I’ve had variable luck with the official Benriachs I’ve recently reviewed. I thought this 29 yo from 1986, peated with an oloroso finish was good but nothing very special. On the other hand, I did not care very much at all for this 18 yo from 1998, which was not peated but had a PX sherry finish applied to it. As it happens, this Benriach 12—which dates from the period when Benriach were issuing whiskies with stupid faux-Latin names—is peated with a PX finish. So, will it fall between the other two or will it go past them and approach the wild glory of the 21 yo Authenticus? Only one way to find out.
By the way, I’ve no memory of how/where I received this sample. Normally, I would have suspected Jordan D. (who has reviewed it) and Michael K (also) of being likely sources, but the ugly scrawl on the label is mine. While I used to save reference samples from my own bottles once upon a time, I’ve never owned a full bottle of this. I think that might indicate that I filled it from a bottle someone brought a couple of years ago to one of my friend Rich’s “sherryfest” tastings in St. Paul. Yes, I know, not a very interesting mystery.
Benriach 12, Heredotus Fumosus (46%; PX finish; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Wood smoke swirls around a core of phenolic, earthy peat. Sweeter, richer notes of pipe tobacco in there too along with meatier hints (maple bacon). Gets more earthy as it sits and there’s a bit of dried lemon peel as well. A little less phenolic with water and the earthy notes and pipe tobacco turn towards milky cocoa.
Palate: Not as rich on the palate but otherwise as advertised by the nose. A little smokier and a fair bit sweeter. The texture is just a bit thin at 46%. More phenolic on the second sip and there’s some bitter chocolate as well, edging into coffee grounds territory. It’s all very nicely integrated—there’s no sherry separation at all. Okay, let’s see what water does: it makes it less sweet and emphasizes the cocoa here too. As it sits for a bit the phenols begin to peek out again.
Finish: Long. The smoke really comes through here as the dominant note, getting drier as it goes. The bitter notes continue as well. As on the palate and nose with water: less smoke, more cocoa.
Comments: This is as good as a finish gets: the sweet sherry doesn’t float on top and merges seamlessly with the smoke and peat to create a rich malt. It’s not particularly complex but its balance of heavy smoke and heavy sherry is one many distilleries (including Benriach themselves in other instances) attempt and fail to achieve.
Rating: 87 points.
Thanks to whoever gave me this sample!