Benriach only just recently completed its lineup overhaul and it’s back once again with two new products, Malting Season and Smoke Season. These will both be annual releases and neither will carry an age statement.
The first edition of Benriach Malting Season is created with a unique process that brings out the wholesome, creamy flavor found in the distillery’s floor malted spirit. For each new edition of Malting Season, Master Blender Rachel Barrie carefully selects the type of barley and bottling strength – in this case Concerto barley – making each annual edition a truly unique expression in its own right.
The floor malting method is a highly skilled process requiring the delicate and skilled hand of Benriach’s team of dedicated craftspeople. After being steeped in water, the barley is spread across the malting room floor and turned by hand over several days to allow for optimum germination of the barley. Using their keen eye, the malting team decides when the barley is ready to move to the kiln and the iconic pagoda-shaped chimney comes alive.
Benriach Smoke Season is a small batch release that captures one of the distillery’s time-honored seasonal production techniques where peated spirit runs through its stills – it represents a tradition revived by the distillery over 50 years ago. The spirit is the result of exploring 100% intensely peated malt, batch distilled and matured in first fill bourbon barrels combined with a high proportion of charred and toasted American virgin oak casks.
While smoky whiskies are not traditionally associated with Speyside, a look back through Benriach’s archives shows that heavily peated single malts were the preferred palate of the region in the 19th century. Both intensely smoked and exquisitely sweet, the special edition has been matured in both American virgin oak and bourbon barrels – wood types intentionally selected to amplify the toasted sweet notes in Benriach’s smoky spirit. With a new recipe finely tuned by Rachel Barrie, this expression is the most intensely smoked whisky to be released by the distillery.
We received both to try. Let’s give them a whirl.
Benriach Malting Season 2021 – This is a straightforward bottling of Highland malt, rich with notes of cereal grains and edged with lemon zest — but racy thanks to its upsized abv. Notes of baking spice are modest but perfectly pleasant. The palate falls almost perfectly in line with expectations — sweeter than expected, but not at all in a bad way. Fiercely nutty notes of almond and walnut emerge on the immersive palate, showcasing a brighter lemon component and, as the finish arrives, a slightly peppery quality. Fans of unsherried Speyside whiskies will find plenty to love in this uncomplicated yet seductive malt. 97.4 proof. A- / $150 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Benriach Smoke Season 2021 – Enjoy Islay but would prefer something more tame? Smoke Season has many of the trappings of island whiskies, but it’s decidedly quieter and more subdued. Rest assured there’s ample room for smoky maritime elements, chimney soot, and a gentle smoked kipper note to come through, but there’s also plenty of room for chewy fruit underneath, the aromatics heavy with baked apple notes. No major diversions appear on the palate, though there’s a slight greenness that tends to take over later in the game, muscling out some of the fruitier notes — though this does complement the peaty elements in the mix. The finish is slightly doughy and sweeter than most Islay whiskies, making for a whisky that is certainly pleasant but much less immersive (and a bit less interesting, as a result) and complex as a typical Islay experience. That said, as a counterpoint to a true Islay, it’s worth trying a dram side by side just to get a peek at how they interpret the style further inland. 105.6 proof. B+ / $98 [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]