Big news from Benriach, which has just dropped its first single cask, single malt Scotch whisky bottlings ever available in the U.S. Three expressions are arriving, all extremely limited (only a few hundred cask strength bottles each) and ranging in ages from 12 to 24 years old, with each drawn from a different type of cask in which they were fully matured (not merely finished).
We were fortunate to be able to try all three. Let’s dig in.
Benriach 12 Years Old Cask #3812 Pedro Ximénez Puncheon 2009 – There’s no mistaking the PX influence on this hefty whisky. The nose is boldly nutty and leathery, with a gentle touch of smoke (although not peat). It is again boldly sherried on the palate, aggressive with notes of leather polish, grape must, dark chocolate, and walnut oil. Some cereal perseveres throughout the experience — though the fruity-leathery sherry character can get a little intense at times. All told it’s never short of rewarding, the finish culminating in a wine-heavy character rich with lingering notes of prunes, dates, and figs. 116.4 proof. A / $100
Benriach 23 Years Old Cask #10297 Marsala Cask 1998 – Marsala can have an outsized influence on single malt whisky, and this bottling is no exception. The nose is relatively restrained, with citrus fruit surprisingly dominating. Again it’s a bit smoky, not peaty, with notes of charred wood, baked apples, and leather — and just a hint of that sweet-and-sour Marsala note. The Marsala comes roaring into focus on the palate, where the unmistakable fortified wine comes into focus. Very nutty and very oxidized. Gritty and tough on the extremely lengthy finish. I still haven’t found a Marsala cask-aged whisky that I’m in love with. 110.8 proof. B / $330
Benriach 24 Years Old Cask #15058 Oloroso Puncheon 1997 – We save the oldest but most familiar cask style for last: oloroso sherry. Things unfortunately have gone a little long in the tooth with this bottling. As with the 1998 Marsala Cask, it’s got a relatively mild attack on the nose, nutty with winey notes, a little hot but plenty approachable as floral notes develop with time in glass. The palate again shifts gears: The sherry overload begins immediately, with heavily oxidized, quite nutty notes that mask more delicate elements of fruit and cereal, which must be buried in there somewhere. Leathery and tough, the whisky soon becomes austere and very winey, almost beefy as the finish arrives. The sharp citrus notes of younger oloroso sherry notes are absent here, and they turn out to be much needed. 106.2 proof. B+ / $380