Thursday 18 November 2021

Benriach New Range [Tasted: #545 - #551]

Benriach has had a long history. It started off as Longmorn's sister plant in 1898 (four years following the establishment of Longmorn). Founded by the entrepreneurial John Duff, the Speyside distillery was then known as Longmorn No 2. Benriach's initial fate was fairly short-lived when it closed in 1900 and it wasn't until 65 years later that it began to distil whisky again. In the intervening years, Longmorn went through various cycles and though it officially bottled as a single malt, those releases were never as startling as Longmorn or Glen Grant.

In 2003, Benriach was once again mothballed. This time by Pernod Ricard and at the time, it looked like Benriach had jinxed its fate once again. However, this time was different, Benriach was bought in 2004 by a South African consortium, led by former Burn Stewart managing director, Billy Walker. Walker and his team launched a series of different malts including rich, heavily peated whiskies. Over the subsequent years, Walker grew Benriach into one of the most fascinating distilleries in Scotland which led Benriach to be known for carrying complex, spicy, and rather exciting quality on the palate.

Thanks to a long-standing tradition of distilling three styles of whisky; classic unpeated, Highland peated and triple distilled, together with an eclectic selection of casks from around the world, Benriach has been known to be able to explore different flavour possibilities of single malt.

This tradition continues today, under the guidance of Master Blender, Rachel Barrie and Rachel has been instrumental with Benriach's latest portfolio of single malts. The new portfolio of single malts and the new look is inspired by the distillery’s creative heritage and presents a rather diverse, versatile, fruit-laden style and a range of spectrum of whisky flavours that Benriach is known for.

On the new range, Benriach Master Blender, Dr Rachel Barrie said:

“The new range perfectly marries tradition and innovation that is central to Benriach’s story. Inspired by the 1994 bottling of the Original Ten, with its fruit-laden complexity and smooth, rounded taste, the new range re-imagines the 1898 origins of Benriach, brought to life in the 21st century through fusing distilling styles with extraordinary casks.

The new Benriach range is for those open to new possibilities, building on a wealth of experience and tradition. I invite the drinker to join me on this creative journey, as we explore the rich rewards of Single Malt whisky.” 

The core range is made up of four different expressions from a three cask maturation process

  • Benriach "The Original Ten"
  • Benriach "The Twelve"
  • Benriach "The Smoky Ten"
  • Benriach "The Smoky Twelve"

"In the new Original Ten, a more richly flavoured, rounded malt character might be discerned, whilst The Twelve balances richly sherried malt with added layers of fruit complexity, reaching a pinnacle at twelve years old.

The new Smoky Ten and Smoky Twelve explore the sweet smokiness of Benriach, enriched through innovative combinations of rum, virgin oak and marsala casks interwoven with more traditional bourbon and sherry." Barrie says

In addition to the core range, there are also three premium releases and two travel retail releases:
  • Benriach "Twenty One"
  • Benriach "Twenty Five"
  • Benriach "The Thirty"
  • Benriach "Quarter Cask" (Travel Retail)
  • Benriach "Smoky Quarter Cask" (Travel Retail - note the change from peated to smoky)

In addition to Benriach The Original Ten, the Core Range will feature a new recipe for Benriach’s richly sherried twelve-year-old whisky, including port and bourbon casks combined to add to the complexity. The sweet smoky whisky distilled in the distillery’s smoke season also features in the new Smoky Ten and Smoky Twelve Year Old expressions.

The premium set sees the Twenty One, Twenty Five and Thirty Year Old Single Malts that have been put together through a diverse selection of oak casks (four different casks in fact) to provide additional layouts of complexity and richness.

The new range offers something for everyone, in particular with the core range where there are two different takes of the 10yo and 12yo that offer both, classic Speyside style malts or a smoky variant. I particularly enjoyed both the Twelve expressions and found both to be rich, creamy and quite intriguing on both the nose and the palate. The premium range, with its four cask style, provide a very unique profile. Rachel Barrie has created a very balanced yet intriguing set of whiskies, in particular across the older age profiles.

