This Benriach, peated and finished in a tawny port cask, was brought by my friend Rich to a whisky gathering to celebrate his birthday last fall. It is from a cask that won a “Gold Medal” from the Malt Maniacs back in 2012, also picking up their award that year for the best peated whisky. The Malt Maniacs may award a lot of medals but very few of them are gold and so this would seem to be a sure thing. At our tasting, however, it got a less rapturous reception. While no one came close to disliking it, most of us—including me—found it a bit of an oddball (though I liked its oddness a lot), with vegetal, meaty and sweet flavours going in and out. It was not clear, however, if it was suffering juxtapositional effects: everything else we had that night was fairly straightforward ex-boubon or ex-sherry and it’s possible aspects of the port/peat character got exaggerated as a result. I came away with a large sample though and so am able now to evaluate it by itself.
Benriach 27, 1984 (52.2%; cask 4060, peated, tawny port finish; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Farmy peat to start and then it’s overrun by red fruit (plum mostly) and then just as quickly the two merge. Some charred pork as well and big whiffs of graphite (pencil lead); dried orange peel below it all. After a bit there’s more dry wood smoke. Gets sweeter as it goes with some apricot joining the plum. With a few drops of water it’s maltier at first and then there’s quite a bit of leather and a savoury sweetness: think roast duck with plum sauce.
Palate: Charred smoke: wood first and then fatty pork from the grill that’s been basted with a sweet sauce; some star anise too. The smoke gets drier as it goes and picks up some pepper; there’s a leatheriness too now. Nice, supple mouthfeel. With even more time the smoke turns ashy and that graphite/pencil lead from the nose is here too now. With a lot more time (going on 60 minutes now) there’s a lot of orange peel and some raisin. A little sweeter with water at first, and a little nuttier, but then the smoke builds again—everything’s more integrated now.
Finish: Long. The smoke and the sweet notes merge and there’s a mentholated thing happening at the very end. Nuttier and saltier with water.
Comments: This is just lovely. An excellent marriage of peat and port (a peaty porter? a portly peater?). Takes over from the Portonova as the best port cask whisky of any kind I’ve had. Tonight it was not much of an oddball at all. And as per Rich, this is more representative of the rest of the bottle? So probably was some juxtapositional effect back in October.
Rating: 90 points.
Thanks to Rich for the sample!