BenRiach Curiositas gives you the hint right up front: this is a curiosity, in that it is a Speyside whisky with a peaty element. (The distillery does have a non-peated version which will be the subject of a future review.)
BenRiach does not exactly have a storied history, rather a patchwork one. Established near the end of the 19th century, it produced for about a dozen years and then made no spirit for 65 years. After that, it changed hands between multinationals a couple times before going independent in 2004. The company added Glendronach to its holdings four years later and bought Glenglassaugh in 2013. The BenRiach holding company remained an independent until bought by Brown-Forman in 2016. This is the third of the Brown-Forman distilleries I’ve bought an expression to review. That wasn’t planned as I did not know they were associated, but it’s working into a nice mini-series. For a comparison to another peated dram, I’ll continue with the Glenglassaugh Torfa which was the subject of the previous review.
The bottle is clear, highlighting the light color of the spirit. Color does not always mean that much (Springbank 10 comes to mind, light in color but very tasty). Smoke and phenol can hide in any color spirit. Since BenRiach still has their own malting floor, it is likely they peat-dried the malt used for this expression themselves, but the carton is actually ambiguous on that point.
On opening the bottle, there is no room-clearing stench of phenol like the more notoriously peated Islay whiskies. The aroma is moderate, pleasing, a velvet glove’s helping of peaty welcome. Getting the nose right over the glass, one finds subtle earthy peat and very light smoke. The aroma is refined, with red apple and strawberry backing the delicate malt and peat notes. This is no bruiser. But the nose does promise a fairly interesting profile, though it did sting, as I pointed out in my Torfa review.
On the palate, the peat comes forward. The phenolic component is noticeable—quite forward though not overpowering the light sweetness and fruit elements. It’s a bit of an odd combination however, this fruity Speyside with an oily mid-palate. As it finishes, it cleans up with sharp and bitter tannins. It’s an astringent and bitter finish, stronger even than the Torfa, which had a richer mouthfeel and some toffee to help balance its bitter tannins. You get more bitterness than lingering phenol or smoke in the BenRiach. I tried adding a few drops of water to my half-dram…that did not help.
BenRiach 10-year, Speyside Single Malt, 46% ABV
Nose:Subtle smoke, earthy peat, strawberries and apples.
Palate: Very light, clean sweetness and would be refreshing but for the fact the fruit, which carries from the nose, contrasts with an oily phenol mid-palate. Curiosity indeed. ‘Balance’ is not found, as the tannins in this dram rage bitterly for dominance.
Finish: Very bitter and unpleasant.
Bottom Line: Avoid. I have not come straight out and panned a whisky yet on this blog, but today that changes. I have mentioned some whiskies are perhaps priced over their value. But this one I just cannot justify buying, and certainly not at $60. Yes it has potential. The mouthfeel of the BenRiach is cleaner than it is rich, and that clean lightly sweet fruity palate just does not work with the oily peat. Even then, it would be an awkward curiosity but for the startlingly bitter finish. I take my reviews seriously and before I settled on this being an ‘avoid’ I tried it three times across several days. I had the wife and one of my adult children try it (what a face…). They agreed, this dram is so bitter, you’d have to douse it with Coke to make it palatable. And that’s not what single malts are meant for.