The new range; the 10yo, 10yo Smoky and 12yo will roll out this month. The 12yo Smoky will be released after Christmas time. The premium range; the 21yo, 25yo and 30yo will not land on our shores until 2022.

Benriach "The Original Ten" (43%, Speyside, Scotland, A$85) 

Nose: The nose is rather fruity, there is apple, vanilla, sweet bread, maple syrup, sticky honey. It is quite fragrant and rich.

Palate: The palate is ladened with caramelised burnt sugar, nutmeg, nectarine or citrus, there are oranges and dry, peppery spices. There is a hint of smoke.

Finish: The finish is long and there is a level of soot and smoke

Rating: 91/100 

Benriach "The Smoky Ten" 10yo (46% ABV, 10 Year Old, Speyside, ScotlandA$95) 

Nose: The nose has apple, peat smoke, golden maple syrup covered pancake, pineapple, crumpet, honey. It is also quite creamy on the nose.

Palate: The palate follows the nose, it is creamy, viscous and smooth. There is sweet honey and the smoke is now weaning though it is still pleasant. There is caramel and some ginger spice.

Finish: The finish is long, there is the smoky campfire

Rating: 91/100 

Benriach "The Twelve" Triple Cask (46% ABV, 12 Year Old, Speyside, Scotland, A$97) 

Nose: The nose is filled with forest fruit, oak spices. It's peppery though balanced with some sweetness from raspberries and wild berries

Palate: The palate is rich, mouth-coating followed by some citrus and a mix of spiced elements; pepper, nutmeg, cherries

Finish: The finish is dry with some spices that remain

Rating: 93/100 

Benriach "The Smoky Twelve" (46% ABV, 12 Year Old, Speyside, Scotland, $TBC - available post Christmas 2021) 

Nose: The nose is filled with apple, vanilla waffles followed by a subtle bonfire smoke and cherries

Palate: The palate is creamy, viscous, round and mouthful. It's a very rich mouthfeel, almost like tasting chocolate. There is moreish smoke, some cocoa and burnt orange

Finish: The smoke gently disappears into pepper and spices

Rating: 93/100 

Benriach "The Twenty One" (46% ABV, 21-Year-Old, Speyside, Scotland$TBC - available in 2022) 

At twenty-one years old, Benriach takes on an elegant character, elevated by long maturation, four cask types and a combination of Benriach's unpeated and peated styles. The characters of aged bourbon, sherry, virgin oak and red wine casks intertwine to present a range of flavours.

Nose: The nose is filled with sour citrus, some fresh pine forest. Then there are gummi bear lollies, fruit, and berry fruits

Palate: There is more of those berries, citrus notes, some cocoa, peppery spice and rose water. The palate has a subtle smoke

Finish: There is a subtle smoke that remains

Rating: 93/100 

Benriach "The Twenty Five" (46% ABV, 25-Year-Old, Speyside, Scotland$TBC - available in 2022) 

A rich single malt, interwoven with mellow smoke and curation of oak. After twenty-five years, it is then enhanced by four cask maturation in sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and Madeira wine casks. An appealing dram for sherry lovers

Nose: smoked apricot, dark cherry chocolate, hazelnut toffee and a mixture of dark fruits, raisins and currants. 

Palate: baked fruit, toasted oak spice, orange and cinnamon spice, finishing with rich caramelised smoke. The peppery spice builds up from then on.

Finish: Long, oaky, the cinnamon and spices continue to linger for some time

Rating: 93/100 

Benriach "The Thirty" (46% ABV, 30-Year-Old, Speyside, Scotland$TBC - available in 2022) 

The final malt in the premium portfolio. This expression continues the four cask maturation tradition in sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and port casks. The final product offers a deep aromatic complexity in flavour. 

Nose: The nose is buttery, filled with vanilla, honey, citrus and dark fruits; plum, figs and raisins. Cinnamon doughnut anyone? There is nuttiness that follows with subtle smoke.

Palate: The buttery, honey prevails, so too is the cinnamon doughnut. There are more raisin notes, followed by orange, citrus that followed. Some intense spices start to build at the end.

