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.
Unfortunately it’s already gone. There’s a new cask, 17yo I think, but that 20 yo is out.
It’s a shame, I was kind of saving up for it, and your review points to me making a mistake by waiting so long. I sure wish you and others would get samples of these when they come in so we could all make more informed decisions on these expensive bottles.
Thanks for the notes!
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Ah, that’s too bad. And just think: some of these may have gone to people who may not even like much peat in their whisky.
As for samples, I don’t accept them from retailers or distributors (not that K&L would offer them to me even if I would take them!) so it’s always a happy accident if I can get to limited releases before they sell out. Mostly this is pragmatic—I don’t want to risk paying for full bottles that may or may not be worth it—but it’s also partly philosophical: there are very few whiskies you will ever truly regret missing out on; for most there’ll always be another one around soon that’ll be as good/similar. Once upon a time I used to chase every whisky that I might like or that sounded good and that’s how I ended up with 300+ bottles on the shelf.
It would be nice though if K&L’s notes would be more reliable predictors of the characteristics of the casks they sell.
>It would be nice though if K&L’s notes would be more reliable predictors of the characteristics of the casks they sell.
That’s interesting that you say that. I seem to experience a rather strange phenomenon: those tasting notes don’t ever make sense to me *until I reach the last quarter of the bottle.*
I don’t know what it is, but my experience usually goes like this: 1) purchase bottle, consume first quarter, get slightly miffed that it really doesn’t taste anything like the notes; 2) Enjoy the next two quarters because, while the hooch doesn’t appear as was described, it’s really enjoyable (and I’ll be honest, I’ve only had maybe one K&L exclusive that was a stinker that I couldn’t finish (Speakeasy Talisker); 3) magically, during the last quarter, all of the sudden I’m tasting what I read about months ago.
I don’t know what it is, but it’s almost always this way. I asked David about it, wondering if he aerates the drams extensively before he writes his notes, but no, he just pours and goes.
My guess is the notes are written on the fly from the cask samples they taste in Scotland and that those are probably sitting around in bottles from which samples are sent to all the retail customers looking for single casks. But I’ve had a number of their releases that never lined up—it’s mostly why I’ve stopped buying any of their exclusives without tasting them first or seeing detailed notes from people whose palates/excitability I trust. In general, I’ve come to think that Driscoll’s notes are intended to sell the casks and it’s a happy coincidence if they overlap very much with what’s actually in the bottle. Your mileage has obviously varied.