cask 7211 59.1%:
Appearance: A dark, rich gold.
Nose: A very similar nose to the 1970, a little more restrained however. Not as open.
Taste: wow again. A stronger oak than the '70, again with the same delicious fruits. A certain spicy hotness creeps in followed closely by a familiar, yet subtle creamy butter.
Finish: Stronger, oakier finish than the '70, hotter and quicker also. Another absolutely stunning malt. If I couldn't get the '70, this would do very well as a replacement. A younger, louder sibling to the grand majesty that was the 1970.
I really want to thank Billy from Benriach for coming over and seeing us, it was a night I wont soon forget.