Finish: The finish is subtle, long and sweet and leaves an oaky, smoke that remains for a while.

Rating: 93/100


Thanks to Brown Forman for providing us with samples from the new portfolio.

Tuesday 16 November 2021

The Macallan Harmony Collection "Rich Cacao" [Tasted #544]

The Macallan Hong Kong launched the first release in "The Harmony Collection" today, a new annual series filling the hole left by the "Edition" series, which came to an end with last year's Edition No.6.

The first release, "Rich Cacao", celebrates chocolate and sustainability through a collaboration with Jordi Roca, of famed Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca. The Roca brothers have been collaborating with The Macallan for several years now (long-time readers might remember our El Celler de Can Roca dinner in the grounds of The Macallan estate for the launch of the new distillery in 2018)), but this is the first major/global release of a whisky produced in collaboration with family.

The story goes that:

"The Macallan Whisky Maker Polly Logan embarked on a unique journey to Girona, Spain, where she immersed herself in the world of chocolate, exploring the chocolate-making process and uncovering the distinctive flavour profiles at Casa Cacao.

Polly worked with Jordi Roca, owner of the famed chocolate boutique and hotel, Casa Cacao and the youngest of the acclaimed Roca brothers. As part of the exploration, she also spent time with master chocolatier of Casa Cacao, Damien Allsop."
..and that on return to the distillery, Polly sought out both American and European oak Sherry casks displaying the most chocolate-like characteristics.

The packaging and labelling also presents a new direction for the distillery, with a much bigger focus on sustainability. The box is 100% recyclable, and both the box and labels are made from a mixture of fibres including cacao shell.

To celebrate the launch, The Macallan held a series of tastings at The Macallan Room in K11 Musea, paired with a local honey-infused chocolate from Vero Chocolates along with a cocoa-dusted orange wheel.

Both these pairings brought out varied and delicious notes in the whisky, but I was most interested to see how the whisky fared on its own, and to see just how chocolatey it really was..

The Macallan "The Harmony Collection" Rich Cacao (44% ABV, NAS, Speyside Scotland, $1,800HKD)
Colour: Amber gold.

Nose: Sweet ginger at first, then honey. There's that trademark sherried-Macallan note (I call it a slightly "flinty" note, but I wouldn't call it sulphur here) and some apricot after time.

Palate: Initially, a lot more ginger and spice than I expected. Cinnamon, orange, fruity spices and more ginger. Honey, sure, but not much chocolate (at first). After some time, dark chocolate and chocolate orange notes emerged, true to its name. 

Finish: Medium to long in length, with spiced honey and some cinnamon to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A well-constructed Macallan, true to the notes listed on the box (cinnamon, dark chocolate, honey, dates, vanilla). To my palate, there was more ginger, honey and cinnamon than chocolate, but you could definitely taste the chocolate after time. I'm looking forward to seeing where this series goes with future releases (though with a starting point almost double the Macallan Edition 6, hopefully not too further in terms of price)! No word on the total number of bottles released.

The Macallan "The Harmony Collection" Rich Cacao is available from 22nd Nov for $1,800HKD. The pop-up experience at K11 Musea (5/F) runs until mid December.


Wednesday 3 November 2021

Style-specific Whisky glasses? Why not!? A review of Lucaris' new "Gràn Collection"

The world of wine has a variety of glasses (or "stemware") to suit the many styles within - a large, bowl-like glass for Pinot Noir, a smaller, tighter glass for Riesling, a flute for Champagne (arguably not the most effective design for flavour, but regardless...) and so on. Wine's many varieties are sufficiently different that a range of glasses are needed to bring out the various nuances in each, or so the story goes.

...but what about whisky? From a light, delicate Lowland, to a "sherrybomb" Speysider, to an Islay peat monster, whisky is arguably as varied and nuanced as wine, if not more so...and that's before we even leave Scotland. Why should we drink all whiskies from the same style of glass?

