This is the second in my mini-run of reviews of recent Signatory exclusives for K&L. As with the Imperial 19, 1995, this was part of a bottle split with a bunch of other whisky geeks all interested in finding out if we wanted full bottles. In the case of the Imperial my own answer was “no”. Let’s see how things go with this Benrinnes. It’s always my hope to discover quality casks from the lower tier Scottish distilleries, as that is increasingly the only zone where good deals can be had.
I’ve reviewed even fewer Benrinnes on the blog than I have Imperials, and I’ve not tasted very many more either. And all of the ones that I have tasted have come across as fairly regulation fruity bourbon cask Speysiders (ex-bourbon Benriness seems to be the majority of what’s available in the US—I note this because the distillery is most known for its sherry matured spirit). As such I was not prepared for what I found in this Benrinnes: a lot of peat.
I was particularly surprised because David Driscoll’s notes for K&L barely mention it. All he says is that, “[T]he finish even flirts with a phenolic note and hints of smoke”. Well, I got a lot more than flirtation and hints on the palate and finish. Indeed, blind I would have believed this was a lightly peated Caol Ila or Longrow. I was so confused that I checked with the person who’d coordinated the split to see if there was any possibility of the sample having been mislabeled. No, he said, and then others who’d tasted it chimed in and said they’d got obvious peat/smoke too. Then I wondered if this cask had previously held peated whisky. I was then pointed to Malt Madness where Johannes’ notes include a number of releases all over the peaty/smoky spectrum. It would appear then that Benrinnes in fact has produced malt with varying levels of peat—if they’re not doing it in the present, they certainly have in the past.
Benrinnes 20, 1995 (52.8%; Signatory for K&L; hogshead 5898; from a bottle-split)
Nose: Mineral oil and lemon peel. With a bit more air there’s quite a bit of salt and a coastal quality (seashells)—in fact, with more time there’s almost a phenolic quality. Well, after a bit there’s definitely a phenolic quality but not to the extent of what happens on the palate. With water there’s more citrus, more vanilla and some dry wood smoke.
Palate: Oh yes, there’s definitely peat here and it’s very Islay in nature: smoke, salt, pepper (and just a bit of rubber). Some lime below that and that mineral quality. What it’s not is a regulation ex-bourbon fruity Speysder. With more time, more lime peel and more salt and a bit of vanilla. As on the nose there’s more citrus with water and sweeter notes.
Finish: Medium-long. Peaty and salty. Longer and more peppery and lime zesty with water.
Comments: Surprise aside, or perhaps even because of it, I really liked this one. Again, there’s not a terrific amount of complexity here for a 20 yo whisky but if you like the combination of ashy smoke and citrus you will like this one. If this is still available when I’m back in the US I might get a bottle.
Rating: 87 points.