That's the question Matthew Fergusson-Stewart (co-founder of Spun Spirits, noted Asia-based whisky personality, co-founder of the global Dram Full community, former Glenfiddich South East Asia Ambassador, and good friend of mine) asked last year, ultimately leading to the development of the "Gràn Collection" by Lucaris, consisting of four distinct whisky glasses:
  • Delicate: With a “unique angled rim designed to emphasize the light fruity and floral notes in more delicate whiskies”, designed for “Classic Irish whiskies, lowland Scotch whiskies, and more delicate Speyside whiskies such as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet”.
  • Sherried: With a “wider bowl to increase interaction between whisky and air”, designed for “Sherried whiskies including Aberlour, Glendronach, Macallan, The Yamazaki, and Glenfarclas”.
  • Peated: With “a narrow rim that expresses the richer earthier notes”, designed for whiskies including Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Port Charlotte, Ardbeg and Talisker.
  • Classic: A “classically styled stemmed and tulip shaped glass designed for balanced whiskies”, designed for blends, balanced single malts, and classic Bourbons.

Matthew’s whisky credentials are well-known throughout Asia (ref: aforementioned experience), but he’s also somewhat of an oracle on the chemistry behind whisky, having authored two authoritative papers on chill-filtration, and created the “Whisky Molecules”  group on Facebook. All of which makes him pretty qualified to develop a collection of style-specific glasses, if you ask me.


Now when it comes to glassware, I generally sit between “believer” and “sceptic”. Yes, I agree the shape/size/design of a glass can absolutely change or enhance the nose/palate of a dram, but I also feel there are glasses out there which are more style than substance - with spurious / questionable claims about enhancing the nose etc… all in the interests of making a few bucks. Whilst I had no doubt Matthew’s glasses would NOT fall into this category, of course I wanted to give them a proper test run. Thankfully Matthew and HK distributor KKH were kind enough to send me a set so I could do just that.

For the test, I went with a classic GlenDronach 18 for the Sherried glass, an SMWS Inchmurrin (“112.61 Crazy Fruits”) for the Delicate glass, an intense single cask 2010 7yo Octomore (cask #4819) for the Peated glass, and for something a bit different, a Russell's Reserve 10yo Bourbon for the Classic glass. Pouring equal measures of each into the glasses, along with 4 separate Glencairns (my usual go-to), I nosed and then tasted each side-by-side:

Sherried: Now this was impressive. The Gràn Sherried really made the dram come to life, with a nose bursting with dark chocolate, whereas dark chocolate skulked about in the background with the Glencairn. Just hugely expressive overall! You'd swear the whisky in the Glencairn was a good few ABV% less, such was the contrast.

Delicate: The Inchmurrin's intensely fruity nature, with grassy, floral notes (a result of a higher cut point & the distillery's use of rectifying heads) really showed through much more prominently in the Gràn Delicate glass. There was more grassiness, more fruitiness and overall a "cleaner", more focused nature, especially on the nose.

Peated: The Gràn Peated glass gave this dram (a heavyweight 62% peat monster) more of an ashy, and surprisingly sweeter note. As with some of the others, the whisky felt a bit "cleaner", and more focused - especially on the nose.

Classic: This I found interesting, with the Gràn Classic glass producing a slightly more saline / sea air note, with less Orange/citrus than I found with the Glencairn. Less notable difference compared with the Delicate glass, but noticeable nonetheless.

So in summary? VERY impressive. No word of a lie, the difference was stark. In all cases, the nose was much more pronounced, and in some cases seemed “cleaner” - in the sense that the core, desirable notes (like dark chocolate in the ‘dronach) where much clearer and easier to discern. 

So Kudos to Matthew & Lucaris then,

A review of glassware of course shouldn't neglect to mention the quality and feel of the glasses, and in that department these shine too. They’re delicate (much more so than a Glencairn), but solid enough to survive a whack I accidentally gave one on the tap. In wine glass terms, I’d put them closer to a Zalto, or Riedel’s “Fatto a Mano” series. They definitely have that quality / premium nature, and feel incredible in the hand.

Available as pairs, or as a set of four, the Gran Collection is $2,400HKD from KKH in Hong Kong, or $397SGD RRP in Singapore. No word yet on Aussie pricing or availability.